Thursday, April 28, 2011

China Post #8 Food

Well for some reason the wifi here is running extremely slow. I'm hoping to load a bunch of photos of food, so we'll see how it goes.

We've been eating out more than usual here. Partly because it is quite a bit cheaper here than back home, most of the time and because it can be more difficult here to get groceries. There are stores where you can get everything in one place but for the most those stores are a 15 minute walk or more and I have to take Dylan which might mean carrying him and groceries on the way back. Closer to the Shama there are loads of small markets, stalls and street vendors, so you can get everything but one needs to make 3 or 4 stops to be able to cook a meal.

The staple food here actually seems to be noodles instead of rice. I wonder if it will be rice when we head south or possibly it is just the proximity to Korea that makes noodles so common here. Anyway here are some images of food and thoughts on it.

So the first restaurant we went to here is a "Hot Pot" place. Just think fondue, they bring out a bowl of soup and start it boiling on a cook top in the center of the table. Next up are the raw ingredients. This one is just down the main street from us and seems to place a lot of importance on the mushrooms. We've been twice and after getting this huge plate of fungi the first time,
and feeling as though we never wanted to see another mushroom again, we tried to pass up the shrooms the second time and the server insisted that we get some and would not let us order anything else until we had picked a plate of mushrooms. The second time though we ended up getting a much smaller plate and they were quite interesting, almost like dense noodles.

Most of the meat that they have is shaved quite thin which means that it cooks very quickly and is pretty tender. Not sure if the tenderness is from it being sliced so thin or it actually being a much better cut of meat than what you can usually find in the stores and stalls.
This was the soup pot the first time we went. It had a nice divider and the person dropping in the food actually kept the meat on one side and veggies on the other.
Mushrooms went on both sides as did the noodles which were fresh and very good. The second time the pot did not have a divider, not sure really what gets you the different pots since we ordered the same soup base both times.

We had wanted some fish, so we ordered salmon. Now everything in the menu is raw in the picture since that is how they bring it to the table, but apparently the fish is not meant to be cooked. Now I love sushi and sashimi but it is rare that it comes out on ice??? Regardless, t tasted fine and none of us got sick, though it felt a bit weird eating ice cold sashimi.
Another popular restaurant among the expat population out here is the Bashu Legend. I wonder if this doesn't have more to do with the english name on the sign out front than the quality of the food. I think we all agreed that at least 2 of the dishes on the table were a bit odd tasting, not in that they would make you sick but just ODD.
The better dishes I thought were just OK, while Linda liked the chicken dish.

When you are out roaming about town you tend to grab what ever is convenient and usually there are plenty of options to pick from. Lots of stands, street vendors and small shops. This is a noodle house we stopped at near the train station in downtown. No english to be found, so I ordered by pointing at what someone else had to get a bowl of noodles and some meat. Linda asked what they recommended and was a bit surprised when they brought out the octopus and vegi dish.
Usually you are pretty safe getting noodles and there is a noodle place in the shopping center below us where for 6 yuan you can get a bowl (conversion is about 6.5 yuan to a dollar). Most of the time you can eat for 5-10 yuan for lunch and get a hot cooked meal.

At the other end of the spectrum, we got a recommendation for a restaurant in downtown called the Asia Grande. It was quite good but when the bill came, OUCH. It really would not have been that bad except for one dish. The food was better than most any Chinese food you would get in the US (go figure) and the presentation was very nice. We got...
Goose, which seemed to everyone to be a bit more tender than duck. You could flip the head over and look at the skull and beak cavity as well. Next we got sweet and sour, I don't remember if it was chicken or pork but it was tasty.
Nobody else wanted to order red meat so I got a lamb chop wrapped in....
bacon. Last, since it was a cantonese restaurant, Linda wanted to get a steamed fish which seemed fine since we always get steamed fish when we go out with her family. A nice flounder with a good amount of meat and nice seasoning.
When we got the bill it was a little over 1,000 yuan but they ended up discounting it down to about 900. Everything looked fine on the bill, though the fish was priced by weight which is what killed us. It was 26 Yuan for every 50g and it was nearly a 1 kilo fish. Yep, that was a 468 yuan (or about $70) fish. Nearly half the meal.

