Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Clubbing in Shenzhen

On Saturday we trekked across the border for another night in Shenzhen. After a visit to the tailor to have some clothes made, we checked into our hotel, got dolled up, and headed out to the True Colours Club (of which there are several in Shenzhen). The first club we went to had some decent live music:

Our usual strategy is to sit at the bar, order a drink, and wait for guys to invite us over to their table, and the strategy didn't fail us this time. After a drink and some cho dai di, we were approached by Dragon, who was sitting near the stage with a group of guys, and who told us that he'd like us to come drink with them and that they were sitting with the "grandfather of Chinese bass players." Sure - why not? Ohhh... I'll tell you why not.

There was a bottle of Jack Daniels on the table, and they immediately began pouring us drinks. Now, if you've never been drinking with Chinese guys, here's how it goes - they fill your glass, then say "cheers!" or "yam boi!" and you're expected to drink. And this happens approximately every 2 minutes. Anytime you make eye contact with someone - CHEERS! So there's a lot of drinking involved.

Eventually they decided we weren't drinking enough Jack, so they bought several beers for the table. So there we were, with Dragon, Sword, and Melody (poor Melody! How is he best friends with guys named Dragon and Sword?), drinking beer and Jack, and I suddenly felt someone staring at me. That's when I realized that Sword was really "Starey." Seriously - he was staring at me. Just... staring. He was pouring me drinks, yelling in my ear repeatedly "Lei sek msek teng guang dong wah???" (Do you understand Cantonese?), to which I repeatedly replied "siu siu" (a bit). And... he keeps staring. Here's a photo taken during the only five seconds he was able to tear his eyes off the side of my face:

Someone offers me a cigarette (standard etiquette at bars in China) but before I can decline, he declines for me, saying "I do not love you if you do this." Wait... what? He's getting a bit weird, still about two inches from my face, still just staring, so I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and he follows me. I emerge from the ladies' room and he's there, hands spread in a pleading expression. Time to bail.

So we say goodbye to the guys and the Grandfather of Chinese Bass Players and head to the other True Colours Club, where there's some sort of dance-off going on (this is all the video I could get before security shut me down):

And this club has its own share of... um... characters. Primarily, Dancey. A short, stocky, blonde, mustached New Zealander who bears an incredible resemblance (both in appearance and attitude) to a golden retriever welcoming its owner home after a long workday. He was dancing. And dancing. And dancing and dancing and dancing. And he had an incredible talent for always navigating through the crowd to make sure he stayed in your eyesight. He was immensely taken with Ah-Sin, but she was ignoring him as best she could, and he was after anyone who was willing to look him in the eye. I look up from my beer and he's dancing directly in front of me. I turn around and see flailing arms in my peripheral vision. I close my eyes and have visions of him... he was absolutely irepressible. He was also the happiest person I've ever seen in my life.

So, unable to shake Dancey and still shaken from Starey, we head back to our hotel around 3 a.m. Just another evening in the mainland.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chinese New Year

Another Chinese New Year in the mainland! Larger cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou are absolutely deserted because everyone's gone back to their home villages for the holiday. Shops and restaurants are closed and the streets are empty except for lonely tumbleweeds comprised of used toothpicks, feathers, and chicken bones, and packs of wolves stalking the feral cat population. So we headed to Si Hui, which was pure madness last year, and which didn't disappoint this one - fireworks, food vendors, throngs of people in the streets... a big party.

Also in Si Hui, we found this - a lawn farm:

If you've ever wondered where the turf on your front lawn comes from, there's a possibility it came from the excellent little town of Si Hui! Probably not, but you never know...

