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RLC 10 – The Huskos Meet Meranti

For those not familiar with the climate that I come from – meteorologically speaking, Latvia is about as safe and stable a country as it gets. I believe we have had one earthquake in my lifetime, and, as far as I know, its extent was a momentary sway felt in our 9th floor apartment and a lot of children going, “Did you feel it?” the next day at school. Every now and then we get strong winds and occasionally heavy rainfall results in mild flooding, but nothing anyone could sincerely call a ‘natural disaster’. Consequently, it was with some amount of trepidation-tinged excitement that we moved to South-East Asia, a decidedly different place in that regard.

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Last year there was talk of a typhoon as well – warnings to stay indoors and shut your windows, make certain you stock up on water, that sort of thing. However, the storm never reached us, instead expending the bulk of its wrath over Taiwan (which, we learned, frequently ends up serving as a bulwark, shielding Xiamen from devastating cyclones). We were relieved, of course, and sad to see the destruction it had wrought on Taiwan, but a part of me felt disappointed that instead of a true tropical storm, we got mildly stronger-than-average winds for an afternoon.

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When, just before the long weekend owing to the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on September 15th, word began to spread of an incoming typhoon, I was skeptical. Even when students were sent home early on Wednesday, and people began bringing out sandbags. Naturally, we went through the recommended preparations all the same, but I wasn’t expecting a real display of nature’s might this time, either. And yet the teacher WeChat didn’t quiet, with colleagues continuing to post updates on the typhoon, named Meranti, as it waxed and waned in its approach. By the time we went to bed on Wednesday evening, it had apparently passed Taiwan and was headed our way, now a Category 5 Super Typhoon.

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That night I was awoken by the wife and to the sound of yet another freight truck barreling down the street, willfully ignorant of the speed bumps placed there. Only the rumbling went on, and on. It took me a few seconds to realize it wasn’t Chinese drivers. We looked out the window, the glass trembling in the nearly 200 kph winds. The many trees lining the street outside our apartment complex were deformed, as though bowing before the storm’s might, and rain quite unlike anything I’d seen before furiously pelted the streets and anything, anyone left out in the open.

Once we’d finished gaping at the awesome (in the original sense of the word, and, perhaps, the modern as well) power of the storm, we quickly moved to check our apartment for any leaks, flooding or other damage. However, despite the vicious howling of the gale and torrential downpour, other than the electricity and water being out, everything seemed, surprisingly, in order. A while later we decided to go back to bed, where Liga sat awake, and I (because my spirit animal is the bear) promptly went back to sleep.

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I awoke at around seven and immediately went out to the balcony. The Xiamen outside was almost unrecognizable. The main intersection was flooded, and the street was littered with broken trees and signs.

I inspected our apartment, and everything still seemed in place. Even the power was back on, though the water was still gone. After a quick breakfast we decided to go outside and have a closer look around the neighborhood, but were met with an unexpected obstacle.

The beautiful, green park in the center of our complex seemed more a battlefield now than the tidy bit of landscaping we were accustomed to. Getting through it took a deal of doing, but eventually we got out the gate and got to see the destruction up-close. Nary a tree was unscathed, and most of the recycling bins were anywhere between 5 and 50 meters from their usual spot. Well… here is many thousands of words worth of pictures. See for yourself.

After we got back, we checked the teacher WeChat group, and it seemed we were in exclusive company, having had a fairly uneventful night. Swaying buildings (mind, we live on the 4th floor of a fairly low apartment complex), attempting to circumvent heavy flooding and even broken windows were a handful of things that we didn’t have to deal with, but many others did. There was some fun to be had as well, though – one couple had the wind blowing soap bubbles into their apartment from residual cleaning fluid in the window pane, so it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.

Let me be clear in no uncertain terms: we were incredibly fortunate and blessed. Even today, a week later, there are many people without readily accessible water or electricity, many streets are still littered with tree branches… and trees. The beautiful vegetation decorating pretty much all of Xiamen has suffered a great deal, and it will probably be some time before the city recovers its former luster. A super-typhoon is a fearsome thing, it turns out.

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I am glad we experienced such a thing, but once was enough.

For some additional photos and information: http://bit.ly/2dh2R41

RLC 09 – #JustChinaThings

Another school year has come to a close at last, and with it our first year in Xiamen has concluded. What a ride.

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I’m not going to lie, this past month has been trying in more ways than one, and I am really quite happy to be getting a 2 month vacation from Xiamen. Not that it’s necessarily bad, but it is different enough to be challenging, especially when combined with a number of other factors.

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This is an annotated gallery of some of these challenges, some things I’ve found genuinely amusing, and Year 1 of my Chinglish collection. Don’t worry, we’ve plenty stories to tell. This is just a taste to whet your appetite. :)

See you soon! ;)

RLC 08 -Little Trouble in Big Hong Kong

Hey, all! And so the first month of 2016 comes to a close.

