Saturday, October 12, 2013

Paul's Country Rant: Chiner

China, or Chiner as the English speaking Chinese pronounce it, is a giant country and one in which we spent a long time in. I'll start by saying that China is an exhausting place; there are so many people everywhere. And everyone is going everywhere, at the same time, all of the time.




It seems so long ago that we were there and a lot of my thoughts and feelings about China have been forgotten or are hazy at best. We weren't blogging while in China because things like Facebook and Twitter and anything where you might express an original thought are blocked. We were also told that everything is monitored and didn't want to spend our time in a work camp for inciting derision in the masses with our imperialistic, capitalist words. I do know that, on the whole, the things to see are amazing and really interesting, like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, but China is a really annoying place.

Everything is a process and there is only one way of doing things. If you don't conform you are subhuman garbage. For example, Christine and I wanted to try Peking Duck, a dish known the world over and a must when in Beijing. We went to a restaurant and readied ourselves for our feast. They bring the duck out and carve it up in front of you, which was pretty cool. Then they arrange it on the plate and at first I thought nothing of it, but later figured out that it is arranged in a certain way so that you eat the duck in the "correct" order. Accompanying your duck is a tray of various dips and sauces and relish and garnish to enjoy with the duck. First you eat the skin. This is all fat and has a little crunch to it( not like good old' swine, let me tell you!). Once bitten, the fat is the consistency of water so you are drinking fat. Anyway, you are instructed to dip the skin in granulated sugar (on the aforementioned tray of stuff) and this helps flavor the skin and gives added crunch. (Oh yeah, the duck is not seasoned at all so it will get very boring). Hey China, if I wanted nothing but fat and sugar I would go to a donut shop and be a lot happier for it! Anyway, on to the next part! This is actual meat with a little bit of the skin on it and this piece you dip in something else so the duck will taste like that. Then it's just duck meat and, if you are feeling saucy, can make a kind of taco (for us) or dumpling (for everyone else). You start with rice paper (like a soft taco), and begin filling it with lettuce, duck and whatever else from the tray of earthly delights, pick it up and eat it - simple right? No, you must use your chopsticks and build your duck treat using all the ingredients and roll, flip, tuck and pinch the thing into a dumpling. Since we are obviously degenerates, the wait staff came over to show us how it was done because we were clearly making the other patrons uncomfortable with our reckless eating methods. They were churning these dumplings out faster than a... dumpling factory and forcing us to eat them. Actually Christine had to eat them because the staff kept putting soy sauce in them and it took several attempts to get them to understand that I can't eat soy. They looked at me in absolute horror, because how can you eat your duck if you can't eat soy! This added, I'm sure, to there disgust and they walked away, but stayed close enough to watch us. Christine, having now learned the official way to eat the duck, (according to CAFED - Chinese Association For Eating Duck) put on a show for the staff. I, on the other hand, ate it as I saw fit. I mean we did pay for it, right? Free to do with as we please, right? Even if I could eat soy I wouldn't have followed their ridiculous rules out of pure principle! So that was Peking Duck and wouldn't be the last time I tangled with the concept of Chinese cuisine.

Really sharp knife. He cut a lead pipe and then skinned a tomato - amazing

It looks good, but way too much skin and it doesn't taste like much

Save the neck for me Clark

Tray of oddities

Wrong way to eat Peking Duck

"Correct" way of eating Peking Duck

The way I prefer to eat the duck - don't judge me

The same goes for what to do and how to do it. China has a strange notion of what is good and what is bad that I like to call "most special". Lets say you want to visit, oh I don't know, the Great Wall. Someone, at some point announced that the only place to see the wall is (fill in the blank; in this case the blank has already been filled and the place is called Badaling). You must go to Badaling because the view is most special and Feng Shui etc, etc. So you go there along with every other human being in China and it looks and feels like a cattle auction. But the people will not go anywhere else because some unnamed authority said that this was the place to go. Luckily our guide took us to another, lesser know part and it was awesome.

As we went along and I was encountering more and more of this, I started to develop "most special" into a theory. First I'll tell you another story. There are no steaks in China. In a place like Shanghai that does a lot of business with westerners, you might find a steak, but the rest of the country? Not a chance. I found this very strange because there are tons of beef dishes on every menu. When we got out into the countryside there were plenty of cattle, but no steaks. The bit of beef you do get in the restaurants is more along the lines of tongue, cheek, tendon and the fatty parts that are typically used for stews. What do they do with the rest of the cow? If you do find a place that mentions filet or sirloin it's shaved thinner than Steakum and you cook it in boiling water or flash fry it and its just gross. Where did the rest of the filet go?