We have been here long enough now that we have had to get Dylan's and my hair cut, partly because we did not make a point of doing it before we left. Here is Dylan getting his $2 hair cut, I think mine was closer to $3 but they washed my hair twice and I did not have them wash Dylan's since I did not think he would let them, though now that he has seen them wash mine maybe he would.
Another interesting food thing. This is what you get when you want to take soup home. It just gets scooped into a plastic bag and you carry home. some places even line the bowls they give you to eat from in plastic bags so they don't have to wash them after you are done, they just toss the bag and put in a new one.
Now, in the US this would never work since as we all know plastic bags are super flimsy and if you look at them wrong they get holes. Out here the bags are ballistic, you could easily use the same bag 10 or more times at the grocery store. On the topic of food containers and differences, soda cans are much thicker than their american counter parts and bottles are thinner. I wonder how much material would be saved if the lighter duty of both was used everywhere?

OK so that was a bunch and everything loaded.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

China Post #7 Easter and a Bike Ride

This weekend was relatively laid back. On Saturday I managed to borrow a bike and get my first ride in in 5 weeks. I rode with a couple of guys that work for Goodyear out here and was on one of their wives bikes. It is odd riding on flat peddles but at least I brought riding short or the 40 miles would have been pretty uncomfortable. Riding out here is an adventure for sure. Drivers have no concern for others personal safety or space, you have to always be on guard. The first 5 km or so getting out of the main DDA area were pretty aggressive with cars and the last 10 km or so as well. However the bulk of the ride was pleasant on open roads with wide shoulders (which means nothing) and very little traffic (which does). The last 3 km or so was so grid locked that we were weaving between stopped cars the whole way or just getting on the sidewalk.

On Easter Sunday we headed out to a little Easter celebration arranged by some expats for the kids. They divided the kids into an older and younger group and had them basically do team scavenger hunts to find candy stashes around the area. Here is Dylan in the younger group getting their first clue.
And Dylan with Linda and Carrie (mom) and Abby moving between candy stashes. We rode out to the event with Carrie and family.
The grounds where the Easter event was held had some dinosaur statues and I could not help but to feed Dylan to the T-rex.
Naturally he enjoyed this one much more.
We were told to bring a baked good in the invite and decided it would be easier to just get a cake from our favorite bakery, Haute. Here is our chocolate Easter cake, pretty sweet looking and not too bad either.
In the afternoon Linda had scheduled us for a family photo session for us that she has wanted to do for a long time. I don't really like these things since they involve getting dressed up and acting like a trained seal, but I know there is some saying about a happy wife. Anyway, it took forever, about 3 hours and Dylan was getting to be pretty difficult by the end. Anything to keep him happy which included him jumping up and down on my back which I paid for the next day. I also had to make a run for food him and when I went into the mall I saw this wall tucked to the side of the entrance.
It is pretty tall, but obviously not open at this time. I've heard that it is open when it is warmer, I wonder how much it costs.

Here is Dylan being Dylan. I'm not sure what he was pretending the closet was but he was enjoying himself anyway.
We brought about 10 books from home for Dylan since he loves to read or be read too. One of the books is a Disney book about Donald using a "magic" stone to trick Goofy into inviting him to dinner. In the story, the stone makes soup. So here is Dylan making "Stone Soup".
And the finished product...delicious...Linda even cooked it a little for him.
Brad was one of the two guys that organized the Easter event and he set up the younger kids scavenger hunt. He wrote all the clues and this was his favorite.
video

Thursday, April 21, 2011

600km Tombstone Brevet...quick China update

Today, Dylan and I hiked up Big Black Mountain again. This time with a couple of British kids, Cara (16) and John (12), their mom's hip was acting up so she did not come. This time we just went up to the high temple and back down the road as there were clouds billowing over the communication towers and the wind was picking up while we were at the temple. You notice a lot more when it is not raining, though it was cloudy. For example, you can see one of the high temples from the one at the bottom of the stairs, Linda and I never really looked up because of the rain. There are numbers painted on every hundredth step, so now I know that there are 1301 steps to get to the high temple and 1333 to get to the parking lot that the lazy take a shuttle up to. Later I found out that the staircase up to the communication towers has one unbroken section of about 500 as well, so something like 1900 steps to the top of the mountain. Anyway it was a nice day out and Dylan walked the first 100 or so steps on his own.

Well it has been awhile since I did the 600km Tombstone Brevet in Arizona with my dad. He flew out on Thursday and we had a pretty leisurely drive out on Friday from Albuquerque. We headed out to diner after checking into the hotel and tried to go to Olive Garden again (Chris and I had tried to go before the 300km). Now I'm baffled, it seems in Albuquerque you can just walk into Olive Garden whenever, but in Casa Grande there is always a 45min to hour long wait, at least on Friday night. Anyway, we found diner elsewhere and got to bed. We woke up early to have a real breakfast at the Denny's out in front of the hotel, then finished getting ready and headed to the ride start.

We checked in maybe 5 minutes before the start time and got ready to go. Everyone rolled out and things stayed pretty tame at the front end of the pack even with some yo-yoing and swerving within the lead group. Dad started to mention that the pace may be a bit high after going through Eloy and I mentioned that we would drop off once we hit the frontage road, which I did with my usual rest stop, though at this point dad was doing better and I told him to continue on as the pack rolled along the frontage road. I had been hoping to catch back up to the group, but apparently took too long relieving myself and shedding layers. Anyway, I tried and proceeded to set personal peak power output numbers for the year for intervals from 15-40 minutes, not the best idea at 25 miles into a 378 mile ride, but I figured that after the first check point we would be loosing the lead group anyway and easing up significantly. Thankfully dad dropped off the lead group before the first check point and drifted back to me and we cruised in to Marana as while the lead group was still getting snacks and such.

We headed out after taking care of things and rode on just the two of us until we reached Saguaro National Park where we made a quick stop and another group caught up to us and we ended up riding off and on with them through the end of Mission Rd which went much better this time. With out the heinous head wind from the 400km, we were averaging a couple mph faster that the fast group was on the 400km. Passing the race groups from the Tucson Bicycle Classic was pretty impressive with the noise they were making (headed downhill they sounded like a line of cars passing instead of bikes) and intimidating with the yellow line violations that were committed as we were riding the opposite direction.

After a stop in Continental at which I was hoping to get pizza but the shop in the gas station was closed, we headed out on Sahuarita Rd.. This road felt pretty grueling on the way out, like it was all uphill and into a headwind or something. I was definitely experiencing a low point along here and felling pretty frustrated. The we turned on Hwy 83 and things got worse. It looked like rollers but it felt as though we were going uphill the whole time. Eventually I could not bear it anymore and pulled over while dad continued on. I ate, stretched and watered a bush, no trees around. After my break I felt much better and cruised along passing dad on a long steady climb that seemed to be doing a number on his mental state. I pulled over at the top and waited for him and we rode down and into Sonoita and then the hero run into Elgin with a raging tailwind. It felt great to be cruising along at 25 mph with very little effort after suffering for 25 miles or so.

A little, but very late lunch for us at the Elgin Club provided by Susan and it was on the road to Tombstone. This bit was great, the sun had just set, there was very little traffic and a tailwind again. Of course this meant turning around and riding back into it. A light snack in Tombstone including a cup-o-noddles and we were on our way back having finished just over half the ride. Lucky for us the wind had started to die down by the time we were heading back though it was still there. It was very cold leaving Tombstone as we had cooled down and there is a steep downhill coming right out of town so we stopped and put more cloths on and continued on. Apparently there was a fair bit of downhill as well as the wind helping us on our way out to Tombstone as things were quite a bit slower headed back towards Elgin though we made steady progress and eventually were topping the last hill before the diner stop back at Elgin. That last downhill into Elgin almost had be shivering off the road and I was worried about making it to Sonoita and the hotel for the "night".

