Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One day here and it starts snowing?!?

Winter dropped by this morning with the tiniest little flurries that eventually evolved into as genuine snowstorm. At the end of the day though, the sun broke through, the wind again started blowing from the North Pole and the temperatures dropped once again as the air roared down off the taiga, straight down to something you might expect in Novosibirsk. The effect of the snow was interesting - cars slowed down, trucks were a bit more polite and every walking surface became treacherous. We had one of those classic conditions where the snow fell, it melted and then it froze into patches of black ice on every sidewalk and stair. Marble tile is the walking surface of choice here in China, just like it is in Mexico. Used commonly inside every building it extends to the outside as well and I very nearly did a header down a long flight of stairs when I did not anticipate the peril they were serving up. These slippery surfaces are bad enough in the tropics, where rain makes them dangerous, but here in the arctic, what are these builders thinking? Oh yes, it’s cheap, isn’t it?

I spent my first day at work lounging around in my down vest. Personal comfort is not a primary concern in most Chinese buildings, and the offices at the Dalian Software University are a great example of this. The stairwells are not heated at all so walking in them is not unlike being outside. And the same goes for the rest rooms. Amplifying the effect is more of that previously mentioned stone cold marble. You open the door and it’s just like walking into a giant multi-floor refrigerator. The offices themselves are kept pretty hot, but the temperature is mitigated by the gaping holes in the walls and the lack of caulking on the windows. And if your cube is near them on the windy side of the building, you get an interesting effect. When the clouds broke this afternoon, the wind picked up and I have to admit that I’ve never heard wind buffeting a building like I heard it this afternoon, it sounded like jets were landing on the roof. So I sat there working with waves of hot air breaking to my left and jets of cold air shooting in from a hole to my right. It was pretty comfortable in the middle.

My food mood today was “western” and so I went off at lunch time in search of a Philly Cheesesteak at Eddie’s. Eddie is an interesting story. When I first started coming here, he had an eponymous restaurant that was popular with the expat vanguard. I ate there a couple of times and the food was always pretty good. His restaurant was three floors, a bakery on the ground, tables on the second and private rooms on the third. Eddie would wander around and say “hello” and check on how you were doing. It was a nice, friendly place.

One day though, Eddie disappeared. He had a falling out with his partner and took his chef’s hat and left. For a while the name remained the same, but eventually it changed although nothing else did. Not the menu, not bakery and not the staff. It was pretty much the same, although Eddie-less.

A short bit later, the word got out – Eddie was back in business. His new place, with bakery on the first floor, dining on the second and now a Tapas bar on the third was called “The Real Eddies”, sort of a sharp stick in the eye of the former Eddie’s. And today that’s where we went.

He has managed to maintain the same quality of food as he had in his previous place. In addition to my wonderful sandwich, I had the best bowl of Pumpkin soup I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

After work I decided to go shopping with the intention of checking out the gourmet section at the Mykal department store next door to my hotel. I was left a bit cold by my experience shopping at the Trust Mart and so I hoped to find some exotics that might re-energize my interest in food. It turned out to be an interesting shopping experience with aisles dedicated to nationalities – Western, Korean and Japanese. I picked up some cherry jelly, Lindt chocolates, crackers, Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese. All expensive but unique enough that I thought they might well deserve a bit extra money. One problem with shopping fancy here is my inability to read some of the labels. One item I picked up called “Pocky” turned out to be a thin breadstick coated with a sort of fish-flavored chocolate frosting. One eaten, the rest in the trash.

I carted my gourmet selection back to the hotel and went back out to Trust Mart for some more prosaic items, none of which I ended up finding. I did labor over the selection of frozen pot stickers until one of the shopping aides insisted I buy a bag with a chef who happened to be the spitting image of Jackie Chan on the label. I did a little Chinese interrogation asking for chicken or pork and she pointed out which was which. While I wasn’t really interested, I did take a bag which I later snuck back into the freezer, only to be confronted by the aide a second time, still pushing Jackie’s brand. I got away without a bag this time.

Wandering around, one gets amazed at the huge variety of fresh food available. All kinds of sea creatures I wouldn’t eat on a bet as well as long buffets of freshly cooked food ready to be taken home for dinner. I’m still too scared to try that, preferring to wait until I can afford to be laid up with food poisoning for a week or two. Maybe 2009 will be the year I break that admonition.

I picked up a bag of frozen chicken parts labeled “Green”, hoping that they mean “organic” and not literally green. The fresh vegetables threw me for a loop again as it appears you have to have them weighed and tagged somewhere in the back, but no amount of observation made that process clear to me. So I opted for whatever was pre-priced and picked up some spinach, scallions and snow peas. A bag of pasta and some hopefully non-melamine contaminated eggs rounded out my shopping. I was hoping for paper towels but all I could find were aisles and aisles of toilet paper, I’ll have to solve that problem another way. Ironically I found a section that offered most of the fancy items I had just made the special trip for. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

My REI bag served its purpose at the checkout although I would later be saddened by the presence of a broken egg sloshing around on the bottom of it.

By now the sun had gone down and it was really cold. I pretty much could have used crampons to walk safely, raising the interesting question of how the Chinese girls manage in those high-heeled boots. Deciding to warm up for a moment I stopped at Starbucks and picked up an Americano to go. It’s a different crowd at night than it is in the morning, more westerners including a middle-aged German woman in black leather pants and another westerner of indeterminate origin wearing a top that more or less looked like something you’d find on the female lead in a Wagner opera.

So back out into the cold I went, skating down the street and up into my bachelor pad. As I was unpacking, I noticed a mystery bag of groceries on the table. Judging from the label on the bag, it had been dropped off by my friends at the relocation company. How nice, a great selection of snacks and soap and drinks and the exact same bag of pasta I had just bought fifteen minutes earlier.

No comments: