Friday, June 05, 2009

A little video

Took this the other night at the seaside park in Kai Fa Qu. Had to wait to get home to publish it, Youtube is banned on the far side and trying to do it via DSL and my VPN was too slow. So here it is, The Dailan Fan Dance.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

It's the destination, not the journey

So I find myself on the road once again, heading home to wrap up some work before heading back here for the meat of my assignment. This year has been very different than last, I'm not living in airports like I was and trips have gone back to being special instead of my regular fare.

In the spirit of the mercurial nature of Dalian traffic, I allowed 2+ hours for the trip to the gate and check in. You never know here, the last time I went out I barely made it through the luggage check, the crowds were that deep. I figured I had nothing better to do and so planned to sit at the airport if necessary.

This morning was crystal clear as it is on some days before the automobile traffic picks up. Perhaps the power plants have been off line for a couple of days, because we've had a short string of mornings and evenings that have a clear view of the ocean, and in today's case, Dalian city proper.

I had dinner with friends last night and on my walk down my newly found special street I once again stopped to watch the purple pajama grandma doing her nightly Tai Chi, this time joined by eight other women. Again it was a mystical moment, watching the women slowly doing the moves in unison, illuminated by a single street light.

When he dropped me off yesterday, Mr Jiang had given me a box of cherries and pears, freshly picked as it's now the season here in Liaoning, as a gift for my journey and I had left it with my dinner partners. When he picked me up I told him how wonderful they were. He was in a good mood this morning, collecting my bags and putting them in the trunk.

Per our regular routine, our conversation turned to weighty topics. I saw a hawk land on a power line and told him about it, adding that I like to look at birds. He replied that birds were very good to eat, especially the bird dishes prepared in Luxun, the next big city down the peninsula. He added that there were not many birds in China, and I wonder if he made the connection between those two points.

We talked about population and compared that of the US to China. The Chinese have different terms for numbers than we do and it can make translation difficult. They speak in terms of "wan" which is 10,000. For example, they would say "30 wan" when we would say 300,000 and "300 wan" when we would say 3,000,000. "2000 wan" would be 20 million but then it changes and the term "yi" is introduced for 100 million. It took me a moment to calculate his statement that China had "Shi si yi ren" or 14 - 100,000,000 people or in our speak, 1.4 billion souls. I took it to the next step, bringing the population of India into the calculation and he said, "yes, China #1, Hindu #2" he went on to compare American family sizes to the 1 child policy, adding that too many people and too many children are very expensive when you consider food, clothing, shelter, school and everything else it takes to provide a life. The more I talk with him, the more I realize that he is a very informed fellow.

We arrived in about 30 minutes, the benefit of driving to town this time of day. The airport was just as it ever is, I had to switch lines three times due to people arguing across the gaps, trading luggage and cutting in front of me. I finally picked a line that seemed to be moving and it was sped up further by the two guys in front of me, one who just left as he had no intention of checking in, he just thought the line was a good place to stand. The second guy had stood in line merely to ask a question by way of yelling at the agent for 30 seconds before walking away. It took me 90 seconds to complete my transaction, even receiving a priority sticker on my bag, a first for this place.

We left Dalian a bit late but arrived in Beijing close to the scheduled time. The connection here is a bit tight - about 2 hours - which can be problematic if security or immigration are bogged down and it was making me a bit tense waiting for my bag which didn't seem to me coming. When it did show up, it came in one of those hard plastic bins that the normally reserve for oddly shaped things (mine being a standard big suitcase). The bin with my bag crested the chute, shot down on the moving surface, hit the rail and popped straight out onto the floor. Another passenger made a point of walking around it, as though it was some sort of invisible yet detectable obstacle.

What I had forgotten from previous transfers here was that it's just a short hop from domestic baggage claim to international check-in and so now I had plenty of time. I lined up in the special status line but one of the attendants (in China they often have young women waiting by the international check-in lines to facilitate things) offered me an open counter down where the proletariat usually checks their bags. So I accepted and actually managed to clear the area before the remainder of the fancy passengers.

The train car I picked for the ride out to the plane was loaded with young security agents heading out to their shift. A gaggle of 20-something Chinese is a sight to behold - you'd swear you were in the cafeteria at an American middle school. A couple of the girls were eating cherries and spitting the pits on the marble floor. They found it hysterical when one of their co-workers almost slipped and ended up on her backside.