I put extra plastic on before we headed out again. Bags over my feet and legs to help block the wind. It turned out to not be as bad going from Elgin to Sonoita where we had a reservation at the Sonoita Inn which is really quite nice. By the time we made it to the Inn and found our key, made our way in finding my drop bag but not dad's (which got sent to the Elgin Club instead of the Inn) it was 2am and I managed to crawl into bed around 2:30 for a 5:30 wake up. I was not psyched when the alarm went off in the morning, but rolled out of bed to a pretty nice continental breakfast. After finishing getting ready to go we ran into Wim, a friend of Stephen's from Calgary, these Canadians use Tucson as a winter home. Anyway, Wim's wife encouraged him to hurry up and leave with us and I told him to not worry since he had rolled in at maybe 10 the previous night and I knew my dad would not stand a chance keeping up with him.

We got on the road about 6:30, a little later than planned but since the next checkpoint was 60 miles away it was not a big deal especially once I found out why I was so frustrated the day before. Turns out that after a couple of miles of rollers and one hill it was a raging downhill to Sahaurita Road, never dropping below 25 mph and Sahaurita Rd itself is mostly downhill as well. A stop at McDonalds was followed by a tedious (because it is dead straight) but relatively mild 5 mile climb took us back up to Mission Rd at the top of the rollers. This climb really took its toll on dad and he did not seem to be doing very well at this point, he was having trouble dismounting the bike and complaining of "stinging" in his legs. Needless to say we took it real easy through the rollers and then coasted the downhill on Mission Rd. It is always nice to get 15 miles in without having to push the peddles. We made it back into Tucson and took a nice long break to eat a sandwich and other stuff. We took it nice and easy through the rollers in Saguaro NP and again enjoyed a tailwind most of the way into Marana.

While I had been concerned for the last 50 miles or so if my dad would want to drop out, at this point I knew we would finish. We had maybe 6 or 7 hours to go 43 miles back to Casa Grande and while it was going to be slower than I wanted we would make it. The Frontage Rd along I-10 was bad again, for some reason everyone complains about this road, but for me it is not so bad when you are doing it in the morning or returning in the dark, but when you are headed north on it at the end of a ride and it is still light out it is every bit as bad as people say. We took a pretty long stop in Eloy just 14 miles from the finish, we did need to refuel, but ended up staying for quite some time. We left Eloy as it was getting dark and toddled along towards Casa Grande, at this point I was riding ahead then slowing down or waiting not wanting to get out of sight of my dad since I knew where we were going at this point. We eventually rolled into Round Trip Bike Shop a little after 8pm with under an hour to spare on the 40 hour time limit.

We loaded up the bikes and headed off to check in with Susan at her hotel and turn in our brevet cards. We checked into our hotel and cleaned up, talked a bit about going to get diner and decided that sleep was more important at that point. We both crashed hard and did not move till the morning. I got up and told dad I was going to get breakfast and went to the hotels continental. Eventually I finished breakfast and dad had not shown up so I headed back to the room to see what was up and he was not there either. Turns out he thought I meant that I was going to Denny's and he was equally confused when he got there and I was not in the restaurant.

We packed up and headed back to Albuquerque, through more snow (what is the deal, I get snowed on on my way home every time). We made it back home with just enough time to take apart dad's bike and put it in the box to head to the airport. All in all it was a good weekend, though Dylan wished Yeah-Yeah could have stayed longer or spent more time with him and let me know it on the way home from the airport.

Monday, April 18, 2011

China Post #6 DaHeiShan

So on Sunday we headed up Big Black Mountain BBM. The weather was quite different from Saturday when we wore t-shirts some of the time. Very cloudy at the start of the day and the rain started right when we left the car. There are supposed to be 3 ways up BBM, one which is mostly stairs, another that is a road and has a shuttle service ad the third we know nothing about nor do the people we talked to about it. Anyway, our outing probably ended up being a bit faster than it would have been in nicer weather because we did not want to stop and look around with the rain. The trail started out in a narrow canyon that even had some snow in the bottom of it still. There was this wall built across the canyon not too far up.
There were several temple built along the trail as well as a handful of trees that people tied these red strips of cloth to. The blue sign to the guys left is probably something along the lines of "beware: steep steeps ahead"
Since just past this tree the trail went up a flight of steps steeper than these switch backs leading up to it.
Here are Dylan and I at the entrance to the temple.
and Linda next to a Buddha inside the temple grounds.
and a few statues just outside of the temple.
From the temple you can head up a road to some communication towers at the actual top of the BBM. The road takes you up to a flat area where there is a tram like the one in Albuquerque but it is not running and it only goes to a lower set of towers. A little further along is what from a distance looked like a steep scree shoot, but on closer view was a very steep staircase. Here is Linda trudging up the steps into the clouds.
At this point it was pretty cold and we were all pretty wet. The wind picked up as well as the clouds getting more dense. We did not stick around on top, Dylan was pretty unhappy with the wind and there was nothing to see with cloud cover. We headed down as quickly as we could and once we made it down to the temple we opted to take the shuttle the rest of the way down since Dylan was still unhappy. Once we got down it took awhile to explain to the driver we were using where exactly we were. While we waited I wandered a little staying near the road so we would not miss him. There was a field close by with some trees blossoming that were quite pretty.
Here is a little clip of a construction zone in China. I'm sure that it will look pretty nice when it is done. Not only are the workers just right there on the highway but there is also a pedestrian just walking along on the side, but still in the left lane.
video

Sunday, April 17, 2011

China Post #5 UFO Hill

This weekend we headed to the appropriately named UFO hill on Saturday and Big Black Mountain (Dai....shan) on Sunday. UFO hill is really close to where we are staying and is not much of an outdoor experience, but it did still make for a nice half day out. We took a taxi to the base since we really did not know where it was. Turns out it is really close. Anyway, when we got out there were several street vendors selling kites and balloons.
There was this huge monument at the base of the road up and you can see the UFO in the distance.
With all the kites for sale, low on the "hill" there was a nice park with lots of people out flying or just hanging out in the nice weather.
Only a few 100 meters up the road there was this odd ball shaped enclosure off to the right. So we headed over to check it out. Turns out to be a pigeon ball? and up the trail from that is a sculpted stream bed with large "Alice in Wonderland" type sculptures like this corn.
After we made our way through the stream bed we came out at a pretty big reservoir, though I doubt that that is what it was for. Through this section there were several sculpted walls that had Linda and I wondering if we would get stopped for trying to boulder on them...

A steep trail lead up from the reservoir back to the road and this plank side walk along it. As you can tell safety is a top priority here. There were several sections where multiple pieces of decking were missing and even spots where you could tell that the support joist had dropped out.
To their credit though, further up they were working on repairing the side walk and converting it to rebar and concrete which can't rot out from under people. Though there were no barriers to keep people off or out of the work area which seems fine to me except for the fact that at times you might need to dodge traffic on the road.
Here are Linda and Dylan walking up the final steps to the UFO.
The UFO is really just a nice high spot to look out around Dalian. It of course cost money to go up into the UFO itself, though it is not expensive and it was nice to get out of the wind which was picking up as we got higher up the "hill". Dylan made the hike all the way up on his own but was pretty beat, so instead of carrying him down we opted to take the little shuttle. Here is a quick video of the shuttle ride, and for reference it was less crowded on the way down than when we were headed up.
video
Well it is almost midnight on Sunday so I'll get to posting on Big Black Mountain tomorrow hopefully. It is a beautiful hike and a must do.

Friday, April 15, 2011

China Post #4 Bathrooms

The Bathroom post.

I know that at least my mom will appreciate this one.

One of the easier thing to find out here is a bathroom. The universal sign is the one we all know and love, in addition it is one of the easier things to mime that you need...
In the mens room, urinals actually flush when you approach them, which made made me jump the first time, and again when you leave. On the other hand, one time when Dylan had to go and there was not a bathroom around we were directed to a drain out behind the building, nice.

