By Gus Tate on February 28, 2010 3:52 PM
Phase two of my dad's visit to China took place in Fujian (a.k.a. Fukien) province, which happens to be the best place in China to see traditional donut-shaped Hakka dwellings called tulou. Most of our time, though, was spent in Xiamen and its just-offshore pedestrian island Gulangyu. Let me just dispense with the food and funny signs all in one go this time:
Peanut soup. The peanuts melt in your mouth.
Thousand-year-old egg. So that's how they make them!
Have you ever looked at a pistachio close up before? I hadn't.
Delicious but expensive but delicious again yogurt.
Chocolate-covered cream puff. The shot is fuzzy because I got too close with the camera and ended up having to lick some cream off my lens. I'm not usually so careless with my camera, but then again I'm not usually drunk off Pizza Hut wine (when relating this event to Jon back in Guangzhou, neither Jon nor I could listen to me say the words "well my dad and I had like a whole bottle of wine at Pizza Hut" without cracking up).
The hostess at what might be the world's highest Pizza Hut (32nd floor!) didn't ask for our names and instead wrote "外友" which means "foreign friends."
"BD" is Lexington slang for "ghetto" (adj), after the kids in the "behavioral development" class in middle schools.
"What you're flushing isn't water; what you're flushing is loneliness." Based on a Chinese internet meme.
They probably wanted this store to answer the question: "What is this crazy feeling I feel?". You know, like, "It's just 'feeling', man." But I like to think the question it answers is, "What is your hand doing to my breast?"
While visiting National Taiwan Normal University (just to kind of check it out as a future study option), I saw this map in the hallway of the Teaching Chinese as a Second Language Program and discovered with glee that one of my Chinese teachers from Princeton graduated from this very program! Anybody out there remember Wei Laoshi?
Taiwan uses a different romanization system (sometimes) than the mainland, which threw me at first when I saw this sign. "Chien" above a pile of shaved meat is a particularly unfortunate juxtaposition for French dog lovers.
"Come closer please, Dave."
"Whoa, these milk shreds are wicked good! I gotta call my tasting bud, he's gonna flip a shit when he tastes these...."
Sounds like my wedding night!
Any Princetonians here reminded of a certain statue outside McCosh courtyard on Washington road?
This was at ice-cream counter, it indicates the used tasting spoon receptacle. Sinophones, try to read it without sounding drunk.
"I said stop it."
The first time I saw this on the subway, I thought "Hmm, that's kind of an ugly way to write 'love.'" But upon further inspection, this is actually freaking genius..... 台北!
By Gus Tate on February 24, 2010 7:02 PM
I've always felt a special connection to Taiwan, but for a stupid reason: my Chinese family name is 台 (tái, "raised platform") which is also the first character in Taiwan (台湾). It's not a common name (in fact, pretty much non-existent as a surname) therefore when new acquaintances ask for my name I always end up clarifying: "台湾的台" ("it's the 'Tai' in 'Taiwan'"). Hundreds of repetitions have carved this association with Taiwan into my very identity, until just the mention of Taiwan is enough to make a part of me go, "Hey, that's me!".
So anyway, it was with great excitement that I finally went to Taiwan (while my dad was visiting for Spring Festival during), and I have to say, it really is effing great. I felt it from the moment I arrived, when I walked up to the foreigner's visa office in the airport, thinking we at least had to fill out some paperwork, only to be waved away with a smile: "Americans? Automatic 30-day visa, have a nice day!". What a difference $6 billion worth of weapons makes, am I right? No but seriously, I had a great time in the Republic of China, though I guess my reasons for that are more socioeconomic than political (after all, the yoke of PRC Communism weighs but lightly upon my foreign shoulders), stuff like the fact that people actually wait in line for public transportation and wear clothes that I myself might actually want to wear. And of course, the most important reason why Taiwan might just be the happiest place on earth: food.
In honor of the most righteous displays of deliciousness I've ever had my passport stamped to enter, most specifically the night markets of Shilin and Keelung but also evident in the proliferation of sushi and southeast Asian barbeque and even western steakhouses, I present the following reel of pretty much everything I ate or saw eaten in Taiwan in the four days I was there:
Steak at Dan Ryan's Taipei. Ate.
Shredded milk (basically cheese jerky). Ate.
Fried crabs. Did not eat.
Lime jelly. Did not eat.
Taiwan beer. Drank.
Teriyaki beef and veggies, onions, etc. Ate.
Almond crispy treats. Sampled.
Bitter melon/apple juice. Drank.
Coconut milk tea. Drank.
Salmon sashimi. Ate.
Unagi (eel) over rice. Ate.