There really isn't much to say about the long flight aside from the fact that of course the one doofus that refused to close his window shades happened to be at the end of my row. I had just fallen asleep when he pulled his shade up and hit me with the concentrated solar laser beam which put an end to my dozing plans. There's always one, on every flight and this guy felt that he needed the light to pick at the skin on his hands, which for some reason he was eating. Scratch, pick, munch - that said just about everything. Well, that and the weird two-toned sort of boat shoes, sort of loafers he was wearing. A bit later when he fell asleep a kindly flight attendant went over and pulled it down, giving the rest of us a break.

About now it's 1 AM as far as my body is concerned but I am feeling pretty chipper. Probably the huge pastry carb load I have going, or maybe it's just over-tiredness. One thing thing that does feelo really good is the fact that I'm back in a place where I can write my story without having to sneak onto the internet via my corporate virtual private network. It's been a real pain these last few weeks, being unable to write or even review my blog from my apartment, without the added subterfuge of using my work computer. I think it's a pretty strange thing to be in a place where the powers that be are so worried, that they block something as insipid as Blogger. I mean honestly, most people are just complaining about not being able to get a good parking spot in front of their building, right?

Heading home tomorrow, last chance for some real adventures

Most of my compatriots have opted to undergo the rabies vaccination that is suggested by our health organization. I’ve chosen not to, mostly because the vaccine almost killed one of our dogs once and also because I think it’s a waste of time and money. As a preventative, you get three shots; if an animal draws blood, you get five. And the rush to the hospital to get them only has to happen within seven days. I decided sometime back that Hepatitis, Japanese Encephalitis and Typhus vaccinations were plenty. This means though that you have to be on your guard around dogs and that in turn often means we make a lot of jokes about being attacked, an attack that would take the form of having your ankle bitten by the standard Chinese dog that’s 6 inches high at the withers.

Last Sunday I had that run-in with the rat dog in the park. Not much of a run-in and not much of a dog. But for a moment when he pulled himself up to his full size I was slightly concerned. I got over it. This morning when I boarded the elevator, there was a loose Pomeranian running around and around between the other rider’s legs, clearly excited about his impending walk around the block. No leash, when I say loose I mean loose. This situation deserved my undivided attention.

I boarded and took a place in the corner at the front. The dog came over and stood under me, looking up with a grin which suggested, “This person is the wrong color and the wrong height and doesn’t smell right either.” I smiled and he went off, staying at the back for about 10 seconds before returning and staring at me some more, this time with more of a dog smile on his face now as if to say, “Well, you don’t look or smell right, but you’re smiling so you must be okay.” I’m sure if he’d had a tail he would have wagged it. We stopped at a couple of floors on the way down and darned if the little orange fellow knew enough not to get off. His master said something to him and the dog looked up at him and back at the door, waiting for it to open. When we got to the first, the master gently kicked him out the door into the lobby and he went tearing out the door to see what was going on out in the real world. From then on I was nothing more than a mere afterthought in his little doggie brain.

Some days you just wonder if it’s ever going to let up. No day here is like a day at home, days at home are rarely punctuated by weirdness. But a day here without something strange happening is simply not conceivable. To me anyway. It makes me wonder how the Chinese live their lives because if I had to put up with the things they must have to put up with, I think I’d lose my mind.

I got in the car this morning and there was a plastic grocery bag with a fast food container in it and I knew right away that there was a story about to happen. Mr. Jiang told me that he had brought me lunch, leftovers from a party he had last night with his friend. I can only imagine what he has to say about me, it’s either “he’s very smart” or “you have to hear the latest on this guy.” He told me that he and his friend had a great time drinking some beers and eating some dinner and that he brought this for me to try out. Well, I’m flying tomorrow and so I was immediately on the defensive but I thanked him profusely and accepted his kind gift. We spent the drive to work making plans for me to visit the bank this afternoon where I hoped to accomplish two things. First, I wanted to request a replacement debit card for the one I’d received back in September. There was a bit of a problem with that batch, the magnetic strip and the labeling were peeling off all the cards in the batch that was handed out that week. I know this because one of my staff received his card on the same day as I did and he’d ended up replacing his in January. I just put a bit of scotch tape on mine, figuring it would get me through until I had a chance to get a new one. Nothing here is as easy as it could be; in this case a new card takes 7 business days and requires a return trip to the bank. It would be unthinkable that you might be able to get one faster than that. Second, I wanted to pay my corporate credit card bill before I left the country for a month. I showed a business card from the bank to Mr. Jiang and asked him if he had an idea where it was, he didn’t which didn’t surprise me, but I did and he told me he’d call to find out later. We made a plan for him to pick me up at 2 PM.

