Steve's China Blog

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Long and sometimes strange journey

Wednesday morning I woke up early and worked an early shift so that I could finish work that day and go to the airport in the afternoon for my flight to Beijing. Traffic to the airport was a bit heavy since it was the beginning of a holiday in China (Dragon Boat Festival), but I made it to the airport in time for my flight. Of course, my flight was then delayed 2 hours so I ended up arriving in Beijing really late. By the time I got to Jackie's apartment it was almost midnight, and we had to get up in a few hours to catch our early flight to Tokyo.

To get to the airport we took the subway. There is a subway station close to where Jackie lives and the whole trip took about 45 to 50 minutes. It was the first time I had been on the subway in Beijing, and it was not too crowded that early in the morning. When we got to the airport we checked in at the Northwest Airlines counter, and it turns out that there was a problem with Jackie's passport.

Normally you need to have at least 6 months remaining on your passport, and Jackie's passport was going to expire in something like 5 months and 20 days. We were not sure if they were going to let Jackie fly to the US, and I really had no interest in going on this trip by myself. After a few minutes the person working at the check-in counter gave Jackie a disclaimer to sign that stated she was willing to take the chance and fly to the US with less than 6 months remaining on her passport and we could go.

We slept through most of the flight to Tokyo. Our stopover in Tokyo was more than 7 hours, so we had plenty of time to wander around the airport and visit just about every store there. Jackie bought some snacks and I bought a book called Dirty Japanese for some friends in Chengdu who are studying Japanese. We found some interesting choices in the soda machine...

Some drinks in a soda machine in Tokyo airport

We found a nice sushi place and ate there. We had some miso soup, some spicy tuna sushi, some shrimp and avocado sushi, and a salad with some different type of sashimi. It was really good, especially since I had only eaten airplane food the day before and would be eating airplane food for the next day too.

Getting ready to have some sushi

Our flight from Tokyo to Honolulu left on time, and we arrived in Hawaii a little early. For some reason I was thinking that the flight would be more than 10 hours, but it was only a little over 6 hours. When we got to Honolulu and were going through immigration they spotted the problem with Jackie's passport and we had to visit the INS office there. Normally people with this particular passport problem have to pay some fee of $540, but they gave Jackie a waiver for the fee.

View of the coast of Big Island from the air

Our connecting flight to Kailua-Kona airport on Big Island was only 40 minutes, and after arriving on Big Island we got ourselves a rental car... a cute little red 2-door Jeep Wrangler Sport. On the way to the hotel we stopped at a little scenic overlook place and took a few pictures, and I also pulled out my laptop which had directions to the hotel (which I had forgotten to printout when I was back in Chengdu).

A view from a scenic overlook on the way to our hotel

Me with our little red jeep. Happy to finally be in Hawaii

We are staying at the Holua Resort at the Mauna Loa Village, which isn't really a hotel. It's more like a condo resort complex, and is really nice. We have a big living room, 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a big balcony outside with a view of the ocean and a golf course.

Entrance to the resort

In the evening we decided to go to a place called Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill, which I had read about on the internet. It was a little hard to find (we found it by accident really), but the food was really good.

Jackie ready to go out to dinner

We had calamari for an appetizer, some grilled fish called ono with some steamed shrimp for the entree, and a glass of wine.

Enjoying some calamari

After dinner we drove to a nearby Safeway to get some food for breakfast and some snacks the next day. We didn't spend too much time at the grocery store since we were both pretty exhausted from our trip; so we just bought some fruit, juice, coffee, nachos, salsa, and a bottle of wine. After leaving the store we were walking up to the jeep, and Jackie noticed that the jeep I was walking to was not red, but green. Where was our jeep? Oh great, someone stole our jeep!

We went back into the store and asked them to call the police for us. Some of the people that worked at the store went out to double-check if our jeep was missing or not. Sure enough... no red jeep. Just a green jeep where we had parked our red jeep. After a few minutes the police showed up and we walked over to where our jeep had been, and the policeman shined his flashlight on the green jeep... which then turned red! The green jeep was actually our red jeep! Under the yellow light overhead it looked green. Does this look like a red jeep to you?