But our stop in Si Hui was brief, and we caught an overnight train up to Changsha in Hunan Province. On the train, first tea:

Then beer (drinking it in our sleeper car, as we were boycotting the restaurant car after a nasty altercation with the waitress - which we won, of course. Or rather, Cecilie did.):

It was such a good trip, in fact, that much of it is a complete blur to me. For example, I woke up the morning after CNY to find my shoes filled with dried sweet potatoes. Not exactly sure what happened there:

Yes, we drank many beers and made many new friends. Cards in the alley with old guys:

And two guys that were my very best friends one night. I don't remember their names:

These guys were my best friends some other night. I don't remember their names either:

Yes, Hunan was definitely the place to be. From the naked woman starting a fire on the street, to being preceded by children yelling "Foreigners are coming! Foreigners are coming!" to having our photo taken at every opportunity:

We were rock stars. Dear god, I love being stared at. Is that wrong?

From Changsha we caught a train to Chenzhou. The very communist-looking train station there:

And me waiting among the throngs of people to get a train ticket:

Urban exploration is good fun. (Until you surprise a man having a huge bowel movement in an abandoned building. But I'm sure it was more traumatizing for him than it was for me. I suspect that he'll be plagued by lifelong constipation - unable to shake the idea that a strange gweilo is about to pop up from nowhere and interrupt him.) In Changsha we traipsed around some beautiful abandoned factories, construction sites, and train tracks:

And did some filming for another upcoming masterpiece from the Happy Jellyfish People's Democratic Language Bureau:

And spent some time at the local police station (long story), where the officers gave us cookies, offered to share their dinner, and watched fireworks with us outside the station. Yes, those Red Police are just terrifying*:

And a few bonus photos from the trip - a chicken claw that waved to me from the ground in Si Hui:

A man selling cotton candy from his bicycle:

A man selling slices of the biggest fruitcake I've ever seen, also from his bike:

And lastly, the wonderful, ubiquitous signage:

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

* Of course, they're not demolishing my homestead of 60 years because the government has decided to build a new 20-lane highway. I imagine they can be a bit off-putting then.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Culinary odyssey in Hunan Province

Okay, I'm back. I haven't posted in a while because a few months ago my darling husband had a few drinks and left our camera at a bar and, being more susceptible to inertia than the average person, I got out of the habit. Now our camera's been replaced and I have a backlog of photos to post, but I'll start with some from my recent trip to Hunan province for the Chinese New Year. I took so many photos that they'll have to be divided into two posts, so I'll start with the good stuff - the food.

Hunan food is similar to Sichuan in that it involves lots of chiles. This is good. Very, very good. Here we have tofu covered in fresh chiles, dried chiles, and chile paste (and made by a chef that called himself the "Chile King":

More tofu, cooked with chiles and spring onions:

Hey look - more tofu with chiles!

Strips of smoked tofu (which we dipped in chile sauce):

And tofu swimming in chile sauce. Bright red food is almost always good. (Yes, even those cheap hot dogs):

Almost everywhere we went, we also had variations of the amazing cucumber/garlic/chile salad. This one was heavy on the spring onions:

A version heavy on the chiles:

And one with a lot of chopped coriander:

Taro. With chile:

Taro spring rolls - basically fried bread stuffed with mashed taro - and chile sauce for dipping:

Eggplant topped with a huge mound of chopped garlic:

Dry-fried green beans (which we wolfed so fast that I barely had time for a photo):

Sichuan hot pot. Not a great photo, but it's basically a boiling vat of chili broth into which you dump various ingredients. We had lotus root, bean sprouts and noodles:

Cold noodles with chiles, peanuts, Sichuan peppercorns, and spring onions:

A fried... thing. We got this from a street vendor. It tasted like a huge potato chip with peanuts stuck on top. Deep-fried fatty goodness:

Teeny-tiny oranges we ate on the train:

Those black things are congealed pig's blood. I don't fully understand how that works. And no, I didn't try it:

Pine bud drink. It smells and tastes like a Christmas tree. A really sweet Christmas tree:

All of this, and I actually lost two pounds in six days while traveling. Is there anything China can't do?

Next up - stuff we actually did in Hunan.