Saturday, September 17, 2005

Never thought I'd live to see the day...

...that Lafayette was proud of me. This is awesome.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shave and Haircut... quite right!

Ok, so I went on Sunday to go and have my hair cut. I did this because I was starting to look like one of the BeeJees and that is a crime against humanity. It was horrible. Adriano, Ngee Siew, and I went to the hairdresser where Adriano usually goes, and much to my surprise, it was like any hair saloon at home. First, they washed my hair, then (using my trusty passport photos I had taken before I left the States) I showed him what I wanted my hair to look like, and the barber snipped away. Then it was time for another hair wash to get all the little bits out.

Well, I was finished, but Ngee Siew was having his hair dyed (I have no idea why) and Adriano was downstairs in the basement. I went down looking for him, to find him being given a shave with an old fashioned straight edge razor, followed by a scalp, arm and hand massage. Since I hadn't shaved in two days, and I've ALWAYS wanted to have an old-fashioned shave, I sat down in the chair and had steaming hot lather applied to my face.

Let me tell you, that was by far the most absolutely, incredibly, entirely...

... HORRIFIC experience of my life. I guess I never realized how much I don't trust other people. You quickly find out how much ingrained distrust you have in others when someone is running a 6-inch long razorblade across your jugular. And, it damn-well hurts! A lot!. It felt like I was shaving with a four month old disposable razor. Ouch! I don't think I will ever get a real shave like that again... I suppose I might consider it on my wedding day or something, but only because of how close a shave it was.

Again, I was finished before everyone else, so I opted to try the scalp massage... supposed to relieve tension... again, yeah right! Ouch that hurts! It felt like someone was pulling out all my hair by the roots, and they felt it necessary to try and sell me some hair restoration lotion after that. See, Dad... I told you I'm not the only one that says I am loosing my hair. After enduring about one minute of my 20 minute scalp massage, I told them to stop, wash the stuff out of my hair that they had just slapped in it, and send me upstairs so that I could pay. I spent the rest of the time at the hairdresser watching some Chinese gameshow where some guy was throwing playing cards at bananas from 30 feet away and cutting them in half.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The expat scene

I've recently been introduced to Yantai's expat scene. Apparently there are many more westerners here than I had originally thought. I live no where near the downtown district, but rather out in the ETDZ or development zone, and out here westerners are more scarce.

This past Thursday I met Adriano, a half Welsh, half Italian guy that I met on an expat forum on the internet. He said once I got settled into Yantai, he would show me around and introduce me to people. In all of Yantai, do you know where this guy lives? Directly across the street from me. Unbelievable. Yantai covers a huge area, and this guy is across the street.... Harvey Luck, I suppose!

Adriano took me out to some of the expat bars in downtown and over the course of this past weekend I met some very interesting people. Adriano is 25, and in the past five years he has worked for a major airline in Kuwait, started a bunch of import/export companies in the Middle East, China, and the UK, brokered major deals between the US military and some Middle Eastern governments, married an Egyptian lady, divorced her, married a Chinese woman, started two restaurants in Beijing, and is now planning on opening a bar on the beach in Yantai. Oh, and in his spare time he teaches English to make a little extra cash and keep his visa. Adriano's roommate, Graham, is Scottish and has such a thick accent that I even have trouble with it sometimes. He is also my age. Once he finished studying at St. Andrews in Scotland, he came here to teach English for a few months. He is now signed on for three years. Graham grew up within a few miles of the Glenfiddich, Famous Grouse, and Macallan whiskey distilleries in Scotland, so the kid worships a nice single malt. He unfortuantely is going back to Scotland for six weeks. There is Along and his friends... Along is a Frenchman who is hands down the best card manipulator I have ever seen. He can perform card tricks with a regular deck that some of the best Vegas professionals can only perform with specialized trick decks. He is also one of the most physically built people I have ever met in my life. With his poneytail and European looks, he is somewhat akin to a brunette Fabio. He and his friends are doing their MBA at a university in France, but before they can graduate, they have to spend one semester in Asia. They don't have to attend class or do anything mind you, they just have to physically be here. Consequently, they do nothing but party. His one friend looks so incredibly like Leonardo DiCaprio that they tell people that he is Leonardo's half brother and people believe it without question. Oh, and the Brits... how could I forget them. If you are out at the bar and you see a guy who looks like he could break you in half, and he has and English accent, then he is one of the many British 20-somethings studying Kung Fu here (or more accurately, Gong Fu). These guys train so much that they only have time to work as bartenders late in the evening. They spend hours and hours a day punching wooden posts to toughen up their hands... some of them can crush a brick that is sitting on the table, just with their fist.

I am very glad I met all of these people. It is nice to have friends out here now, and also very interesting to hear more and more about these export companies that Adriano has started. Actually, it seems that everyone you meet here has started some type of export company, whether they deal in ceramics, artwork, funiture... everyone has something going on the side which seems to make they all lots of money. Adriano has been telling me exactly how to go about setting up such a thing, and the idea is starting to grow on me. It is really easy.

Oh, one other benefit to meeting Adriano and his friends... the school they work at is two blocks away and they teach Chinese to English speakers. Now that I know the owner, they are going to set me up in a class perhaps next week!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fake pagodas and hairy balls... yes, you read that correctly.

I know I haven't been posting much, and I apologize for that. I've been ridiculously busy with work, and I also joined a gym so by the time I get home I am exhausted. This one also won't be very long, but I'll try and let you know what I've been doing.

Last weekend Ngee Siew, the Yantai Site Manager (Chung You Xu), and I walked all around Yantai on Saturday, and traveled to the city of Penglai on Sunday. I got ludicrously sunburned on Saturday, so I went out and bought sunscreen. I am not used to living at the beach. Yantai has some very nice sections, but for me to get to the downtown area, it is a 30 minute bus ride or a 60 RMB taxi (which in reality is less than $10, but I am getting accustomed to Chinese pricing, and that is really expensive to me). Penglai was nice... they are famous for this large pagoda, and what they call the Penglai Pavilion. I was really disappointed to find out that this beautiful pagoda and the surrounding "histrorical site" is nothing more than a fake, Disnisized (yes, I made it up) theme park designed to make money. At the "historic pagoda" the oldest structure was about 20 years old. So far, my experiences with Chinese historical sites is about as authentic as the Romex watches people were selling in Shanghai.

Thank goodness for the Penglai Pavillion. This is an old temple structure that actually is authentic. Well over 1000 years old, it was great to walk around and see some real history for once, even if it was being marketed shamelessly.... amid the shrines and sacred items were souvenier shops galore. There is a tree in the courtyard there that is over 1000 years old. For some reason it has always blossomed one month early and withered one month later than all of the other trees of its kind... the explaination is something to do with the 34,264 deities (slight exageration, but you get the point) that ancient Chinese culture believed in, but I cannot recall the story as there are so many stories about them. I will post all of these pictures later.

I was very lucky a few days ago, avoiding some "interesting" food. I have developed a habit of playing Russian Food Roulette.... since I cannot read the menu at all, I just point to an item and pray. Last night for dinner I did this and Ngee Siew told me that I might want to reconsider... I had pointed to an item which translated directly as "Hairy Balls". Ummm.... no thank you. I'll pass. You could also get them "steamed, without the pouch." Eww.

Ewww, again.

I don't understand how some foods became food to begin with. While barbequed chicken heads doesn't sound appetizing to me, I do understand how it got its footholds in the culinary world. While the Chinese are much more prosperous today than in the past, they are still quite poor. So in the past they were incredibly poor.... they had to make use of everything they could get. That is why they eat all parts of the chicken, because it was the only food they had. Now, parts like the head, feet, lungs, and testicles are considered delicasies.

I don't however understand how food such as "Smelly Tofu" ever became food. This is a type of tofu dish that smell so bad, so utterly disgusting, so putrid, that you can smell it from half a block away, gaga, and nearly throw up. The direct translation actually means something like "smells like rotting drain sewage bean curd". Seriously... no exageration! That is honestly the best description for the smell. And Ngee Siew says it tasts pretty much the same, although he hates the stuff. He says some people swear by the stuff, but to me it is like the Marmite of the soy bean world. I really cannot imagine a scenario where someone in the past accidentally made this stuff, smelled it, and then decided it would be a good idea to eat.

Hmm... guess this post was a little longer than I though.

Oh, since the news is censored here, and I don't speak Chinese anyway... I had no idea until only a few days ago about any of this New Orleans stuff, or Renquist dying... I found a way to get to CNN, and I can't believe what I am reading. New Orleans is gone? Like, not coming back gone? The death toll could be up to 10,000? Is that true? I can't even fathom that.

Well, sorry to get all depressive at the end...

Zaijian, all.