How our jeep looked under the yellow lights in front of the Safeway

It was strange. Anyway, everyone was relieved that our jeep had actually not been stolen. Jackie and I got back to our place at a little after 9:00pm, and we decided to call it a night. It had been a very long and eventful day and we were both in need of sleep.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Trips and Treks

The weekend before last I sprained my foot real bad. Sometimes you go some place and the floors are not level and there will be a little ledge about an inch or two high, which sometimes is hard to see. I didn't see this one and tripped and twisting my foot. Anyways, I took it easy last week and tried to stay off my foot when I could. I was suppose to go to JinLi Street with my friend Jessie, but we postponed that until this weekend.

By this Saturday my foot was feeling better and I could walk ok. The painful thing was walking downstairs most of the time. On Saturday morning I met up with Jessie and we went over to JinLi Street.

Some vendors on JinLi Street

Some giant chopsticks hanging outside a chopstick shop

JinLi Street is setup like a market street from ancient times. The decorations and things look like old Chinese, but a lot of the shops, restaurants, and tea houses are modern.

Some of the locals touring JinLi Street

Hanging out by one of the fish ponds

There's even a Starbucks there. Jessie and I spent a few hours wandering around JinLi Street visiting the shops and watching the people.

A paint brush seller

The lovely Jessie posing for a picture

A rickshaw makes the rounds

A place to get your ears cleaned

Some ladies working with silk

Real silk worms... real ugly

By the time we made it to the area that has a lot of little food stands I was starting to get hungry, so I got a kabob with some pork on it.

One of the many snack sellers on JinLi Street

Mmmm.... pork fat rules

A little while after that we went to a little restaurant and had some lunch... Noodles, dim sum, and some cucumbers. It was pretty good and Jessie was nice enough to pay for lunch. Thanks Jessie!

Inside a little restaurant

A tasty lunch

Later that afternoon I met up with a few of my co-workers. We have a program at work to give people the opportunity to practice their spoken English and I am their mentor, and this was an ad-hoc activity that I scheduled for them. We all went to Wanda Plaza to see the new Star Trek movie. A friend of mine from Canada named Richard also joined us. We watched the movie in English with Chinese sub-titles. The movie was really good, and everyone had a good time. After the movie a few of us went to a nearby Japanese/Korean restaurant for dinner and discussed the movie.

On Sunday I just relaxed at home and did some preparations for my trip. Oh, that's right... I have not told you about my trip I am taking! Awhile back I saw this website and was thinking of going on a hunting trip...

Welcome to Somali Cruises

It's like a safari, only better

"Safari" is the Swahili word for adventure and that's just what we have in store for you.

We sail up and down the coast of Somalia waiting to get hijacked by pirates. We encourage you to bring your 'High powered weapons' along on the cruise. If you don't have weapons of your own, you can rent them on the boat.

Actually, I think that website is a joke. Pretty funny stuff...

"Like ducks in a barrel. They turned the ship around and we saw them cry in the water like little girls. Saw one wounded pirate eaten by sharks--what a laugh riot! This is a must do."
-- Zeke, Springs Kentucky USA

Just kidding! Actually, my real trip is going to be to Hawaii! I've never been to Hawaii, so I am looking forward to going. My friend Jackie invited me and we've been planning it for awhile now. Wednesday afternoon I will fly up to Beijing, and then on Thursday we fly from Beijing to Big Island with stopovers in Tokyo and Honolulu. Our plan is to spend a few days on Big Island and then a few days on Oahu. I'll post more about the trip either as it's happening or after I get back next month. Aloha!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Western food weekend

Friday night I went to the Shamrock Pub for their Cynco de Mayo party, since Cynco de Mayo was on Tuesday. It was kind of surprising how quickly they could change all the decorations and go from an Irish pub to a Mexican pub just about overnight. Even the staff were dressed sort of Mexican.

Kitty was nice enough to join me and we had some beef nachos, some chicken quesadillas, and some beef tacos. Kitty also tried a margarita. She had never had any of those before. The party was fun and there was games and things, as well as dancing. There were a pair of girls who bought a bottle of tequila, and were pouring shots in peoples' mouths. Luckily I don't drink tequila, so I avoided that.

On Saturday I had dinner with Victoria and my friends Cynthia and Tony. They all wanted to go to Peter's Tex-Mex Grill, and even though I had eaten Tex-Mex the day before, and for lunch, I did not mind. They added some new dishes to the menu at Peter's so we tried some of those. The sour cream enchiladas are new and have a salsa verde green sauce on them which is really good. Tony also wanted to try some bratwurst, which is a new item on the menu. It looked good, but I was happy with the Tex-Mex food.