When I arrived at my desk, I decided that I would check out the lunch. The inside of the bag was smelling kind of fishy and when I opened up the container, it became apparent why – inside was a whole crab and an abalone. Kind of room temperature. I was very flattered but decided to offer this up to the common fund.

The better part of the morning was spent trying to see if I could link my debit card to my corporate credit card via China Merchant Bank’s online system. They have a really nice, all-English web page with happy, smiling people wearing telephone headsets beckoning you to ring them up. They have a nice list of log-in opportunities on the right hand side and I chose “Login to General Edition.” The fun stopped right there, along with the English. Behind the Potemkin village of happy, bilingual operators, everything was written in Chinese. I asked my colleague to come over and help me with the translation and we made some progress, actually getting a look at the balance of my savings account which amazingly had grown by 3.20 RMB in the last 9 months. The miracle of compound interest, 50 cent is 50 more cents in my pocket any day of the week. Imagine if I had had more than $200 in there!

Things began to unravel when we tried to link my corporate card to my debit card. In the infinite wisdom of our corporation, we are asked to apply for and use a Chinese credit card for all the business travel we do while we are on assignment here. It’s a nice idea, but I can imagine the howls of laughter from the desk jockeys at the Chandler Marriott when I try to use it there. Anyway, last January I did the application with the help of a department secretary and unlike most of my co-workers who had done the same, I actually received mine. I didn’t have any intention of actually using it, but I figured it would be worthwhile because very often, Chinese businesses don’t take the standard issue American Express card that normal employees have.

One of the cool things about our travel expense system is that if you use the corporate card, all the charges are automatically linked to your expense report. Often no receipts are necessary, all you do is apply the charges and the company pays the bill. It’s very clean and simple and so when I received my last vaccinations I used my AMEX card to pay for them. Well, surprise, the process only works when you’re living in the US. Over here, no such luck so I had to pay the bill when it came to my house and then wait for the reimbursement to come to my Chinese bank account, in RMB, of course. Never mind that it took me two expense reports before I realized that the base currency was Yuan and not US Dollars. When I checked out of the Inn Fine the other day, I used the Chinese card figuring I would be treated to the same behind the scenes process. Well, surprise again – there is no link between the corporate card and the expense reporting system. Paying the bill is up to you. And remember, we live in a country where it’s impossible to receive a bill in the mail, write a check and mail it in. One of my pals told me that he just takes his credit card to an ATM, tells it he wants to pay the balance and then shoves 20,000 Yuan into the machine, 100 at a time. But another co-worker told me he had managed to link his two accounts and in doing so, enabled direct bill pay. Of course some of this could be done on-line, but to do that you have to go to the bank and acquire a USB security thumb drive to plug into your computer every time you want to do a transfer. Yes, well, I thought I’d go for the former.

Mr. Jiang promptly picked me up at 2 and asked for the business card. He called the bank to get directions and had a long conversation with the person over there, in which I heard “Intel” and my name mentioned a bunch of times. As we pulled out of the lot I asked him if he knew where we were going and his answer was, “cha bu duo”, more or less.

Now I’ve been to the bank once and I’ve been by it a couple of times. I roughly know where it is, it fronts a district called “Green Town” which means nothing to the Chinese who have their own name for it. Never mind the giant sign that says it out front, no, the Chinese name is something phonetically like “guh leen shitian”, probably half Chinglish and half Chinese. As we drove through Kai Fa Qu, past the streets where I knew we were supposed to turn, I gathered that we were going to take the long way around, sort of drive past the bank some distance to the west while heading south, then loop back north on the east side along the beach. And that is exactly what we did; it couldn’t have been further if we tried, unless it involved taking a ferry to Korea and sailing back. But after a couple of pauses at intersections, we did find it, even managing to find the car entrance that was cleverly hidden between two bushes in the next door neighbor’s front yard.

I was looking for Mr. Yang and guessed immediately that he was the young man bounding across the lobby towards me. It is seemingly his job to sit there and wait for westerners to appear at the door, because he does have a modicum of English. When I spoke to him in Chinese, he responded with a very emphatic “Whoa”, obviously picked up in some movie featuring California surfer types. Just about everything I said about anything after that received the same response.
We solved the challenge of linking the cards quite quickly – Mr. Yang called up the credit card people and handed the phone to me. The young woman on the other end called me “Mr. Terry” and went through all my security questions, one by one in order to verify my identity. That done, she made the link and I was in business – my never to be used again credit card was now linked to my savings account.

The second challenge proved far more problematic. We filled out the “Lost/Replacement Card” request card and took it to a teller. Mr. Yang asked me if I wanted to “Frozen my money” and once I figured out what he was asking, I said “no”, I can’t because they are going to pay my credit card bill. This caused all sorts of confusion and consternation and the need for a second manager, behind the teller screen to get involved too. The situation eventually degraded to Mr. Yang and me staring at the back of the teller’s monitor while she and her manager stared at the front. I asked Mr. Yang what the problem was and he said the standard for the system is to “frozen the money.” I guess that’s to take care of the first part of the request, the “lost card” part but it’s not really necessary to deal with the “I just want one that isn’t peeling apart”, part. A couple of times I suggested that we just cancel this request and that I deal with it when I come back in a month. Mr. Yang nodded and agreed and went back to staring at the computer. The more Mr. Yang and the teller and the teller manager talked, the more I began to wonder if they even worked at the same bank. The teller’s manager went off and got on the phone for a long time while Mr. Yang and I discussed bicycles (my description of a custom bike received a huge “Whoa”) and horses (everyone is always amazed that we have four and are yet not tempted to eat them.) Suddenly, without warning, the teller asked me to enter my PIN and the problem was solved – my money was “not too frozen.” Mr. Yang gave me two pieces of paper; one which he said was very important and must not be lost. He folded it in large sections and jammed it in my passport cover. The second piece he informed me was, “Of no use to me whatsoever.” All the while this was going on; he was treating me to cups of hot water from the water cooler and asking me how I felt about their customer service. My response to the positive was met with great enthusiasm. He followed me out to the car and told me that he would keep an eye out to see if he would find me bicycling.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Would it annoy you if your electronic safe played half the McDonald's tune every time you opened it?

Well it annoys me.

I spent the better part of the day sitting in my office eating cookies. The first were some chocolate sandwich cookies that looked interesting but ended up being some sort of salt free Ritz Cracker with a relatively flavorless fudge filling. Having been let down by those I went back down to the convenience store and went for the hard stuff – Chinese chocolate-filled Oreos. No fooling around anymore.

I didn’t think there was much potential for a story today but as always, things come along to make the day more interesting than it initially promised. Aside from the cookies, work was work. I made a little more headway buying down my meal card with four bottles of water and six more Dove bars (plus the aforementioned pastries) but I’m still looking at a solid $20 left to go. More water and more chocolate tomorrow, my last day in the office before I head back to the US.

The trips to and from work today were brightened by my conversations with Mr. Jiang. On the morning route I was able to fashion the tale of how I first came to Dalian in 2006 and when I did, all the land around the factory was still farms and villages. I told him about our walk down the dirt road that would eventually become this broad boulevard and how the farmers came out of their houses to stare at the Americans who suddenly appeared in their neighborhood. I related how they waved and yelled, “Mei guo ren” and how they thought that we must be slow-witted for being out there in the middle of nowhere wandering around. I think though that the joke was on them though, because the farms are long gone and they’re now living in high rises in town watching television and taking showers in hot water. Mr. Jiang thought about this for a few seconds and then burst out laughing; apparently my attempt at getting the humorous tale across was a success.

On the way home tonight we passed a cart being pulled by one donkey and ponying a second. They looked pretty old and tired, being in the middle of an early summer shedding, but in general they looked well fed. I asked Mr. Jiang for the correct name, “Lu” and just for grins I asked him if he liked donkey meat. He lit up and said “Oh yes, it’s my favorite.” Pressing the topic I tried out the word for deer, which is also “Lu” but in the 4th tone instead of the 2nd tone with an umlaut as it is for donkey. I’ve heard more than once how westerners have gone to a restaurant and ordered venison and received the equine version instead.

Mr. Jiang informed me that deer was his second favorite and then went down the list – donkey, then deer, then beef, and then chicken. Pork he said, well actually he said “Pigguh” was very bad. He doesn’t like it at all. A bit of a surprise to me given how common it is here, but I guess it’s no different than people everywhere – some things they like and some things they don’t.

Having said goodbye to him, I went in my building and caught the elevator. There was a couple already on-board having come up from the garage that I think is under the building. Just as the door was closing, two more women jumped on. One Chinese and the other a short, 20-something blond westerner.

Encountering people over here from my side of the globe is always an open-ended situation. On the one hand, some will make a small gesture simply because it’s nice to see a fellow traveler. On the other, some will ignore you simply because they’re too cool to give into the former. This one unplugged her iPod and stared straight ahead. The tension was a bit thick as we ascended.

The couple got off somewhere around 8 and the Chinese woman got off at 22 leaving us alone. I figured I’d have some fun so I took off my sunglasses, slowly folded them and tucked them in my collar and said, “All this time I thought I was the only one.” She laughed nervously and replied that often it feels just that way. We exchanged home ports – she was from Canada – and told me that she was from western Canada when I replied that Ontario was my family home. We arrived at my floor and much to my surprise she got off in front of me. I told her that this was even odder, living on the same floor and she laughed and said no, she’s a tutor; this is not where she lives. It got a bit stranger yet when she turned towards my door and I suddenly figured out that she was the tutor to the children that live right next door to me. I gave her my name and she told me that hers was “Abigail” and we said goodbye. Funny, the only real conversation I’ve had with a westerner outside of my fellow workers and it happens in my elevator.

For dinner I went over to Matt and Kris’ and we sat out back on their patio while they watered the newly planted grass in their backyard, all under the amused watchfulness of the neighborhood Chinese walking down the back street. They stop, press their faces against the wrought iron fence and observe the foreigners doing foreign things in the Westerner Living History Museum. I wave and say “Ni hao” and they smile and reply in kind. I guess I now know how the residents of Williamsburg feel.

As it was getting dark some drumming started up at the park down the block. We decided to walk down and watch the Fan Dance that is held every evening. Strolling is a pretty common thing here in the evenings, especially before it gets stinking hot. You pass young women walking hand in hand, couples chatting about the day and grandmas out in their purple, red or green silk pajamas. Tonight the street and park were loaded with them as it was a wonderfully clear and balmy night without a hint of smog for a change.

The music level at the park was quite loud, the drums being supplemented by a pair of high pitched squeaky horns. On a broad plaza, a hundred or more women were lined up in long columns, each holding a brightly colored feather fan. As the music blared, the women moved forward, doing a sort of two-step line dance. Some added more flourish than others, many kept their motions simple. I took some photos and a couple of videos and just watch, mesmerized. They went from one end of the plaza to the other where the leads of the columns split to the left or the right, half reversing up the outside of the pack and half doing the same up the middle. This continued on and on until I’d finally just had enough of watching it. As we left the park the music continued, once again reduced to the rhythmic beating of the drums.

I bid adieu to my party outside the gates to their complex and started my walk home. I’ve found as new route that goes straight through a gated community from their place to the back of my building running up the slight hill through rows of apartment blocks on one side of the street and a couple of schools on the other. Tonight it was almost silent, for once you could not hear the traffic from my normally busy route home. The street was barely lit by a few lamps which cast big yellow circles on the street between the trees. At one small intersection I could hear Chinese music playing up above me from one of the apartments. A tiny bat flitted through the trees, picking off insects attracted to the light.

Approaching the end of the gated portion of the street I walked slowly to watch three women doing Tai Chi under a streetlamp. One stopped and watched while the other two, tiny and elderly and dressed in white and purple silk pajamas, slowly and precisely went through the motions. The moment was dreamlike.

stick this little bit of filler in here.

(Sorry for the so-so nature of the photos, I had to go to the maximum ISO to avoid using the flash. The blurriness might actually convey the moment fairly well)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Dinner achieved!

When I returned from my bike outing and recovered from my strenuous ride up the elevator I decided to call My Lovely Wife. We were having a nice catch-up conversation when all hell broke loose – a wedding across the street at the Inn Fine. The event brought to mind a story that a friend told me about being on the phone with a help desk person when some Chinese New Year's fireworks kicked off – the help desk person was so shocked by the explosions that they asked if my friend was in a war zone. That anecdote pretty much sums it up – fireworks in China are the bane of a sane existence.

Wondering about the racket I got up and looked out the window - the bride and groom were in a white stretch Lincoln limousine, the videographer was leading in a red convertible and blocking the rest of Jin Ma Lu were the 10 or 15 black sedans forming the wedding party. Traffic was backed up for blocks while the procession sat and waited for the fireworks to scare off the evil spirits. My Lovely Wife told me to go and lock myself in the bathroom to lessen the din, but it's not an option - my building is 100% poured concrete and my Wi-Fi signal is only strong enough to maintain a Skype connection within 6 feet of my router. Since I couldn't hear I decided to take some pictures.

