noodles

Nov 2, 2018

Yield when we die: Chinese traffic comes to a stand-still

Uncle’s Shorts #36

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The road to where we’re going is long, and fraught with peril. Sometimes literally. But Luzhou is doing it’s part to make traffic more “civilized.”

Our opener this week features footage from Lijiang; our drive from where we worked to the “Old Town” that was the center tourist attraction for the city. If you watch very closely, you can see the Jade Dragon Mountain in the background.

As a small city, Lijiang public transport wasn’t quite sufficient for everyday living, and taxis were infuriatingly expensive. What should have been a 6 kuai ride, according to the meter, was regularly a 20 kuai bill or more. That’s life in a tourist town for ya.

So while we lived in Lijiang, I drove Peter and I around on a little e-bike. It was … an adventure.

On the open road, driving the bike was exhilarating! The roads were flat and the distance was full of scenery. But in town, the traffic was AGGRESSIVE. And so was I. You can see in the video, we almost get hit two separate times. This was unremarkable enough to me that I didn’t even notice it until Peter pointed it out.

Here in Luzhou, I’m back to being a full-time pedestrian. Occasionally, I wish that we had a car, for inter-city trips. But most of the time, vehicle-free is the way to be. It helps that I live one block away from work.

This week, we also unveil another new feature: the Dialogues. “Wear more clothes” is our first attempt together at crafting a fictionalized piece, and we learned a lot in this first go-round. From a writing perspective, it’s an interesting challenge to relate my thoughts to an actual location; writing essays and vlogs, those are much more in my head. Even if I’m interacting with an environment while I say them, the words are just really one train of thought. Whereas an actual dialogue, of course you have two people talking with (or talking past) each other, but you’ve also got to localize the characters in the space. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a Kevin Smith movie. So the writing goal with these pieces is to incorporate the physicality of the players, and locate them in time and space. No big deal. I’ll have it perfected by next week.

Anyway, we had a lot of fun putting together this week’s episode. So, we hope you like it … although, as always, we’re not terribly concerned if you don’t.

Jul 4, 2018

In search of lost noodles ...

Three pillars of 面 to you

Noodles are for-real-deal one of my favorite lunches here in China, and as a genre, it is deep and wide. Here I talk about three of my favorite different kinds of dishes … which madeleine-like, transport me to a different time and place.

Jun 3, 2014

Cruising through the Bamboo Sea

By car, through the air and on foot

Nature is pretty cool

— Emily

Yeah, especially when it’s been harnessed by man.
Or as I like to say: Fixed.

— Peter

A sea of bamboo
Our room was simple and serviceableBamboo right outside our window
Our hotel was pretty basic, but beautifully situated.
Drinking the bamboo wine
There were many ways to enjoy your bamboo, including a locally made bamboo wine, in which we indulged our first night …
Our wildman driverOn the road
… making the swift and twisty ride through the mountains the next day extra exciting! Who doesn’t like battling the threat of vomit in a stranger’s car?
here is some meatOne of the Bamboo Sea's small villages
We stopped for a lunch of Yibin kindling noodles (they’re fiery!) in the small village of Wan Li.
The waterfallAt the top of the waterfallThe glory of the Dragon's Head FallsWalking down the fallsWe took a little boatNear the bottom of the fallsCow stone
The views from both the top and the bottom of the Dragon’s Head Falls are pretty awe inspiring. To get from one level to the other is a twisty, steep 20 minute hike, which includes a short boat ride across the falls.
The path to the cable carCable car number oneGetting a ride
Cable car number one is at the end of a long, beautiful walk through the bamboo, and involves a short ride across a deep gulch.
High above the gulchOur cable car was very crowdedLook at the valley!
On our return trip, two young kids clamored into our car to see the waiguoren, and then hid from us for the duration of the ride, choosing instead to scream in fake terror “救命了! 救命了!” (Save us! Save us!) as the gondola swung high in the air.

If all goes according to our Kunming plan, we’re about to embark on a pretty big series of changes to our China life. It’s exciting and scary, and a little bittersweet to think of leaving our first home in Luzhou. But, we’re ready to be ready to move on, and as part of that process, this spring we’ve been conducting an ongoing “Say Goodbye to Sichuan Province” tour.

