Tuesday, March 27, 2007

All you can eat...

I had mentally prepared myself for odd foodstuffs long before I came to Asia. I knew in India that it was better not to ask questions if you didn't know what something was. But in China... well, let's just say they take it to the next level.

We walked past a street stand today that served up 3 kinds of ducks feet, chicken hearts, intestines, duck necks, squid, pork knuckles, and for the mild at heart, processed meat product and tofu. The best part of it all though, is that you can get anything on a stick. We Americans have corny dogs nailed, but the Chinese have run away with the concept of portable food. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef, - any my personal favorite - squid. You name it - it comes on a stick. There's nothing like seeing a well-dressed business woman walking down the street gnawing on a pinkish, tentacled squiggly thing proudly skewered and grilled to perfection. And the price for this delicacy - approximately 50 cents. A bargain!

Another amazing food process is the conveyor belt sushi restaurant. You sit at a counter in front of a conveyor belt full of small, colored plates with every kind of sushi imaginable. Different colored plates are different costs. You take what you want from the conveyor belt, one or two pieces of sushi at a time, then at the end of your meal, you take your empty plates tot the cash register and pay up. You're also given a cup with a tea bag in it. About every two seats is a spigot that spews boiling water for all you can drink tea. It's a fantastic twist on fast food dining. Here, the price per plate ranges from 50 cents to 2 dollars. You can stuff yourself on sushi for under $10. Heaven!

Aside from the oddities, I have found the food in China to be amazing. I am a certified dumpling addict (a plate of 24 - more than plenty for 2 people - costs you about $1.50), I'm quickly becoming a noodle-holic, and I've got chopstick skills I never knew I had.

So now that I have an apartment, and a kitchen (yay!), I plan to find a cooking class. Guess I should stock up on the wooden sticks for my first dinner party.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

First impressions of China

So where to begin… I left India late Wednesday night in a whirl of mixed emotions. Saying goodbye to my friends was a lot harder than I imagined it would be. I’ve said this before about Kosovo and Spain, but it’s amazing how quickly you form bonds with people when you are living in a foreign country. I will definitely miss my friends, but I still don’t know how I feel about leaving about India itself. Something tells me I will miss the chaos a little – I mean, seriously, where else can you live in a swanky neighborhood and still have oxcarts bringing vegetables to your front door?

Coming into Hong Kong was like awakening from a long, deep sleep. Nestled in a bay, 38 or so little islands make up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Sharp mountains spring from the water, and all along the coastlines skyscrapers stick through the clouds, the peaks of the mountains just barely peeking over their spires. My toes tingled just from being in such a vibrant, fantastic city, full of life and millions of people living it. The food, the shopping, the arts (oh how I’ve missed these things), the setting… everything about Hong Kong made me smile. Friendly people on the street were willing to lend a hand the second I started to look a little bit lost, the markets were full of strange and wonderful smells, a mix of kitchy trinkets and stunningly beautiful jade work. Even more surprising to me, were all the familiar things – McDonald’s (that actually have real cheeseburgers – in India it’s only veg burgers or chicken), 7-11 and Circle K, Best Buy, Starbucks, and multitudes of international clothing brands – but all with signs and menus in Chinese. It was almost easy to forget I was actually in China, it felt more like being in China Town in San Francisco, but with better weather. I was in HEAVEN.

Things function in China. Very clean metros, easy to navigate buses, no power cuts, there’s water pressure, people follow lanes, they drive on the right side of the road (in Shanghai anyway, HK it’s still on the left – British influence), and most importantly… nobody honks unless it’s absolutely necessary. Three years in 3rd world countries and it’s incredible how much a little functionality pleases me. So I’ve spent the last 5 days running around soaking in all the things I’ve missed in the last 3 years.

I’ve fed my spirit on art museums and live music. I happened to arrive in Hong Kong at the tail end of the annual Arts Festival and spent a small fortune on a ticket to see the Chucho Valdes Quartet – a long standing Grammy winning, famous Cuban jazz pianist. Absolutely brilliant. Imagine a perfectly enjoyable evening out that didn’t involve sitting in some smoky, overpriced bar playing bad techno – I was listening to live jazz by a master. I felt like dancing all the way back to the hotel.

I’ve fed my body wonderful sushi, steaming noodles, fried duck and imported beer (Guiness, Asahi, anything other than Kingfisher!). I will admit to one Big Mac, but that’s it. It had to be done, I’m over it now.

The streets in both Shanghai and Hong Kong are spotless, there is no trash anywhere, except in bins, no dust hanging in the air, and it is quiet – oh so quiet. Funny, I met a Dutch woman in HK who was touristing around too, and she couldn’t get over how noisy it was. To me, it was so blissfully calm in comparison to Bangalore. It just goes to show that it’s all about perspective – everything is relative.

Shanghai is cold and cloudy right now. Since I found myself here over the weekend, with nothing else to do, I did what any normal girl would. I went shopping! I had to. I didn’t own a coat, and the only pair of closed-toed shoes that I owned were my trainers. I shopped out of sheer necessity. At least that’s how I am justifying it to myself right now. I now have a new pair of foxy black boots, a pair of really cute brown pumps, two turtleneck sweaters, a pair of wool trousers, a coat, and most importantly – socks. I had a total of 3 pairs of gym socks to my name. These were the only socks I ever needed in India.

Shanghai is divided in half by the Huangpu River (a branch of the Yangtze). The financial district, Pudong, lines one side of the river, and lining the opposite bank is an area called the Bund. The Bund has a very European feel to it, and is lined with stately buildings that once housed foreign embassies. A wide sidewalk chock full of street vendors selling everything from photos of you in front of the buildings to candied mini-apples on a stick stretches along the water from one end to the other. Here you can board a ferry boat for a cruise along both sides. I haven’t done this yet – but I will!!

Looking across the river to the Pudong district, all I can say is VEGAS BABY! (But without all the casinos.) Every high-rise along the waterfront has some kind of light show going on up and down the side/front of the building. It is truly something to behold. The pictures don’t do it justice, as the lights on each building aren’t static – it is a frenzy of flashing color and lights for miles on end.

So here I am today, my first day in the office. They weren’t really prepared for me, and no one really knows what to do with me. What that means for the time being, is free play! I have to meet a real-estate agent at 2pm this afternoon, but until paperwork is sorted out and they get me a computer, or access from my personal laptop, I am stuck and can do nothing. Darn it. HAHAHAHA

I like being a well-paid tourist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Packed and ready to roll

As unbelievable as this might sound, I am actually packed - a full 48 hours before I am set to leave. One of my friends came over after work last night and we worked and worked and worked until it was finished. I now have nothing to deal with but last minute errands and a few loose ends at work to tie up. This is all happening so quickly. It's hard to think that I'll be apartment hunting in Shanghai on Saturday.

My internet access is going away today, so the next time I write, it will be from the People's Republic of China - which I'm not even sure will be possible yet since internet there is censored. It might be back to mass emails.

The thing that scares me the most about going, is living in a place where I will be functionally illiterate for the first time in my life. I won't be able to read signs on shops, in stores, menus... I won't recognize things at all. At least with phonetic alphabets like Cyrillic or Hindi script, it's possible to sound things out, but Chinese is a whole new ball game. What a challenge - I can't wait!

I haven't even really had time to think about how I feel about leaving India yet. I don't think it will really hit me until I'm getting on the plane tomorrow night. It's all a bit much to process at once. I need sleep. Seriously. I guess that's what long flights are for. :)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And the countdown begins

Only 4 more sleeps till I move to China!!