Sunday, February 15, 2009

Weekend Wrap-up, 15th of February

Saturday was pretty much wasted on a trip to the clinic on a minor note and washing my jeans two pairs at a time in my tiny washing machine. It’s amazing how long it takes to get 10 pairs through that undersized contraption between stopping to put in soap and waiting to put in fabric softener. It was also a bit of a challenge to find a place to hang those 10 pairs to air dry. The rack I have was good for 5, and the rest ended up over towel bars and the shower curtain rod and the backs of chairs. I was glad to be able to fold them up and put them away this morning, the clutter was annoying. I also had a walk down to the edge of town where the estuary behind the bay comes in between Kai Fa Qu and the peninsula that holds Dalian proper. I stopped to watch an almost fistfight between four people, one woman and three men. It was a little bit one-sided as three of them seemed to be trying to make the same point to the odd man out. It was at a bus stop and from what I could gather the one guy wanted to get on the bus and the other three were not in favor of it. They each took turns getting up close and yelling right in his face, even the woman stood there shaking her finger at him until one of the guys grabbed her by the collar and literally threw her out of the way. The put upon man for some reason got out his cell phone and made a motion to call someone – the police?, the bus company? – I don’t know but the others continued to yell until the bus driver decided to leave and the fight broke up when the aggressors got on the bus.

I turned around at a park by the road that comes into Kai Fa Qu. And interesting spot with stylized Olympic Rings framing a coal fired power plant. Flags of the world snap gaily in the smoky sea breeze. Across the street stands a big office building that lacks a center. At night it’s a blaze of color shifting neon. This time of day it’s merely green. Walking back I watched a boy picking up the remains of giant icicles that had fallen from the underside of the elevated train tracks running above the sidewalk. Looking up it made me wonder what it would be like to have that chunk of ice plummet onto your unsuspecting noggin.

This morning’s breakfast called for improvisation. I’ve made eggs here a couple of times, scrambled, and I’ve never been too happy with the results. The convection stove top is either too hot or not hot enough and so the eggs end up in little greasy particles from being half-cooked and then over-cooked. I didn’t think I could poach an egg in the woks I have, so I put on my thinking cap and came up with a brilliant solution - a small tea cup, a saucer, a few drops of water, the egg and 45 seconds in the microwave on medium. Not perfect, but darn close; if I received such an egg in a restaurant I might whine about it but I wouldn’t send it back. I also made my first foray into Chinese bacon which is a lot like uncured slices of pork and pretty much unlike what I am used to. The eggs were better.

Today I thought I would hike up to the base of the UFO hill where there is a pretty big bronze statue of a winged ox with a little kewpie kid on its withers The park is called Tong Niu, 童牛, which translates literally as “boy oxen” which is exactly what the statue is. I’m told that there is a legend, but I’ve not been able to find anything out about it.

I was sitting around my room waiting to go when the morning knock came from the maid and so I grabbed my things and left, passing a bride and groom entering the hotel for their wedding reception. A videographer was directing the action and a big white stretch Lincoln, bedecked in red flowers was out in the parking lot. When the wind hit me in the face on the other side of the revolving door I had an instant appreciation for that young woman in her strapless white gown making the dash from the limo to the lobby.

Sundays are busy here in my neighborhood with many people out shopping. It looks to me to be the busiest day of the week and I imagine that is because many people work on Saturday. I decided to start my day with a coffee at Starbucks so I crossed the street and headed in that direction and upon arriving was surprised to see that the place was pretty full. I did manage to grab the last table and got out my iPhone to play with my email. People came and went and the table next to me changed hands a couple of times. I looked up at one point to see an expat I know in passing, a pretty senior guy on the project. Fifty something I would guess, close in age to me. He didn’t recognize me probably because I was far out of context. With him was a 20-something Chinese girl, cute and petite and well appointed aside from her hair which appeared to be unfamiliar with the concept of a comb, a very strange thing for Chinese women who are always pin neat.

She sat down in the chair beside me while he collected their drinks. She was busy running her fingers through her hair, de-knotting it I imagine which wasn’t great for me. We were very close and every time she cleared a snag and shook her head, she brushed me on the side of the head with it. I moved closer to my table which helped but the proximity was still a bit too intimate for Starbucks.

He came back and sat down, removing his glasses. They began to have the most basic of conversations about this and that, he was speaking very slowly and enunciating every word I suppose out of consideration for her English skills. She asked him what he was going to do today and he replied that he would go back to his apartment and work on his puzzle (Sunday crossword I imagine) and that doing so made him very sleepy and that he would take a nap. He talked about what a stressful job he had and about how big his house in Shanghai happened to be. He said he was tired all the time. She asked, “How much sleep do you get?”

