Today, I met up with another of friend of a friend, Tang Zhuo. We were joined by her brother, whose name I never learned. We drove to their apartment, where they had a table of food prepared for me – some of it things I’d had before but a few that I hadn’t. There was a hard boiled egg and a few zongzi, the traditional foods of the Dragon Boat Festival, today’s holiday. There were also lychee, preserved egg, quince paste, Mongolian milk tablets, and a soup of white mushrooms, ginseng, dates, and lotus seeds (which, it turns out, are super bitter – the only thing I couldn’t get down!).
As we ate, I had my first chance to talk about my research in Chinese with people outside of the field. I know the words computational, biomechanics, mechanics, and finite element analysis, but explaining the concepts is way harder. I had to explain the applications of my work, the interdisciplinary nature, and why ferrets are used in experiments on brain folding. I was exhausting, but really good practice.
Zongzi having been dutifully consumed, we drove to a nice hotpot place near Tsinghua for lunch.
They were . . . . a little ambitious with their ordering. We got thinly sliced meat, a full plate of leafy greens, a tofu variety platter, an entire frog, shrimp balls, noodles, ham, a surprising amount of congealed blood, and a platter of cow intestines, stomach, and arteries.
I tried the intestines, stomach, and arteries, but I hate those chewy textures (I think I’d had all of them before), so I didn’t eat more than a bite of each. I’ve also had blood before (haven’t we, Mom and Dad??) and while rationally it tasted fine, I couldn’t get over it mentally. I probably needed the iron, too, so it’s a shame . . . Everything else was good – their selection of sauces was beyond expectations, and the green tea cakes at the end were the perfect way to cool down after a hot meal.
I had been planning on keeping count of the number of times I get asked how tall I am, or what country I’m from, or if I have a boyfriend, but they haven’t actually been common occurences. Instead, I’m going to keep track of how many times I get told I hold my chopsticks better, or more properly, than a Chinese person. Current count: 4.
From there we went walking around Wudaokou. It’s the subway stop nearest where I live, and all four corners of the intersection have big buildings full of shops and restaurants. I walk or bike past on my way to work, so I was reasonably familiar with the things on the outside, but hadn’t yet gone in.
But I’m so glad we did!!!! There were tons of cute shops with great potential gifts for people back home, lots of restaurants at various locations along the price spectrum – Beijing hotpot, Sichuan snacks, Papa John’s Pizza, Korean barbecue, several frozen yogurt places. I bought a pair of [fake, men’s] Birkenstocks, a sort of Chinese tradition for me.
We looked at dresses, but while I love the dresses Chinese girls wear and some of them were loose and flowy enough that I could have worn them, I didn’t buy any. The problem is, I was wearing a dress I got from the thrift store for about $5. That’s around 30元, and the cheapest dresses were 100元. Thrift shopping has driven my acceptable price so low that even China can’t compete!
There were two highlights of the exploration for me: first, we found a Coco milktea place downstairs!! There was one at the West Gate of Xiamen University, and after I discovered milktea I went there almost daily. In a country of lukewarm or hot water, milktea with ice became my favorite indulgence. Unfortunately, t seems like milktea is more of a southern thing – something that surely would have factored into my location preference had I known! But now there’s a Coco on my way home from work and all is right in my world.
Secondly, we found a foosball table! They took me into this Mexican restaurant, La Bamba, because Tang Zhuo said their mojitos are really good. I was intrigued by the prospect of dancing, either there or in the Propaganda bar next door . . . and then I saw the foosball table. 3元 for 10 balls. Not ideal, but I have to stay in shape while I’m abroad!
Today I learned:
My phone plan might actually be 128元 per month, not 38元 as I was told. Small difference, right?
You’re not supposed to say “Happy Dragon Boat Festival”, just like “Happy Memorial Day” isn’t really right; it’s a holiday but one observing someone’s death, so it’s not really a happy day.)
You can buy a pet chipmunk on the street.