The fireworks ended after 30 seconds or so and the limo pulled in to allow the happy couple to get out of the car. They walked 25 feet as the cannons went off showering them with little bits of colored confetti and streamers. Cannons discharged, they walked another 10 feet where the bride was handed a cluster of balloons, probably 6 feet in diameter. Surprisingly she was able to release them before the combined lift carried her away. As they walked to the hotel entrance the balloons floated off against the background of Big Black Mountain on their way to choke a dolphin or to find their place in the North Pacific Trash Gyre. Or maybe both. The moment they were inside the red inflatable arch was a blob on the ground and workers were busy sweeping up the fireworks residue. In no time it was as though none of it had ever happened.

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Having successfully hunted and gathered my set of All the Basic Ingredients for Chinese Cooking, I decided that Sunday night was going to be my inaugural cooking evening. I had some pork, I had the goods, I had some leftover green beans courtesy of my gracious hostess and I was ready to whip up a masterpiece. I went off to the web and found a recipe for Sichuan stir-fried pork and figured it was a good place to start. I didn't have any chicken broth or peanuts, or a means to accurately measure the ingredients that I did have, but I figured I'd let the chiles and the peppercorns in the green beans carry the day. All I really needed to do was whip up a brown sauce with a little soy, cook the meat, add some vinegar, rice wine and cornstarch and re-heat the vegetables. How could that not turn out fit for a king? Worst case it was crunchy peanut butter and sour cherry jam on my last two pieces of bread.

My kitchen is a little on the small side and the counters are really low for a strapping brute such as me. In order to do the dishes I have to sort of stoop over and put my head under the cabinets to be looking down on the work. It's that or rest my forehead on a cabinet door. The sink levels off at about 5 inches below my belt buckle so I'm in a serious crunch when it comes time to do the dishes. Surprisingly, the upper cabinets are mounted high, so much so that I can barely reach the top shelf. Your average Chinese would need a fireman's ladder to use the upper two shelves. The d├ęcor is very modern, and the cabinets are opened and closed not with handles but with a metal channel that forms a sharp edge at just about top of the forehead level. I've told myself about sixteen times to not leave those doors open when I'm flitting around the kitchen putting things away.

There is a general dearth of cabinet space, certainly not enough for food, supplies and dishware. I got busy doing the prep work – laying out the ingredients, chopping the meat and lining up the bottles of vinegar, wine and soy. I realized about this time that my current storage spot for bottles and utensils, just off the right of the cooktop, was going to be a poor choice because everything was going to get oil splattered whenever I fried. So I set about opening and closing doors and moving things around. I found a home for the utensils that was convenient – upper cabinet just to the right of the burners. About this time the meat was finishing up and it was time to add the chicken broth substitute – water - and so I turned and went to the water dispenser inconveniently located in the dining room next to the refrigerator (a big improvement over having it in the living room where it was originally however.) I dumped the water in the wok and did a couple of spins to get it mixed, reducing the flame to get a roiling simmer going. That taken care of I turned to go back to stuffing things in the upper cabinet when I felt this sort of sickening thud – I'd walked straight into the edge of a cabinet door with the top of my head.

At first I wasn't sure how to react – it hurt so much that I was at a loss for words. My reaction was to grab a piece of paper towel and in applying it I realized I was bleeding like a stuck pig. It's never a good feeling to put a piece of paper on your head and have it come away blood-soaked. I decided to go and have a look in the mirror, already dreading my return visit to the First Affiliate Hospital of the Dalian Medical University for stitches. Heading off to the nearest bathroom I suddenly came to the realization that this bathroom doesn't have a light over the mirror, only the light in the center of the room ceiling which is useless for finding a bleeding wound in the center of a head with hair. Down the hall to the master bathroom and the same slap in the face – no wonder my makeup has been so poorly applied lately – the mirrors in this joint are dark. I stood there and thought about it for a minute or so, filling up my towel with more of the red stuff before it dawned on me to grab my flashlight and illuminate the stricken region while looking in one of the abysmal mirrors. Of course I really could have used three hands to do this – one to hold the light and two to move my hair around but I managed with two and found a pair of nice little gouges torn in my scalp. Bloody but not stitch worthy. I grabbed a blob of Neosporin and gave myself a stylishly nice moussey antibacterial hairdo.

The dinner turned out to be sublime and I enjoyed it sitting in my red Poang chair overlooking the buildings below illuminated by the golden light of the setting sun.