At that point I knew where this was going and it wasn’t going to take a crystal ball or help from the spirits of the netherworld for me to predict his answer with 100% certainty. No, I knew at that moment I was stuck in a $5.99 paperback with a blank cover that you buy in one of those stores with no windows on the edge of a light industrial park; the place that still exists for those few sad guys that don’t have internet access or a credit card.

Before he even opened his mouth, I had the words formulated and ready to be said for him. His answer – “Well, that depends on whether you’re over or not.”

There is something very strange about a place that won’t allow you to import R-rated DVDs in your personal shipment yet looks the other way at the fact that every masseuse you order up after 10 PM is a sex worker. A place where 50+ year old men bring 20-something children out for a morning after cup at the western coffee shop and then sits there and crafts a sentence like that, actually saying it out loud like the most unsophisticated 20-something frat boy. I understand that we all need to do what we need to do to get by in this world and I also understand that I am pretty much a Puritan. But I don’t understand how any man with a shred of personal decency, morality or heart could think that he was entitled to this little girl as a means to preserving his sanity. Looking back at the oil workers I wrote about a week or two ago at least their silent dinner partners were in the same age bracket and not someone undoubtedly in the peer group of his own children, back in the world.

I stood up slowly putting on my jacket and giving him a good look straight in the face but without his glasses he didn’t even know I was there. He was just staring fuzzy eyed across the room in a direction away from his bed-headed companion at something far off in the distance.

It’s a couple of miles down to the ocean and up to the statue, a route that runs through high-rise neighborhoods of intermediate quality. Not a lot of trashy lots, mostly neat residential enclaves composed of buildings on the slightly older side. I passed by what I think is a bar (judging from the Carlsberg sign) in the form of a traditional Dutch windmill. Buildings like this are not uncommon here but I’m at a loss as to why. A man sat out front selling bags of popcorn from a bicycle with a steel fire box on the front.

I was following my map and took a turn onto a completely empty street bordered on one side by an abandoned hotel and by apartment blocks on the other. A sole person came up the street towards me – a red-headed westerner – striking me as odd that the only other being here would be someone from the other side. I continued on expecting the street to make a jog towards the sea but was surprised to see it blocked by a gate – security for the next set of apartments. I turned around and headed back, finding an alley off to the left with a set of stairs down to the boulevard that runs along the beach.

The Chinese love whimsical things and this beach is loaded with them – a pirate ship, a giant conch shell, a mermaid and a woman astride a Blue Whale. I took a few pictures and moved on it was very windy and exceedingly cold. Off in the distance cargo ships sat waiting for their turn to come into port. A large double-decker ferry steamed out of port on its way to somewhere. The giant spider arms of a container port stood out against the skyline of Dalian far beyond.

Across the street from me a long line of dinosaur skeletons marched in the opposite direction formed by carved concrete on an exposed rock face. Some teenagers had climbed up to the highest head, standing on a little ledge with no railing fifty feet above the road below.

I turned the corner and was now thankfully out of the wind. This place is the other side of the UFO hill I wrote about last week and not nearly so steep a climb. I went up the road passing by men selling candied crab apples and bottles of soda from their bicycles. The crabapples are very common – it is literally impossible to walk a block without seeing someone selling them. Ten or so to a stick I’m told they are truly offensive but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone here from eating them.

Tong Niu used to stand on a forested ridge and it required some bushwhacking to get to it. But this being the Year of the Ox the government was kind enough to build a set of stairs up to it along with a nice wooden platform around its base. I went up the 105 steps and stopped to appreciate it and to take some pictures. A group of teen-aged boys was up there talking too loudly and smoking cigarettes, ignored by the girls they were with. A few other couples came and went while I stood there, exposed again to the wind, taking pictures and enjoying the view.

The Ox is pretty impressive from up close - polished hooves and wings and a look of determination and anger on its face. The Boy sits astride also with a look of determination, his little topknot flapping in the wind. He has the mark of the Third Eye on his forehead, making me wonder if this has some root in Buddhism but I can’t be sure. There is a plaque but without translation. As it is with all things like this, from below set against the sky it looks much bigger than it really is. Not unlike the full moon rising in a supercharged size only to shrink more and more as it reaches its zenith.

It was truly cold now so I headed back down the hill trading “hello” and “ni hao” and mad dog stares with groups of teens on their way up. For some reason they find this mild interaction amusing.

The trip home was pretty much the same as that over other than passing an elderly man leaning on a wrought iron fence throwing up while his wife was checking her cell phone. Such is this place where things we never see at home are on regular display every time you head out the door. Final tally, 6 miles and couple of hours.

(Click to enlarge)
















































.........

No comments: