Posted by: andrewcockerham | February 25, 2010

New Beginnings of the Same Old Things


February 25, 2010  Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China   10:01 am

does eating brains make you smarter?

“So did you eat anything weird?”

Welcome to Hangzhou – where everywhere is a bathroom

Checking off the list

So as I’m sure you have all realized by now, I’m terrible at blogging. At least terrible at being consistent and up to date about it.  Here is an update, albeit incomplete and quite delayed.  I’ll start with current events, and backtrack to previous ones as time allows.

So I’ve been in Hangzhou now for about 6 weeks.  I’m actually really enjoying it.  The people I’ve met have been great.  Interestingly, almost all of the teachers here are close to my age, in contrast to my last school.  So that provides for lots of fun.  Also, I’ve made several friends among the local staff, which has not only really improved my Chinese, but has been culturally insightful and lots of fun.

Some things of note.

Welcome to Hangzhou – where everywhere is a bathroom

My first day in Hangzhou, some of the other foreigners took me to lunch and showed me a bit of the city. They were quite friendly and helpful.  In the taxi home, we stopped at a red light and the taxi driver opened the door and got out.  We were a bit confused, but his intentions quickly became quite clear.  He stood next to the bushes in the median and nonchalantly proceeded to relieve himself in the bushes as if it was as normal as drinking water.  The three of us foreigners stared at each other in amazement then instantly burst out laughing.  Living in China for a year you see lots of people relieving themselves in all kinds of public places that are not bathrooms, but this one might have taken the cake.  Attached is a picture of his back while we are in the cab.  What a wonderful welcome to my new city!

“So did you eat anything weird?”

What would a blog about China be if it didn’t include stories about eating exotic and thoroughly unappetizing foods?  Upon a discussion with some of the local teachers about weird foods in China, the idea of eating pig brains came up.  Apparently it is quite normal around here.  Naturally I was quite exciting and jumped at the opportunity for them to take me to eat pig brains.  So two of the local teachers and I went to a hot pot restaurant to try it out.  Hot pot is a common Chinese cuisine where a boiling pot of broth and spices is placed in the middle of the table and all the food is brought out raw.  Then you cook your food yourself in the pot and eat it as it finishes cooking.  It is a bit tiring, but one of my favorite Chinese dishes.  I was the only foreigner in the restaurant, and when we ordered pig brains the waitress gave me a quizzical look.  When she proceeded to deliver the pig brains to our table, several of the surrounding tables began to share her curiosity at a foreigner eating this exotic dish.  As seen in the picture, the brains are served raw, then cooked in the hot pot.  Uncooked, they look pretty much exactly as you would imagine brains look: soft, pink, mushy, and bloody.  Once cooked they turn a white gray color.  The taste actually wasn’t too bad, but the consistency, almost like jello, was a bit unappealing.  Still, I ate my share and it was good fun.  I figured you can’t spend a few years in China and come back without a few stories for when people ask you “So did you eat anything weird?”

Chinese New Year down here was pretty much the same as in Tianjin.  People shoot of fireworks willy-nilly in the streets while cars drive by trying to avoid the sparks.  I got some good video of us watching fireworks directly underneath them. And although these are sold in streetside stalls like back home, they are by no means your typical backyard family variety.  Full blown professional style fireworks.  The sound of explosions so close in every direction made me imagine it was similar to what it sounds like in a war zone.  A friend and I bought some to play with and as we were shooting them off, two girls our age came out of a C-store (think 7-11) to watch.  They were working at 11pm on New Year’s Eve!  We felt sorry for them so we let them shoot off most of them.  They seemed to enjoy it.  We went looking for some kind of big party or something equivalent to Time’s Square in New York, but alas that’s not a tradition here.  Chinese New Year is more like Christmas, everyone just stays home with their family, eats, and watches a big Chinese TV production that is vaguely similar to Saturday Night Live.  So there really is nothing to do but play with fireworks if you don’t have a Chinese family to go to.  But it was fun anyway. In Xi’an we did light the Cong Ming lanterns, which are paper lanterns that act basically like hot air balloons.  You light a little candle in the middle, and the hot air makes them ride up into the sky.  It’s really pretty when you can see hundreds of them floating around in the night sky.

Checking off the list

The next day I left for Xi’an to meet some friends to see the famous terra cotta warriors.  It was pretty interesting, but honestly they look exactly like they do on TV.  It was good to check it off the list, but I felt not really all that impressive after already seeing pictures and knowing the background behind them.  The one interesting thing was that we met (supposedly) the actual guy who discovered them back in the 1970’s.  He was autographing his book.  We weren’t allowed pictures (go figure) but it was quite fascinating to see his expressions and mannerisms.  He was nonchalantly puffing on his cigarette while casually jotting down his John Hancock every few seconds as a book was laid in front of him.  He didn’t speak or look the least bit interested in anything but his cigarette.  We asked our tour guide if he was rich and famous, thinking that anyone who discovered what some call “The Eighth Wonder of the World” would have to be immensely rich.  She said he is not rich at all, in fact he made no money from his discovery, or the sale of the books.  It made us wonder if they even pay him to sit there all day and autograph books (which were quite expensive by Chinese standards).  All of us foreigners were a bit taken aback at what seemed to us to be the government exploiting this man without any sort of compensation.  But it didn’t seem very strange to our tour guide.  Another interesting comparison of ideas and ‘norms’ between here and home.


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