A vendor selling the most random animal parts

Here is my theory: at some point a government official from dynastic times started telling people that this was most special and that was most special in order to steer the masses away from the good stuff. That way the governor or the royal tax collector or whatever can take or eat or drink or see the good stuff. This beautiful steak? You don't want that, it isn't good for you - have some tendon. You want to see the wall? Don't go to this spot, it's no good. Go to the other spot. That way the governor can enjoy a steak at the best spot of the wall free from the masses. And it goes on and on and is so deeply ingrained in the mindset that, even now, I imagine that people are butchering a cow, keeping the crappy parts and feeding the rest to their dogs.

After a couple of days in China, I just got so sick of people telling me how good this was and how tasty another thing was - especially when it didn't taste like anything or tasted bad. When seeing the look on my face the answer was, well you can't have soy sauce or it would taste most special! Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't dousing this thing in soy sauce make it taste like soy sauce? When Christine cooked at home I never tasted soy sauce, I tasted the vegetables and the garlic and the things I was supposed to taste. There is a huge difference in approaches here and after awhile I just loathed the thought of eating, especially because it is a workout. All of the food is family style, (which I don't have a problem with) and is put on a Lazy Susan. You then spin the thing around and grab a mouthful with your chopsticks and move onto the next thing and so on. You are given a tiny plate, mainly for bones or things you aren't going to eat  so you can't load up once and eat, just keep spinning the Susan and snatching with your sticks over and over and over again until you just give up, full or no, because you're tired of this exercise and bored.

All right enough of my gripes about the short comings of Chinese cuisine, I guess I'll speak briefly about what we did.

Beijing - That's where all of the things you want to see are and you don't feel the crush of humanity as much, mainly because the city goes on for days in all directions.

The Silk Road - Pretty interesting, especially Kashgar way out west. It is technically China, but it is another country, entirely filled with completely different people (Uygurs, a Turkic people related to everyone from Uzbek to Turkey). These people are the majority population, but the minority in everything else. They are not allowed passports and can't leave the province without sponsorship (like acceptance to a university) even with sponsorship the Uygurs can expect harassment from the police. I'm sure this isn't for everyone there, the Uygurs who have government jobs can probably move about and the ethnic Chinese don't have a problem so there's that.

Xi'an - Home of the terra cotta warriors. There are thousands of warriors made in the likeness of (most agree) the actual soldiers. These clay warriors were buried so the emperor would have his army about him in the afterlife. All in all very interesting, but going to visit is, after all, a celebration in redundancy. Soldier after soldier go into a tent to have a guy draw them. The artist in turn hands the portrait to the guys who make them into clay soldiers. Over and over again. In my opinion the most important, most significant and most overlooked is the weaponry. Scientists unearthed some arrow heads, spears and swords - the blades still intact and sharp after 2000 years. They found that all the blades were plated in chrome and would have cut through the bronze blades their enemies were using like a knife through warm butter. The process of plating with chrome wasn't invented until the 1930's by the Germans and US scientists came up with a different way that is still used today in the 1950's. The Qin's were doing this in 200 BC! In the museum there is a sword in a glass case and it just has a sign saying general's sword and that is it. No mention of how incredible it is that the Qin's were so technologically advanced and thousands of years ahead - in some areas.

Shanghai - It's a city, more agreeable to foreigners but that's about it.

Hong Kong/Macau - They always get lumped together, but one was British and the other was Portuguese. They are autonomous regions that are apart of China, but allowed to keep their own governance. Macao is considered the Vegas of Asia and sees more patrons than Sin City as well. This does not make it better though. Yes more people will go to Macao, but this is because there are so many more people right there, a short flight away. People know that I am not much of a gambler so coming here was pointless, Macao's history having been turned into a shopping mall. I just want to make it known that I would rather shoot craps with trannies and meth heads, behind a WaWa, in sight of Atlantic City than spend any time in the casinos of Macao. I did win a bunch of money at roulette. 

Hong Kong can be seen in an afternoon and is a large corporate park. The best thing about Hong Kong was the small eatery we frequented every day that made fresh salads and soups - it was an oasis after months of clawing our way across a desert of crappy food. Nothing was fried, just fresh vegetables, it was amazing.

Pingyuan - Family time with the in-laws! Good fun mixing it up with the locals, and we were treated like a king and queen from the kingdom of America! I did get sick though, probably from eating 14 of the 24 hours in the day and constantly drinking this rice alcohol shot after shot!

Guilin - A must go for the natural beauty of limestone up shoots and winding rivers and crappy construction everywhere - blocking all of this natural beauty. We did find something untouched by industrialization, and it was this river that we took a boat ride down along with 75 other boats - peaceful. We also tried to go to a cave, but that was a disaster, as you've already read in Christine's blog. Almost everything you want to see or do has this DisneyLand feel to it China and it never warrants this grandeur making it laughable. It's a cave! Throw a railing up and lights occasionally and leave us to enjoy it on our own. The little we did see we knew wasn't for us. Each rock formation had different colored lights on it drawing focus to what they wanted you to see, you had to go with a guide and since we couldn't understand what was said, was a waste of time, but I am positive the guide was just pointing out each rock formation and saying how one looked like kissing unicorns and the other looked like Chairman Mao, and so on, the whole tour. We left.

Kunming - Another city. Christine's mom asked why we were going there and I told her everything I read about it spoke of its natural beauty. It is known as a Shangri-La and the Land of the Eternal Spring for its amazing weather - basically 60F almost all year round. Here is another frustrating thing about China. I look stuff up, we talk to people, everything and everyone says Kunming (or Guilin or whatever), but what is really meant is, "yes you fly to Kunming to see the beauty a 5 hour drive away". This happened a couple of times and I should have learned my lesson. Each place we thought would be cool to see is really the airport and giant city you go to, in order to go to the places of interest. It's the equivalent of telling people, "beautiful mountains and lakes and streams? Yeah, New York City is where you want to go". Meaning the Adirondack Mointains. Just say the name of the actual place so that we can be more informed and make a better decision as to whether or not to go - please! Also it actually rains almost every day in Kunming, how's that for awesome weather. It made Seattle look like a place the clinically depressed go to cure their blues. Oh yeah, I almost got pick pocketed here, but Christine scared them off. 

The only cool thing about this place is there is a Walmart - actually 3 in fairly close proximity to each other, I guess it is called the Walmart district. There are 3 Walmarts in all of China. We went because I needed a couple of shirts to replace a couple lost along the way. The funny thing about Walmart or Pizza Hut or McDonald's in China is it is unrecognizable once you step inside. McDonald's is almost entirely chicken in various forms and one didn't even show burgers as an option, you had to ask. This is to keep up with KFC which is killing. Anyway, Walmart looked like Walmart on the outside, but was setup like the street stalls we had just walked through to get into the Walmart. Just rows of random oddities stacked haphazardly all over the place. I couldn't figure out, for the life of me, why this place was necessary, when just outside it was exactly the same! Nothing inside would be found in a Walmart and it stunk of rat.

People all over China are screaming for western stores or fast food chains, but change them to be completely Chinese within a few hours of being open - what is the point? 

Tibet - A simple place, deeply religious people. The countryside is beautiful and there are a ton of temples and monasteries. The big draw, of course, is Mt. Everest and/or altitude sickness, it's a personal preference. And like most of the things in China going to base camp involves a bunch of rules and processes. When we got to base camp I remember thinking that this is just a stop for a break before heading on because Everest is so far away. Turns out there is a climbers base camp which has been closed for a couple of years and the visitor's base camp which is 30-40 km from Everest, but you can see it over there right? We were asked if we wanted to get on a shuttle to go closer and I think great we can actually get a feel for it's height and the cold etc. We drive for 5 minutes up a hill. You can see the remains of a trail/road heading in the direction of Everest. Unfortunately, this is as close as we get. It is still an absolutely awe inspiring sight.

So that was Chiner.


  1. Wonderful breakdown of the cities you've visited. I loved Beijing and enjoyed walking through The Great Wall and would love to go back again. Unfortunately my beautifully irrational wife is positive that my inherent penchant of doing or saying something stupid will cause an international incident and force Hillary to bail me out. Perhaps in a few years she'll be begging me to leave the country. Until then..time to carefully slide outta here...

    -C'mon, you know who this is: Icky Icky Icky batang vwoom boing.. eruamurnm

    1. Paul's good at summarizing the cities and countries we've visited. He can also tell you that I've said icky icky icky icky batang quite a bit while we've been traveling.


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