Beard Papa cookie cream puff. Ate.
Chicken sausage thingees. Ate (see below).
Chopped up chicken sausage thingees. Ate.
Pufferfish. Did not eat.
[guess what?] Chicken butt. Ate.
Bacon-wrapped veggies. Ate.
Deep-fried lamb kabob. Ate.
Candied yam. Ate.
Peanut butter pancake pie. Ate.
Lobster claw. Did not eat.
Lobster? Did not eat.
Prawns. Did not eat.
Cuttlefish. Did not eat.
Miscellaneous spiny sea-beasts. Did not eat.
Deep-fried eel (for soup). Did not eat.
Papaya milk. Drank.
Fried crabs. Did not eat.
Candied strawberries. Did not eat.
Small bird eggs. Did not eat.
Pig ear (?) fried rice. Did not eat.
Pig intestine soup. Did not eat.
Octopus arm kabobs. Did not eat.
Doraemon cookies. Did not eat.
Fried squid. Did not eat.
Doughnuts. Did not eat.
Tea eggs. Did not eat.
Bar beer. Did not drink.
Baby squid. Ate.
Salted egg. Ate.
Black sesame oil ramen noodles. Ate.
Strawberry donut. Ate.
Yam fries. Ate.
Small bird egg and hot pot. Ate.
Anyway, that's my advertisement for the Taiwan Tourism Agency. And here's a slogan: "Taiwan: where you can eat all the Asian food you can possibly imagine, plus donuts. Why the hell are you not here right now?"
Finally, speaking of food of dubious kosherocity, still no one has properly guessed the part of a pig's anatomy depicted in the photo from Guilin posted yesterday. So it's not small intestine and it's not tongue. Come on, guys; what part of a pig is shaped like a corkscrew?
Trick question! It's dong. One hundred percent pure hog dong.
By Gus Tate on February 23, 2010 7:19 PM
I've just realized that anyone who reads Cantonstinople the blog for content about Cantonstinople the city must be pretty disappointed by now. Not only do I never write about anything serious, lately I haven't even been around Guangzhou. Our (Jon and my) latest trip took us from Guangdong province to the other Guang, Guangxi.
The Lonely Planet guidebook has a serious hard-on for Guangxi, and that's largely due to those Dr. Seussy mountains in the background, also known as karst. I know what you're thinking: sure, karst looks stunning from the ground, but what does it look like from the peaks? Answer:
Foggy. Granted, this is a different town on a different day than the first photo, but I think poor visibility is pretty much par for the course around these parts in winter. But who can complain; where would China be without its mist, after all? Note the lovebirds on the peak behind me.
Anyway, riding bikes around Yangshuo is definitely one of the most rave-worthy experience I've had in China. Not just for the karst, but also for the villages and streams and narrow bridges like this:
Also note-worthy was our trip down the Li River on a bamboo raft:
Cold as balls, that boat ride, but impressive scenery nonetheless.
We came to Guangxi with special orders from our friend Gristle, who wanted two empty water bottles full of Li River water ("for tea"). An easy but perplexing request, since none of the water we saw looked particularly clear. Here's Jon (who, one year ago, probably had no idea he would one day be standing in Bumblefuck, China filling up a bottle of algae cocktail for a man named Gristle) filling up a bottle of algae cocktail for a man named Gristle:
Jon and I also made it to Nanning, a city which is most commonly used by foreign travelers as a gateway to Vietnam, but used by these foreign travelers as a gateway to the Detian waterfall...
...which is right on the border. See?:
Stop that woman! She's crossing illegally into Vietnam! Swarm swarm SWARM!
That concludes the "natural splendor" of this entry. And now, "text"! This is a book we found in the airport called "Study Money-Making with the Jews!":
And down near the bottom it says "The world's most intelligent people will teach you their money-making knowledge!"
This is a jar of pickled fish-something, also in the airport:
Don't you taste it! Don't you dare taste it.
And this is a classic bit of Chinglish which I had read about before but only recently seen in the wild:
It's supposed to say "Careful, the floor is slippery" of course, but it comes out as an imperative here because the word for "floor" (地, dì) is coincidentally also the adverb indicator (地, de), which when read the wrong way effectively deverbifies the preceding bit and verbifies the succeeding bit, and vice versa. Haha! Isn't Chinese grammar fun? Why isn't anyone else chortling?