Our most recent destination: Yibin’s Bamboo Sea. About an hour and a half away from anywhere (we took a bus to a bus to a bus to a cab to the park), this is true countryside that’s been bounded and sculpted to be impressive and inspiring, but also safe and comfortable. The Bamboo Sea is a self-contained resort: 11 kilometers of rolling mountains covered in massively tall stalks of bamboo, housing two small villages, clusters of hotels, and a small community of local farmers. Hiking trails crisscross the mountains leading to dazzling views of waterfalls, caves, and, of course, bamboo. The movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was filmed there, as many, many people will tell you. It’s gorgeous and serene and lovely.

But it’s also a strangely mediated experience of nature. Each short hike through the bamboo is isolated in its own lush Thoreau-ian enclave, which then spits out into a parking lot, from whence you drive the couple of kilometers to the next spot. All the tourists have the same map, and all of the local service people want to help ferry you through the same route. It’s kind of like a Disneyland for nature walkers. Which is totally our speed: Peter hasn’t been camping since he was a kid, and I’ve been informed that a weekend in a Girl Scout tentalo does not an outdoors-woman make.

The most efficient way to “do” the Bamboo Sea is to hire a driver to take you around to all the spots. Or, you know, have your own car — which many of the other tourists did. (This is where I’ll mention that by our observation, the Bamboo Sea is definitely a destination for China’s celebrated emerging middle class.) We got a guy our first afternoon and were scooted through a series of the best sights in a little red Hyundai Elantra. We had a bit of a battle of wills when we wanted him to stop in one of the villages so we could have some simple noodles for lunch. “Why didn’t you eat at the hotel?” he asked us. All the hotels served sumptuous feasts made of stir-fried bamboo specialties. We were obviously doing it wrong. But we got our noodles and they were delicious.

Day two, we were determined to get somewhere on our own two feet. Fortunately, according to our map, our hotel was a short walk (along a sidewalk-less road) from two recommended sightseeing points. One was a spectacular cable car ride that floated us slowly, in a gondola for two, over the striking gullies and peaks of the sea. The quiet hum of the cable machinery only punctuated the eerie silence of the up in the air. From time to time, returning passengers would call hello, but essentially we felt alone, hanging from the sky above acres and acres of susurrous bamboo.

At the other end of the ride, there was a crumbling pagoda which afforded some fantastic views of the mountain landscape, perfect for your nature photography needs. We also took some glamor shots with some other tourists who were excited to see some Americans on their vacation. Everyone’s dressed in their very best, Peter observed, because this rollicking, green wonderland is one giant photo op.

Upon returning to our side of the cable car line, our next destination was represented on the map as a short, looping walk to nowhere in particular. In reality, this represented an hour and a half hike through the bamboo that turned out to be our favorite part of the trip. A stone path meandered here and there, by small streams, sheer cliff faces and burbling waterfalls. There was technically no sight to see — no paddle boats, no temples or shrines — so the trail was mostly ours. The bamboo made hollow clacking sounds as it swayed in the wind, and Peter and I walked in near silence through the green, unsure of the final terminus, but continuing confidently on.

The magic ended in a small parking lot, of course, where we circled back to home on the asphalt road. And then, actually, someone offered us a lift back to our hotel along the way. We were back in time for bamboo dinner. And then a bamboo snack at the hotel next door. (There’s not a lot of nightlife in the bamboo sea.)

The day of our departure was actually the first official day of the May 1 holiday — being foreign teachers, our vacations are always slightly off from everyone else’s. On our way out of the park and into town, we bused past a miles-long inbound line of Audis, Volkswagons and Range Rovers; the woman running our hotel said that they were bracing themselves for the rush as we were leaving. We felt lucky to have experienced the relative calm of the few days prior. And after another bus, cab, bus and a cab, we were back home. We went out to celebrate — Labor Day, our trip, and just life — in the chaotic environs of our favorite Tai An restaurant. Ah, back to the noisy city life!

Cable car twoA pagodaHigh on the hills of the bamboo seaPeter and the PagodaThe pagoda areaEmily and the Pagoda
Cable car number two is definitely the more spectacular (and spooky) ride. At the summit, there is a small pagoda for picture taking.
An overlooked trailMore waterfall action
Here's a cliff
The bamboo trail
We had this trail almost all to ourselves, and it was easy to forget that the rest of China was out there.