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Today we had a uniquely Chinese experience. Our friends and we were invited to attend a ceremony at one of the local Buddhist monasteries, with little context beyond that. However, we are in China with the goal of experiencing as much China as possible, so why not? We spent about an hour sitting a table (separate from our wives, for whatever reason), listening to singing and speeches in Chinese, and then all walked to the stage to give a fake candle to the monks there, who put all of the electric candles in a symbol that our Chinese ex-monk friend didn’t quite know how to explain. Oh, and this  10-15 minute process was accompanied by chanting throughout. It was pretty surreal, but I’m glad we went anyway.

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Apparently, we were invited for publicity purposes. Having white people attend your gathering is great, we were told.

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It got truly uncanny when the lights were turned off, and it was just red and singing.

So, I know I promised a report on our time in Hong Kong a while ago, and it hasn’t happened. Sorry. I tried putting the post together a couple of times, but it just wasn’t working for me, and then I realized that trying to write up a detailed play-by-play, as I originally intended, just wouldn’t cut it. This is, after all, the internet, realm of TL;DR and pics or gtfo. And so, with a significant enough delay, here are our highlights from our trip to Hong Kong, replete with annotated photographs!

Bullet Time

The most cost-effective way for us to go from Xiamen to Hong Kong was by bullet-train. It didn’t end up feeling quite as fast as I’d hoped (200 km/h isn’t that fast, after all), but it was nice to be on public transport with a decent amount of legroom.

 Lost On Arrival

After getting off the bullet train, our journey seemed to be going fairly well. We took the metro to Hong Kong proper, and just needed to grab the bus that would take us right to our motel. A helpful metro worker showed us the bus to take and we were off! Only in an entirely wrong direction. We ended up somewhere in north-west Kowloon miles from Hong Kong island, and nary a red taxi in sight (you see, the green taxis on the mainland don’t go to HK island, especially not at 11:30 at night). However, thanks to a few extremely helpful HK residents and a lucky break in the form of a 5-person red cab, we were able to finish the last leg of our trip.

Day One

Despite our next-door neighbors’ vehement attempts at disrupting our rest, most of us had a fairly decent night’s sleep and were prepared to go see some motherflippin’ Star Wars, and explore Hong Kong. And we certainly did do that.

And here are a few videos I took that day:

It was nothing amazing, but, hey, free light show!

This is what the clock tower looked like at night. Reminded me of Staro Rīga.

It turns out that the sand-colored building’s weird shape makes it an ideal open-air cinema.

Travis is slightly less entranced by the city lights on the water than I am. The lunch we had that day had to be made into its own section, however.

Tim Ho Wan, the Dim Sum Specialists

For the people who don’t know him, our new friend Travis is quite the foodie, so, when he started talking excitedly about the most inexpensive Michelin-star restaurant in the world, serving traditional Cantonese dim sum, it was easy to get pumped for a great meal on the cheap. Tim Ho Wan delivered that in spades.

Day Two

Our second day in HK entailed a lengthy (LENGTHY) tour of the Hong Kong Museum of History (so lengthy that we didn’t have the time to see the Science Museum immediately next to it, unfortunately). One part of the tour was an extensive collection of pottery and objects from the Ming Dynasty (no pictures allowed). The second was a vast tour, dubbed The Hong Kong Story – a vast series of exhibits dating from the prehistoric era, all the way to modern day. 3 hours is not enough to get everything out of it, but we did what we could. The day was capped off with a good deal of shopping (Hong Kong has clothes my size!) and Korean-style BBQ. Ahh, the good life.

Day Three

Monday was our last full day in Hong Kong. We started out by going to The Flying Pan, a wonderful American-style diner for the beast breakfast I’ve had since coming to China. After that we headed over to the Peak for an elevated look at Hong Kong, and finally had a good, long wander through the night market. It was something else. :D

Departure

Alas, all good things must come to an end. On Tuesday morning we returned to The Flying Pan for our last breakfast in HK and headed back to the train station. This time we grabbed a cab right away. No point in rolling the dice with a bus, eh? This was also the first time we were returning ‘home’ to Xiamen, which was a bit of a weird feeling, since, in many ways, Hong Kong felt a lot more familiar and comfortable than Xiamen does. But we were glad to be back regardless. And you can be sure we’ll be visiting HK again before long.

 

And that was our trip to Hong Kong. You see why I wanted to make this multiple posts? :P Good thing I managed to get this post up just before heading out to the Philippines. There should be less photos from there, though. :D

Have a great first week of February! We love you all!