Toilets, sometimes you get a regular one that we are used to in the US and other times there is a long trough with tread on either side for your feet. Another thing to consider is the TP situation. Many times there is not TP in the individual stalls but a large roll before you go in so you have to take what you are going to use with you. What happens if you need more?

Often times the sinks are in a shared area before you go into the men's or women's room.

Now onto something that everyone wants, this is a poor rendition of what I was serenaded by the last time I used a public restroom.
video

Monday, April 11, 2011

China Post #3 Thoughts on Dalian and Sculptures

Well we have finally settled in enough to get out and about. This weekend we headed to Golden Pebble Beach on Saturday with one of Linda's local co-workers and on Sunday we headed into Downtown Dalian, which it turns out is actually 3.8 million and not the 2 million I thought it was, still a small city by China standards, though I wonder if that includes the area where we are or not.
Anyway on the short walk to the train station we had to go past an area called 5 Colour City, which has a bunch of shops, bars and what not and also some weird artwork. This cat with a pen is on one corner.
And this snail on another,
There is also a staked pumpkin pillar, a pair of ants and a mural of the Cooookie Crisp dog (thief)

Speaking of odd sculptures. On Saturday at the beach there was a section of road that was shut down as there was scaffolding in the road so that people could finish up construction on 10 or more large sculptures of sea creatures. Most were pretty normal, a giant crab and other animals. Then there was this one in a round-about. ( whoops, I forgot to rotate it)
It is a volleyball fish head alien in a bikini, Linda pointed out that it kind of looks like Fiona from the Shrek movies.

Here is Dylan in the sand at the beach.
The other reason they had the road closed down was that they had dumped a bunch of sand in the road to add to the beach.
In addition there was no good way to get the sand onto the beach so there was a section of sidewalk torn up to get the sand moved onto the beach, it is surprising that there was not an access point for this already and it seems as though they just tear up the curb each year and rebuild. This also seems to be the case with planting of trees in town. Apparently whatever is being planted can't really survive the winter up here and in addition the trees are getting put in way too close together. The trees have no leaves and already their branches are hitting each other.

Here is a feature on the coast near the beach called the Dinosaur drinking the Sea, looks pretty cool.
One thing I'd been curious about since we landed was the cars with the little red ribbons tied to them. You can see this car has them on the mirrors and wheels. Apparently it is a superstition and brings luck, people tie them to new cars and cars of those with a new drivers license.
And finally, what is the deal with banks here? Most of the time it seems as though every other building is a bank, how does that work? Here is one corner in particular that is really over run.
video

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Venice Beach Video

No it is not of people along the beach. As we were leaving we happened upon a shop for Arbor. Arbor is a company that as far as I knew made snowboards. Turns out they make all things board that you ride, so snowboards, skateboards, surf boards and a line of clothing as well that is largely made with bamboo fiber. Anyway we went in and checked it out since I was curious what a snowboard company was doing selling stuff in Venice Beach. Turns out it is the office that the entire company is based out of.

The clothing is really nice, super soft and Dylan dug the skateboards.
video

Images for Traveling and China Post #1

Walking along Venice Beach, lots of stuff for sale.
Wall mural in Dani's Deli, there food was really quite good and turned out to be about the last thing we have had that has not had noodles.
Linda and Dylan walking out to the ocean.
One of several local Kush Doctors where you to can walk in and get your exam and a therapeutic exemption for medical marijuana.
Dylan crashed out in LAX about 1 hour before our flight departed.
and continuing to sleep for about 7 more hours of the 13 hour flight.
Your local Dunkin' Donuts in the Seoul airport, of course I got a couple, need to feed the habit.
Dylan checking out the doll that he is going to be making.
Working on getting rice glue everywhere including where it needs to be.
Finishing up by putting the eyes and mouth on.
As you can see it was quite hazy on the day we landed which made things seem a bit more dreary than they actually are, this is the first large sculpture we saw as we neared the Dalian Development Zone or DDA.
Here is another with flags and some industrial smoke stacks for good measure.