On Sunday afternoon I joined my friend Kitty and we went to a hotel here in town which offers cooking classes. I am not sure if they offer classes for cooking Chinese food. The lesson for us was how to make Caesar salad, pumpkin soup, and steak. There were about 20 people who signed up for the class and we were divided up into teams. Kitty and I were on one team.

A bunch of us getting ready to learn how to cook steak

We didn't just learn how to cook the dishes, but also had a competition to see who could create the best presentations of the food. We first learned how to make the salad dressing, and then made our salads.

Our decorative Caesar salad

After the salads we learned how to make the pumpkin soup and had a little competition to see who could cut pieces of pumpkin the fastest. I did ok, but was not as fast as some. After learning about the soup and chopping up the pumpkin the cooks took all that to the kitchen to make the soup for us.

Then we learned how the restaurant tenderizes, marinates, and cooks their steaks, as well as learning how to make a black pepper sauce to put on the steaks after cooking. I already know how to cook steak, but it was interesting to see how they did it here.

Tenderizing was just beating a so-so piece of steak into a nice flat tender piece of steak with a flat metal mallet. The marinade was kind of simple... salt, pepper, some chopped up carrots and onions, and refrigerated for 6 or more hours. Then the steaks are cooked in a very hot skillet with oil. The pepper sauce was minced onions sauteed in butter, mixed with black pepper, wine, brandy, and beef stock.

We were suppose to make some nice presentation on the plate with the steak, but everyone was so hungry we just cooked them and went to our tables to eat. The whole meal turned out pretty good!

Kitty and some of our friends enjoying the meal we helped make

I've heard that this weekend they are going to be teaching how to cook some Japanese dishes, but I did not sign up for that. I hope they will do a Sichuan food class some day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Chengdu video

I found this video on YouTube, and liked it a lot. It was created by director and filmmaker Zhang Yimou. He directed some movies I liked (such as Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, which I have mentioned before on this blog), and also the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Labor Day weekend

Friday was the Labor Day holiday here (also known as May Day), so I had a three-day weekend. I was talking with some friends about doing some sightseeing around Chengdu and we had planned to go to Dujiangyan on Friday, but there was a lot of rain that morning so we decided not to go there that day. I guess I will have to go there another time.

Reese decided she wanted to stay home on Friday, but Rena (Reese's sister) was going to join me for lunch and then we were going to walk over to Water Viewing Pavilion Park across the river from where I live. Unfortunately, Rena was in such a rush to come over to my place that she sprained her ankle real bad going down the stairs to leave her apartment. We decided to not go anywhere that day and would try to go somewhere the next day.

On Saturday we went to QingCheng Mountain, which is not too far outside of Chengdu. QingCheng Mountain is famous for being one of the earliest areas for the Taoist religion, and has many temples. I was joined by Reese, her boyfriend, Rena, and a friend of her's who was nice enough to drive us out there. Rena and her friend stayed at the bottom of the mountain at tea house, since her ankle was still bothering her. Reese, her boyfriend, and I went up the mountain.

A big crowd outside the entrance to the mountain

Since it was a holiday it was more crowded than usual.

About a quarter of the way up we took a cable lift up to a point below the very top. The line for the lift was so long I think we could have walked up there quicker.

A view up the mountain from the lift

Reese and her boyfriend

At the top of the lift there was a little snack place where we stopped to have some noodles. The dan dan mian was very good.

Burning candles and incense

We didn't make it to the very top, but we almost made it.

Entrance to a temple

Since it was after 5:00pm we decided to head back down the mountain and since we did not wait in line for the lift we got down pretty quickly. We met up with Rena and her friend and then drove to a little restaurant for dinner. It was nice day, but I figured my feet were going to be hurting the next day.

(left to right) Reese's boyfriend, Reese, me, Rena's friend, and Rena

On Sunday I went to the wedding of one of my co-workers, Shirley. I invited Phyllis to go with me and I was very happy she accepted.

Phyllis and I at my co-worker's wedding

This wedding was much more traditional, as far as the ceremony and clothing, than some of the others weddings that I had been to.

The bride's mother applauds the maids of honor going by

Groom checking to make sure he has the right bride

Shirley and her new husband

There were two of us foreigners at the wedding, and relatives of the bride and groom kept our wine glasses full and kept offering toasts, so we ended up having too much wine. Luckily there was a lot of good food to eat.