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R&L

RLC 07 – New Year’s Karaoke in Xiamen

Friends! Welcome to 2016 and the first RLC of the year. How did you spend your Christmas and New Year’s holidays? After returning from Hong Kong, we spent a couple of days in a people-coma, watching Arrow and The Flash. Lots.

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These guys are pretty cool.

 

While marathoning the shows does exacerbate some of the more annoyingly repetitious story beats (Which there are. Everyone just needs to stop constantly lying. For real.), I can’t say we did not thoroughly enjoy our time with them. Looking forward to diving into the new seasons once they wrap up.

Our Christmas dinner was homemade popcorn, Oreos and Liga baked a chocolate cake. Not particularly luxuirous and far cry from grandma’s cooking™, but it was a nice evening. New Year’s Eve, however, ended up being a different beast entirely.

Our friends had visitors staying with them over the break, and at some point the decision had been made to go out for teppanyaki and greet 2016 while belting out songs at a KTV – the general term used here for a type of karaoke establishment.

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Uhh, okay then.

Much as I like music and tend to sing along to songs I know and like, no matter how poorly, I certainly never considered myself much of a performer. Then again, ever since Kalle, Martin, Joe and myself got the entire Hard Rock Cafe headbanging to Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff at Joe’s bachelor party, I had discovered the surprising enjoyment of singing with good friends. It helps that Chinese karaoke (in fact, I believe this applies to Japan and a large part of Asia as well) involves a group of people renting their own room for a set amount of time, and not waiting for their song to come up while some poor schmuck belts out a Bon Jovi song horribly off-key, or, arguably worse, the karaoke-good singer who you know is there every weekend.

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You know the kind of people I’m talking about.

The way most KTV’s work in Xiamen, as I understand it, is you pay for a set amount of time, selecting a ‘tier’ of payment. Depending on your tier you can get a number of complementary drinks (usually beers) and/or snacks, but then you also get the money you spent for the room as credit to spend on their overpriced foodstuffs during your stay. If you don’t spend the total of your credit, the house keeps the remainder regardless. It’s kind of a neat system, if you ask me.

The KTV we’d originally planned to go to was full, but we were fortunate enough to find a nice one next to it, called Happy Party KTV. We figured that a happy party is the exact kind of party we wanted, so it semed kind of a no-brainer. If the hallway decorations were anything to go by, it would certainly be… memorable.

This was no dinghy basement. The floors and walls were smooth stone(ish), and this was a 3-floor establishment with at least twenty rooms in the 2nd floor alone. I was impressed. And that continued with the rooms themselves. The videos were displayed on large screens on both the front and the back of the room, so that everyone could follow/sing along, regardless of whether they were on-stage or sitting on the wrap-around couch, sipping a beer. On the left- and right-hand sides were touch screens to search for and queue songs.

To search for a song title or artists you input the first letter of their name/title and no discernable method to narrow the search other than language, which is a weird and occasionally frustrating system (How do you find 50 Cent when there are 160 ‘C’ artists and no numbers on the input?), but it got the job done. Eventually. Each room also has panels where you can select from a variety of lighting, heating and volume options, which was really rather nice. All in all, a pretty slick set-up.

And so we hunkered down and spent roughly 6.5 hours (9 pm to 3:30 am-ish) singing a surprisingly broad collection of English songs, though there were a handful of disappointments (You have pretty much the entire catalogue of Eminem’s singles, but no The Real Slim Shady? Zhen de ma?). I’m afraid I was too busy singing to take many photos, but I’ll update the post if I manage to wrangle some from the other people we partied with.

Highlights of the evening:

  • Starting out with Bohemian Rhapsody, naturally.
  • Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire as the last song of 2015 because of course it was.
  • Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff as the first song of 2016 because of course it was.
  • Travis commiting vocal suicide early on by really singing Thunderstruck, but soldiering on throughout the night regardless. Trooper.
  • Keeping Patrick from backing out of Killing In The Name Of, despite this being his first real karaoke experience. Turns out, that song is piss-easy to “sing”. Who knew.
  • Travis’ and my duet of Stonehenge.
  • All of the Chinglish and wrong/random images for a breadth of songs and artists.
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Everyone’s favourite hip-hop artist.

  • All of the songs that were missing videos, so instead just had random Chinese performances on in the background.

It may not have been my first choice, deciding what to do for New Year’s, but it was a hell of a time and we are both really glad we went. It’s not yet certain if this will become a tradition or we might try something else next year, but you can be sure this wasn’t our last time hitting up a KTV. If you come to visit, we can all go. ;)

That’ll be it for today’s post, but stay tuned. Later this week I will start what I expect will end up being a 3-part series of posts on our trip to Hong Kong, so as not to make the posts excessively long. And there are also some other things in the works, but I’ll let you know more once they actually roll around.

Here’s to a wonderful and busy 2016. We love and miss you all (yes, even you, especially you). Stay safe and be happy!

 

Sources:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Flash-And-Arrow-TV-Series-Art-Silk-Wall-Poster-13×20-inches-/301674129808

http://www.popsugar.com/tech/Singing-Karaoke-Games-Wii-Playstation-3-Xbox-360-Consoles-3356451#photo-3356451

 

RLC 06 – Shopping in Xiamen

Hey, everyone! Are you ready for Christmas? Because we are!

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The remote is for scale.

As is Rainbow Mall!

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And this family, who decided that they should let their 2-year-old walk around on the platform meant for the Christmas tree. Clearly they were so overcome by joy, goodwill to all men and sheer Christmas spirit could not predict that the exceptionally narrow space would cause him to knock over one of the poinsettia pots that is tied to the others and cause a chain reaction resulting in half of the plants lying on the roadside. Yaay!

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They immediately fled the scene.

What was I talking about… oh, Christmas! Do you know what I’m getting for Christmas this year? Motherflippin’ Star Wars, that’s what!

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Let’s play ‘Spot the differences’!

We’re taking the bullet train (woo!) to Hong Kong (woo!) both for tourist reasons (woo!), but also to see Star Wars – The Force Unleashed (WOO!) at an IMAX (WOO!). Unfortunately the only IMAX screenings are in 3D (ehhh), but I am willing to suffer for Star Wars.

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There are, however, limits.

I’m sure I’ll have thoughts on the trip to share next week. Stay tuned!

Anyway, on to this week’s topic. Something we were rather… I wouldn’t necessarily say concerned about, but definitely curious regarding was shopping in China. How would it differ in a communist country, as compared to a post-soviet state? How much advertising are we likely to encounter? Would it differ at all?

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Abundant Businesses

Well, one of the first things we learned upon arrival was that Xiamen was one of a small handful of Pilot Free Trade Zones in China. No, this does not mean that pilots are not allowed in here, amusing as I may find that mental image.

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I don’t even care about the watermarks.

This is one of a small handful of regions in the country where the government decided to test the effects of free trade, its economic and societal impact on the lives of Chinese citizens and their businesses. Consequently, at the very least in our neck of the woods, there are more shops, malls and restaurants that you can shake even a bushel of sticks at.

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The first floor of pretty much all buildings around here is little but shops, restaurants and salons.

Some are more interesting than others.

For example, there is a chain of hair salons called SO Hair. Which I can never say without making my voice exaggeratedly excited or rolling my eyes affectionately. Fun observation: nearly all of the people working at the hair salons around Xiamen are male, with only the occasional woman to be found among them. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what you’d see back home.

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They are literally everywhere. I’ve not tried it.

A more interesting, uhh, business we’ve encountered is a tiny place southward on the major road stretching past our home. Amidst a long line of clothes shops and Chinese-style streetside restaurants lies a tiny, well-lit place I thought at first was a pharmacy due to the glass cases containing medicine. However, upon repeated walks past it, I would occasionally observe a rather curious scene – one side of the (not very large) shop features a couch and some stools. The other has a wall-mounted television. More frequently than not, there would be a small handful of people sitting in the couch and watching the TV. Just like that.

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This made me exceptionally curious, so I began to pay more attention to what goes on inside it. Because the road is frustratingly busy and narrow I haven’t managed to take any pictures of it, but I did get to glimpse at what might actually be happening. Just above the people sitting in the couch hung a couple translucent bags, filled with a clear liquid. They were hooked up to IVs!

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I’ve not talked to any locals about it, not sure if that’s something weird or actually common practice around here, but I will investigate and get back to you later. Probably.

Also, the Little Prince has his own brand of paint here.

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Yup.

As to more mundane things, unsurprisingly, buying clothes is not a big issue for Liga, but is kind of a problem for me. However, a few of our colleagues have visited the local fabric market, where you can purchase fabric and have clothes tailor-made, and I will most definitely be getting a 3-piece suit made in the foreseeable future. I’ll let you know how that went.

Foodstuffs

There is a whole lot to say about eating in China and the produce that’s readily available around here, that will probably end up comprising a number of posts I make in the future, but I do want to quickly touch upon the general experience of eating out and shopping in Xiamen.

There are restaurants EVERYWHERE, and there is a pretty decent variety, too. The vast majority are small, hole-in-the-wall local places that aren’t quite like anything we have back home, but simultaneously give me serious flashbacks to Soviet-era buildings and bistros. These are typically the cheapest places to get food, especially if you’re willing to wander from Si Bei (our neighborhood) to Xia Da (a slightly lower-rent, less Westernized and generally more interesting part of the island around the prestigious Xiamen University). We’ve been to some of the nicer versions of these, usually paying between 30 RMB and 50 RMB for the both of us (5-8 EUR) but have stayed away from proper street food so far. It is, however, only a matter of time…

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Lots of seafood restaurants where you can pick out the fish/crab you want to eat and watch it get slaughtered, then served to you.

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Depending on your standards for “Western food”, you will find a mess of Mickey Ds, KFCs and Pizza Huts. We have one of each literally next to our apartment building. One curious thing we’ve noticed here that we’d not seen anywhere else is that there are quite a few tiny McDonald’s ice-cream shops dotted around the city, selling just the ice-creams throughout the year.

These three are all pretty much immediately adjacent at the bottom of the next-door building. Also, McDonald’s delivers, apparently.

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We have even heard legends told of a small number of elusive Burger Kings roaming these lands, but have not had the good fortune to come across any of the said monarchs. They are reportedly very good. If you want a non-fast-food, non-Chinese restaurant, there is still a pretty decent variety of places nearby our home that we frequent, and a good meal for two will usually set you back around 100 RMB (roughly 15 EUR) if you don’t get drinks. I’ll tell you more about some of our favourite places to eat out in a separate post.

As to buying groceries, there are dozens of smaller shops and a handful wet markets (another amazing thing that we just haven’t gotten around to really delving into), but we do most of our shopping at Rainbow Mall, which houses a average-sized Rimi-esque store.

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Not actually as big as it looks. No idea what purpose the tower serves.

It has a pretty good variety of produce and household supplies, but you can already notice some peculiarities of the Chinese lifestyle by simply looking at the amount of space dedicated to various things.

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Do you need rice? We got rice.

In the same picture you can also see a wall stacked with a variety of cooking oils in sizes I don’t think I’d ever seen back home, but clearly it’s necessary. One day the wife and I observed a woman purchasing 25 liters of peanut oil. Maybe bathing in it is good for your skin?

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I don’t know. But, perhaps, the product that takes up the most space is noodles. At Rainbow you get at least a good 15-20 meters of floor-to-ceiling instant (or, as we’ve come to call them, convenience) noodles. Some of them are really quite good, but that will certainly be a post of its own.

It even has a section for non-Chinese food, and it’s really quite adorable.

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It’s the five lighter sections.

It’s here you find things like pesto, mayonnaise, tomato-based sauces, jam and Western spices, though most of these will cost you a pretty penny. A 300 ml jar of bolognaise sauce will set you back around 40 RMB (~6 EUR). A tiny packet of oregano (check how much) is 10 RMB (1.5 EUR). You /can/ get most things here, whether at the bigger stores, the shops specializing in Western food (the TastyLife chain is one such example) or the internet store TaoBao, but more often than not you’ll end up paying through the nose for these things.

Paying through the nose (a guy handing over his insurance money out of his nose).

And with that, I will leave you for tonight. I hope you all have a wonderful, merry Christmas. Try not to knock over any pots, and may the Force be with you!

 

Sources:

http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/the-chinese-version-of-the-star-wars-force-awakens-poster-has-edited-out-the-nonwhite-characters–Z17QHYmrce

http://blog.tvstoreonline.com/2015/10/top-10-worst-star-wars-fan-costumes-and.html

https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/p/pay_through_the_nose.asp

RLC 04 – Mountains of Meat and Just Plain Mountains

Boy, did October end up being a busy month. Siege, the collectible card game I’ve been working on is rapidly approaching an initial release form, though there is still a lot of content that needs to be built for the campaign on my part. I’ve enjoyed it, but writing the story and breaking it into chunks appropriate for the game’s dialogue system has been unexpectedly time-consuming. Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hooray!

Wait, what’s that loud noise?

The release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has done little to help me get stuff done, too. Man. That game is real good. Also, significantly longer than I expected it to be, but I shan’t surrender until I have Fulton extracted every single thing.

Especially the sheep.

Liga has been pretty busy as well with work, and will possibly be even busier soon, as she has applied for the position of Head of the ESOL Department. Does that mean I have to start calling her Big Boss? Hmm… Well, I have time to ponder that quandary until we know for sure. Let’s hope so.

The Queen agrees.

Despite our general business, we have been enjoying our time in Xiamen altogether, and have even found the opportunity to go out and take photos!

Meat Mania XXXI

Over the course of our time in Xiamen we’d heard several times from people who’ve been here for several years that there is a great Japanese restaurant with an all-you-can-eat (and all-you-can-drink) offering. The tagline of this particular offering is: “You will give up before we do.”

The fun started even before we got there, however, as the streets of China are quite fascinating in an of themselves. There was, for example, this fella, either selling balloons or making a gift of his scooter to his daughter for her birthday.

It was kind of impressive.

It was kind of impressive.

Still not the most curious sight that day, though. While on the bus to the restaurant, one of our group pointed a fella on a bike who seemed out of place for some reason. Can you figure out why?

Probably my favourite China photo yet.

Probably my favourite China photo yet.

Dude just stood there for about a minute before finally getting a move on. And this was not an empty street – that amount of cars driving past him was pretty much constant. Then again, traffic in China is something deserving an entire blog post in and of itself…

Thankfully, the bus itself wasn’t so full that we had to elbow our way out of it when we reached our destination at last. As it turned out, it was a Teppanyaki restaurant – a Japanese style of food preparation where meals are cooked on a large, flat iron griddle. It’s basically a metal desk with a propane heater underneath that the customers sit around so that the freshly-cooked meal can be served immediately. It’s pretty rad.

And I thought our wok pan was big...

And I thought our wok pan was big…

Tairyo, the restaurant itself had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and the presentation was lovely. We all had a golden dragon that our eating utensils rested upon that weighed, like, a kilogram. I can neither confirm nor deny that it was made of solid gold.

It probably wasn't.

It probably wasn’t.

The language barrier was a bit of an issue, but between the both us, Liga and I managed to get some requests across in Mandarin, though not all were fulfilled. For example, apparently they just don’t do coffee with milk. Sure, we could not correctly phrase the sentence, but you would figure most places people would grasp your meaning when you extend two hands, signifying one as holding coffee, the other as holding milk and do a pouring motion of one into the other. The wife just received the blankest stare in response. Oh, well, cold black coffee it is. The plum wine, on the other hand, was fantastic I am told.

At least communicating what we wanted to eat was simple enough – open the menu and point at it. The chef never said a word, nor cracked a smile.

Teppanyaki is srs bzns.

Teppanyaki is srs bzns.

He did not need to smile to cook well, let me tell you that much. We ended up having something like three servings of lamb chops (pictured above), three servings of bite-sized grilled beef, multiple tiny skewers of crispy pork, probably an entire salmon and half a carp of sashimi (thin slices of raw fish/meat), not to mention the best sushi and egg fried rice (pictured below) I’ve ever had.

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The eggs are cooked first while the vegetables and meat simmer on the side.

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Then the rice is placed on the griddle and the still-soft yolks removed from the eggs and mixed into the rice.

I also had some hot sake. Unsurprisingly, it was not a beverage I enjoyed.

The Sprite-sake combo recommended by a friend was a hit with the wife, however.

The Sprite-sake combo recommended by a friend was a hit with the wife, however.

The gastronomic excess was capped off by three banana pancakes (which ended up being two pancakes too many), a set of banana fried in shredded coconut and a small serving of Häagen-Dazs. Some of us were luckier with the ice-cream than others – 6 of the 11 portions we received were a peculiar green tea flavour. And by ‘peculiar’ I mean ‘icky’, though a few tried to play it off with the usual, “You know, this is not that bad.” You know, the thing we all say when they’re trying to fool ourselves into not feeling disappointment. Still, hard to complain when you’ve just spent 2 hours stuffing yourself to the brim with delicious eatables.

I call this piece 'The Aftermath'.

I call this piece ‘The Aftermath’.

And so, at around 8 pm we finally agreed to leave the battlefield, feeling a strange mixture of pride and shame and what we’d just wrought as we waited at a nearby bus stop to be transported home.

The view was nice, though.

The view was nice, though.

In China, shinning on stairways is generally frowned upon.

In China, shinning on stairways is generally frowned upon. I rather of like that you can only see the sign in this photo.

All in all, a successful outing.

Mountaineering

Having consumed that much food on Saturday, it seemed a bad idea to just lie around the house on Sunday, so we (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean Liga) decided to go and do something we’d wanted to since pretty much day one – visit Rainbow Mountain, a park that was adjacent to the hotel we stayed at when we first arrived in Xiamen.

We don't know the actual name of the park, but people call it Rainbow Mountain for this decoration at the entrance.

We don’t know the actual name of the park, but people call it Rainbow Mountain for this decoration at the entrance.

Armed with little more than our wits, some water and a camera, we were going to try and get as close to what I dubbed the ‘golf ball building’ as we could or, alternately, to reach the peak of the large hill the park is on.

The building from near the entrance. I think it's a meteorological center of some description.

The building from near the entrance. I think it’s a meteorological center of some description.

The park was quite beautiful and well-kept, with numerous paths of varying steepness surrounded on all sides be green upon green.

The kind of view we got most of the time.

The kind of view we got most of the time.

Some sections of the park were fairly flat and had a number of benches or open fields for, I presume, different events and activities.

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The sign translates roughly to, ‘The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.’

Some of the plants you could find there were quite familiar.

Some of the plants you could find there were quite familiar.

Some were not.

Some were not.

Several times we also encountered beautiful and huge black butterflies, but the buggers never stood still long enough for me to take a photo. We did, however, manage to record the incredible noise heard inside the park pretty much at all times. Now, depending on the volume that you’re watching this at, it might not seem that bad, but whispering or even talking quietly was pretty much impossible.

We took the larger path as far as we could and found ourselves by what appeared to be a small outdoors cafe, filled with families sitting at tables with large plastic bags of unpeeled sunflower seeds, splitting them open and spitting out the shells. We were closer to the golf ball building, but not quite close enough.

You cannot tell, but we are actually on the other side of it now.

You cannot tell, but we are actually on the other side of it now.

You could also look out over the city somewhat, but we weren’t at the peak yet, and the view was rather urban. We were not entertained.

Actually a shot from another part of the mountain, but the view was effectively the same.

Actually a shot from another part of the mountain, but the view was effectively identical. Except in this one you can make out mainland Xiamen in the distance.

Unwilling to surrender so easily, we decided to take some of the less walked paths.

This is what those paths looked like.

This is what those paths looked like.

Alas, our perseverance was not rewarded. At least not in the way that we were expecting.

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As far as we could find, the highest point that we could get to.

No clearing, no majestic view. Only some benches, a big-ass rock and a couple of hornets buzzing around. We didn’t stay long and decided to return to the entrance via a different route.

It might not seem so in this photo, but this is probably the steepest flight of steps I'd ever taken without a handrail or handhold of some sort.

It might not seem so in this photo, but this is probably the steepest flight of steps I’d ever taken without a handrail or handhold of some sort.

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And they went on forever. Most steps wouldn’t support the entire length of my feet.

Thus, our expedition came to a close. Not with a bang, but with a disappointing kind of whimper. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Thanks for reading! See you soon-ish. ;D

Sources:

http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Fulton_surface-to-air_recovery_system
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/queen-elizabeth-II/11546193/Queens-delight-as-her-horse-Ring-of-Truth-comes-second-in-debut-race-at-Newbury.html

RLC 03 – Journey to the East

Thnaketh on a Plane

The one good bit of news to come out of that whole ordeal was that, contrary to what we’d believed until then, we would actually be flying KLM to Hong Kong, not China Eastern. Let me just say that Liga was freaking ecstatic, since she’d hardly shut up about how wonderful KLM was since her flight to Washington D.C., though, to be fair, I was also relieved that the in-flight entertainment for this 11-hour flight might amount to more than a bunch of Chinese films.

Enticing as... whatever's going on here seems, no, thank you.

Enticing as… whatever’s going on here seems, no, thank you.

Instead, the tiny screens in the backs of everyone’s seats offered the choice between dozens of films such as Age of Ultron, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and many, many more. The resolution of the screens left something to be desired (I think my new phone has at least the same amount of pixels as an entire row of 10 screens) but you take what you can get. Curiously, amongst the films on offer I also found Fifty Shades of Grey, which… I don’t know… quality of the film itself aside, is that really something you want to be watching in a very public area. Or maybe on an airplane, with all of the lights turned off and most of the passengers asleep, that’s the exact place to watch it in…? I… I don’t know, but it seemed a peculiar choice.

Mr. Grey will see you now...?

Mr. Grey will see you now…?

Instead, we played a shockingly adequate version of Tetris (considering the weird TV-ish remote being used as a controller), which I would have annihilated Liga on, had the on-board multiplayer been functioning. Also, it would seem that KLM has added Latvian swear words to their list of blocked usernames since someone’s journey to D.C…. Shame.

Ultimately, out of curiosity more than anything else, I decided to watch Kingsman, starring Colin Firth and Sam Jackson. What. a. film. I hadn’t enjoyed a parody/tribute of a genre quite so much since Hot Fuzz, and many of you know that’s high praise, coming from me.

Hell of a film. Great suits, too.

After that, I clicked around for a bit, but, once the lights were down and people started going to sleep, I had a hard time holding out, and drifted off into a night of fitful, cold and uncomfortable sleep. At least Liga had two seats to kind-of stretch out on, and she ended up having a decent rest. Yet, one way or another, the hours passed and eventually windows began to open once more, sunlight flooded in, breakfast was served and we approached Hong Kong.

China!

China!

Hanging Out in Hong Kong

By the time our plane landed, we’d well and truly missed our plane to Xiamen, but, as it turns out, all was far from lost. As we made our way out of the boarding area and into the boarding area and into the airport proper we saw… no… no way!

Not our actual Meet & Greet, but close enough.

We were actually met by someone at the aiport with our names on a small sign… check that one off the bucket list. An exceptionally helpful man and woman explained that the airline was aware of our missed flight and that they were handling everything for us, including our luggage. Instead of the flight we were supposed to take, we would be taking a flight 7 hours later with a different airline – instead of Dragon Air we would be flying… Salmon Airlines?

Kind of like this?

That sounded like a bit of a downgrade, really.

I mean, which one would you choose?

Of course, we’ve since learned that people from different parts of China pronounce the ‘x’ in words like ‘Xiamen’ differently, including as a soft ‘s’. I was very confused the first few minutes, however. I mean, who would willingly call their airline Salmon Air?

FISH

At LEAST call it Singing Bass Airlines.

To help us deal with the perplexing naming, and probably survive the 7 hour wait as well, we were each given lunch and dinner vouchers, worth nineteen dollars per meal? Oh, okay. Wait, no… NINE-TY dollars per meal? Each? Holy crap!

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Eat it.

Granted, by the time we started browsing the local restaurants, we did realie that there were two sets of prices – USD and HKD. Fearfully, we looked once again at our meal vouchers.

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It’s about $11.50.

But we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying a meal. After all, we were finally at noodles’ place of origin – how could I NOT try a delicious-looking bowl of spicy beef noodles? That’s right, I couldn’t.

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Yum.

And so, my first Asia lesson (we’re pretending the 90 DOLLARS!!!1!1one! thing never happened, OK?) was that China spicy and Latvia spicy are two very, entirely different things. The flavour of the meal was perfectly fine, but MY GOD. I had to literally force myself to eat it despite my lips and the entire inside of my mouth screaming in protest. Temperature-wise it was soup-hot, but it was so spicy it felt like trying to eat magma with a spoon. I had to ask Liga to check if the skin on my lips wasn’t coming off or anything. She tried a spoonful, too, but immediately turned read, teared up and ‘allowed’ me to have the rest. It was still delicious, though, and I’m looking forward to going back and trying it again when I’m a bit more used to the spiciness of many local meals.

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SO excited to be here.

After that, we still had a ton of time on our hands. We wandered the GIGANTIC airport, sent some messages home and to Liga’s new employers, then parked our butts by a (functional!) power outlet (good news – most local power sockets have holes that Latvian appliances work with, hooray!) and watched Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

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Still one of my favourite dumb comedies.

Our flight was then delayed a few hours (Haha! And we actually thought something would happen on time in this trip. Silly us.), so we wandered and waited. Liga felt like having a salad, so we scoured the various restaurants for anything salad-looking, and you’ll never guess where we actually found a shockingly decent caesar salad.

Providing unexpectedly good… salads since 1940..?

Eventually, they had no choice left but to actually announce a gate and departure time, so we took a bus to an entirely different and similarly huge part of the airport late that evening.

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To be fair, Hong Kong International Airport was an entirely lovely and pleasant place to be in. This view during most of the day didn’t hurt, either.

The Final Flight

What, did you think that was it? No, even the 90 minute flight (seriously, we started descending what felt like almost immediately after reaching flight height) was not without its little, fun surprises.

I’m not going to lie, one of the things I was rather looking forward to, coming here, was getting away from the exceptionally frequent Russian you get to hear, living in Riga. Naturally, that meant that the two friends sitting next to us were Russians traveling to Xiamen.

Because the flight was delayed, everyone received a complementary dinner (a rather delicious meat bun), and were offered the choice between water and juice. Naturally, I went for water, whereas Liga, daring adventurer that she is, chose juice. Now, you would think that they’d offer orange, apple, or even grape juice. But no, this is China we’re talking about. Instead, what Liga got was, naturally, soybean juice.

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She was not a fan.

After what felt like a sightly longer-than-average bus ride, we safely touched down in Xiamen. We got all of our bags that were still mostly intact (one of mine had a corner that was essentially smashed and cracked open, but nothing had fallen out, thankfully), met our saviour and constant support David (HR at XIS), who took us to the hotel we would be spending the next week in.

At around 1 a.m. we made it to our destination, only to encounter another handful of Russian-speakers, complaining about how the sauna and jacuzzi weren’t available in the middle of the night. There really is no escape, is there?

And so, after something along the lines of 40 hours in transit, we had at last made it to our hotel room.

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A BED!

It’s been over a month since we’ve arrived in Xamen, we met lots of really nice and cool people, we found an apartment, we’ve eaten a variety of local and  western food, explored a small fraction of the city and already accrued quite a few things to share. This should be the last of my long-ass blog posts, so I should be able to give you more frequent snippets of life in China from here on out. I’ll also try to do some non-China related blogging and, who knows, perhaps even share some writing I’ve been working on.

Thanks so much for reading, supporting us and keeping us in your thoughts. Talk to you soon! :)