Dec 22, 2012

Noodles by the old school

Our food exploration continues all over town

Our favorite noodle dishes
An order of 辣鸡面 and 牛肉面 make for a delicious lunch
The new noodles

We’ve gotta eat in the city, too, and so after juniors classes on Thursday and Friday mornings, Peter and I take our lunch at a small, new-since-the-flood noodle place. I order Peter a bowl of 牛肉面, which is a spicy, noodly soup with two easily removed chunks of beef brisket that I usually eat. For myself, I’ve been going down the menu a dish at a time. One of my new favorites is 辣鸡面, which I think is topped with chicken feet! Whatever, it’s tasty.

Again, we’ve found friends in the owners. A few weeks ago, we were a little late for lunch, but they took pity and served us anyway. (It’s possible that when we didn’t understand, “We’re closed,” they just decided it was easier to make two bowls of noodles than to get us to leave.) We didn’t fully get that they stayed open just for us until they chased out other potential customers!

Sep 2, 2012

Easy like Sunday morning

Your table is ready

Noodles for breakfast

This morning we woke up on the early side — early for us, anyway — and, after weeks of rain, the sun was shining. It was a morning that said: Go get brunch!

Of course, the nearest diner is thousands of miles away. But the noodle house is just down the block. And here in China, often breakfast is a spicy noodle soup. We got a prime table outside — there isn’t really an inside — and watched the Sunday strollers as the cook prepared my regular. (Peter had an apple.) The bodega next door to the noodle house has six coin-operated kiddie rides out front, and we watched the babies bounce up and down in their rocket ships and race cars. Returning students stopped to chat with us. And, the sun, oh, the sun!

The food may have been different, but it was exactly the meal we wanted.

Dec 7, 2011

Translation fun

Eat up, bacon face

The noodle menu
I can’t read this!

I’ve been eating lunch pretty much every day at the noodle stand down the road from the school. It’s worked like this: The first day I went I asked for mian (“noodles, please!”) and the woman behind the counter said a bunch of stuff in Chinese that I just said yes to. I ended up with a delicious bowl of spicy noodle soup. The word has spread among the staff that this is what I eat, so I just walk in and someone brings me that same dish.

It’s a pretty convenient system, but I’ve been noticing other diners with other dishes I would like to try. One day, I tried pointing at a different dish that someone else was eating, but they smiled, nodded and served me the same thing I always have. So the solution I hit on was to take a picture of the menu (pictured, ha!) and I’ve been working on translating it at home.

In case you didn’t know, Chinese is hard, man! Some characters have a few different translations depending on context - like for example, that character at the end of each menu item (面), that’s mian, which means “noodle.” But it also can mean “surface” or “face,” which is how I ended up with a translation of “dirty burning surface” for one of the dishes. And I spent about an hour trying to figure out what “Wang surface blood broth” really might be. (I’m 80% sure it features pig intestine.)

Another dish came up as “blanket noodle.” But, as it turns out, it’s a wide, flat noodle that resembles a blanket, so it’s actually supposed to be called that.

My favorite mistranslated dish: “bacon face.”

Dec 1, 2011

A little help from the kids

Noodles and shoes

Most days at lunch, I like to go out to a little noodle stall by our house for a bowl of spicy noodles. (Peter generally naps during our break.) I bring a book to read, and every once in a while some of my students will spot me, and come over to sit and talk.

Today, some of my junior students came to sit with me. Their English isn’t so good, so the conversation was pretty slow and repetitive, but it was fun, nonetheless. They also translated some questions that the non-English-speaking adults that run the stall had. “Do you like the soup?” being one of the most frequently asked. Of course I like it. I eat it every other day!

I finished, and they asked if I was going back to the school. I told them I had some shoes I was going to drop off to be polished at the shoe shop a few doors down, but after that I was going back to school. They offered to walk with me, which turned out to be very helpful.

I do think I could have accomplished the transaction completely through gestures, but the girls very nicely translated for me - which was funny from my end, but must have looked hilarious from the POV of the people at the shoe store: this American comes in with two eleven-year-olds who conduct business for her. But now I know for sure that she said come back in three days, not three hours. They’re also going to re-sole them for me, too, which I can use because I walk the crap out of my shoes.