And finally, a photo challenge. If you can identify the (pig's) body part depicted (and prepared for human consumption) below, you win a postcard:
(This photo of my sister Mary was taken in a helicopter above the Hawaiian island of Kauai. That was fun, and way more interesting than what I'm about to talk about, which is airports):
Though I can remember a time in my childhood when being in an airport by myself was a scary proposition, since I started flying back and forth from college it's become one of my favorite ways to spend a day. Something about being alone in a netherwold between two familiar places has a sterile familiarity of its own, with no real responsibilities except the all important yet trivially easy task of infiltrating a giant metal bird. For whatever reason, this is the environment in which my brain is mossiest (I heard once that Toni Morrison likes to drive to hotels at five in the morning, check into a room, turn the heat way down and sit down for hours with a legal pad and ballpoint pen). Somehow, perhaps because traveling to Hawaii to meet my mom and sisters right after Christmas was my first solo trip in several months (causing a build up of oxygen-choked brain-moss), I found myself spending more downtime writing in my notebook then reading. And though I don't think anything I wrote is ready to win the Pulitzer Prize and be made into a movie starring Oprah WInfrey, I would like to share just a few events from my airport life here with you now:
1. An oldish man from Kansas spoke to me in the Guangzhou airport. He was finishing up a self-guided tour of Beijing during which he did not enjoy himself, and he was on his way to the Philippines to see his new wife, who is the sister of his old Air Force buddy's wife. I learned much during those 20 minutes on the benefits of Filipino women (their willingness to marry Rodney Dangerfield look-alikes being the main one), but the thing that I will remember is the way he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes (after recounting the flubbed wake-up call he got from the hotel in Guangzhou that morning) while saying these words, "and of course the guy at the desk didn't speak English...", as if to imply that it was the Chinese man's fault. New rule for foreign tourists in China: you don't have to learn Chinese as long as you accept that all miscommunications are, by default, your bad.
2. For some reason a Chinese airport seems to be the only environment in which I feel completely comfortable talking to strangers, or in this case, the salesladies who populate the sad, overpriced boutiques in Terminal A of the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. Maybe it's because both they and I have absolutely nothing better to do, me because I always get to the airport like four hours early and them because no one will buy their 80Y Pringles. And I'm really not trying to get their numbers or extend them invitations to the pants party. I just want to walk in, blow their minds, and walk out before we run out of chit-chat. So anyway, I just want to brag that this particular time, I was invited by one of the aforementioned bored salesladies to guess her hometown from her accent, and I totally HenryHigginsed her, or pretended to anyway. She didn't sound like a Cantonese speaker and she didn't sound like a northerner, but that's as far as my expertise goes so I threw a mental dart at a region slightly smaller than Australia.... and correctly guessed that she was from Wuhan. She was extremely impressed, of course, but somehow her words of praise failed to lure me into her restaurant, so at last we had to bid adieu. Man, I'm so fucking awesome.
3. Except obviously not I'm not, because not two minutes later I overheard some French teenagers remarking on some scary looking croissants in a deli window, and when one of them right next to me said "c'est bizarre!" I tried to jump into the conversation with "oui, très bizarre!" or something but what came out of my mouth was "对, 很bizarre!" So... it's a good thing no one actually heard me.
4. Japanese Penisex oil. It's a real thing; saw it in a pharmacy in the Guangzhou airport, couldn't take a picture without anyone seeing me, though. I can only assume that it's some kind of personalubricant, but I'm not a peniscientist so I'm not really penisure.
5. I could, however, take a picture of this in the bathroom:
That's what she said! Wait, I mean, that's what I said [in a robot voice], to her!
Anyway, then I got inside a plane and it took me to Hawaii, where I did actual fun stuff. Unfortunately, it's midnight which means I have to stop blogging, so I'll just let Mary and June do the talking:
Poking my head back into the blogosphere in between vacations, I find that puzzle #3 has been solved! Congratulations to Ben F.; your prize is in the mail.
(photo above taken from 德天 (Détiån) Waterfall near the Chinese-Vietnamese border, more to come)
1) Each character in the first mini-puzzle is a character representing a chemical element (minus the 石, 金, or 气 radicals). Replace those elements with their standard abbreviation and you get V I C Ti Mo F Se Al At Ta C K, which, in the world of Arrested Development, is Buster Bluth, a.k.a. B U S Te Rb Lu Th, which, translated back into Chinese chemical elements (minus the radical, like the puzzle), would look something like 朋由流帝如鲁土.
2) The second puzzle was basically the same, except with dummy radicals inserted back on the left (Buster Bluth was "all right" after his left hand was bitten off by the seal; that's how the first puzzle is different from the second, ho HO!). The elements are F U S Ar I W As H Er Ni C K N Am Er, which refers to Lady Gaga (who was given that nickname by Rob Fusari). So, La Dy Ga Ga goes to 澜谪嫁稼, or anything with those character elements on the right.