May 20, 2006

A pastry made of warts?

To most people, the notion of recycling human tissues into consumer products would be both fascinating and disturbing. In Fight Club, the characters use discarded human fat from a liposuction clinic to make designer soap. As they say, they are "selling rich women their own fat asses back to them." And of course, who can forget that crazy kid in your neighborhood when you were growing up who, rather than opening a lemonade stand, would peel the dried scabs off his knees and sell them as beef jerky. On a recent trip to the Beijing Wal-Mart, I came upon this delicacy in the baked goods section. You might have already seen it in your local grocery. It's a pastry known simply as the Wart Coil.



From what I can tell, directly below the "W" on the package are two close-up pictures of someone's plantar wart. "They must have recycled patients' warts from the dermatologist's office and concocted this delicious medicinal pastry", I thought to myself when I saw it. Why warts, and why coil them up?

For any students of Chinese language that may be reading, you may find it interesting that the Wart Coil is labeled as "肉松卷" rather than "人疣卷". I believe that this difference can be attributed to the local Beijing dialect. From the pastry's packaging, we can safely deduct that "肉松" must be the way that "疣" is called in Beijing. These types of details in the study of Chinese regional dialects are very fascinating.

Prior to ingesting the Wart Coil, I decided to perform a dissection so I could learn more about it. Here's a closer look at the surface of it:



Mmm, looks tasty, doesn't it? Why this treat hasn't replaced the Twinkie yet is anybody's guess. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the bulk of the Wart Coil is essentially a hot dog bun that's been partially covered with something like the pink slime from Ghostbusters II.

Needless to say, I couldn't work up the nerve to even taste it and I ended up chucking it in the trash.

May 6, 2006

Coastal Shandong Trip

During this past week's Labor Day holiday I took the opportunity to visit some of the coastal cities and sites in Shandong province.

Trip quick stats

Places visited:
Weihai city, Chengshan Cape, Liugong Island, Yantai city, Penglai Pavillion, Qingdao (Tsingtao) city, Laoshan (威海, 成山头, 刘公岛, 烟台, 蓬莱阁, 青岛, 崂山)

Best food item:
the fresh squid-sicle, AKA the squid kabob, roasted squid on a stick, or 烤鱿鱼串

Most blonde hair, blue-eyed families of Scandinavians seen:
parents and two children, one set of, seen in Yantai

Highest ratio of yokels to Westerners:
Weihai

Friendliest locals:
Qingdao

Highest per capita ratio of Koreans: Weihai. Korean businessmen run Chinese textiles out of there to Incheon.

Preferred brew of Qingdao cab drivers:
Laoshan beer (not Tsingtao, as I would have thought)

Most locals that don't realize they're speaking a dialect and not Mandarin:
Qingdao

Funniest sight of the Chinese pushing and shoving each other:
Boarding the Laoshan tour bus in Qingdao. I joined a one-day tour bus to visit Laoshan from Qingdao. In the morning we met in front on the tour office to wait for the bus. When the empty tour bus arrived, the entire group of Chinese with whom I'd been waiting suddenly ran like an angry lynch mob towards the bus door, the younger people pushing and shoving old men and pregnant women out of the way, so they can all try to shove at the same time through the same 3 foot wide doorway onto the bus. They behaved like they had been waiting in the bread line in Russia all day and they'd just discovered there's only one loaf remaining that they'd all need to fight for. Of course, pushing and shoving like that is normal behavior in China, but it cracked me up to see it when we're boarding a bus on which we've all got seats. I burst out laughing right there on the street seeing that ingrained animal-like instinct to rush in without disregard for others.

Most disturbing thing seen during trip: Fifty or so pushy Chinese men on a tour group, their bladders filled to the brim, shoving into a five-stall, five-urinal restroom whose floor was flooded with urine and water. Two grown men from the group are crammed into one stall, one man crouches over the squat toilet to do a number two while the other man stands beside him and does number one into the back part of the same toilet. Gross gross gross.

Chengshan cape

This is the most eastern point in Shandong province and it looks a lot like some of the 17-Mile Drive in Carmel, CA. There's some Chinese historical significance with Qin Shihuang and the 8 Immortals.


Farmer hoeing his field near the cape of Chengshan

Family plot on a hillside


The most eastern end of the Shandong peninsula.

Is it the fat jolly man in the red suit from the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade, along with his elves and Ms. Claus? No, it's really Qin Shihuang.


Wouldn't you be tempted to run over and kick out one of those supports and see what happens? Of course, there's also the possibility that the entire thing will fall on your head as you're running away.

These statues were haphazardly strewn near the outskirts of the tourist area at Chengshan Cape. I think it looks like Qin Shihuang is raising his hand and using The Force to strike down all those that are opposed.

Penglai

This place is a nice day trip from Yantai and is good to stroll around and see the sights. There were quite a few tour groups, so you'll only find 热闹 (noisiness and pushing and shoving) and not solitude here.


Typical Chinese chaos on the beach seen near Penglai Pavillion, which you can see in the distance.

This sign near the Penglai Pavillion says in Chinese "Military restricted area, no tourists". So that the guards can get more target practice on unsuspecting Western tourists, there's no English translation.


Shells and a dead, lacquered sea turtle for sale along the beach near Penglai Pavillion. As a scuba diver, seeing a spectacular sea creature being pointlessly slaughtered and trafficked like this is very disturbing, but unfortunately this type of environmental destruction occurs all over China and other than not doing business with the merchant, there's not much you can do.

"A street of seafood". Sounds like a Red Lobster promotion. The seafood in coastal Shandong is fresh and cheap. Even better than at Red Lobster.


Penglai Pavillion

Giant stone reproduction of The Art of War seen at Penglai


Foods

As you'd expect, seafood is the popular thing in these coastal towns.


In Weihai and Yantai, you'll see a tank of wriggling 8 to 12 inch long sea worms swimming about. The creatures are called 海肠, or "sea intestines". The scientific name is urechis unicinctus and I can't say I've seen it anywhere else.

Barbecued sea intestines that I ordered at a seaside eatery in Yantai. After being cooked, they are about wide enough that you can fit one over your index finger. They taste similar to a clam or mussel along with some sandy grit, and with an accompanying taste that you'd expect a nightcrawler have. Given enough hot sauce and spices, I'd try it again, but without condiments, sea intestines are certainly an acquired taste.


Food vendors on Laoshan. Our tour guide repeatedly told us about the food that the local peasants sell, "千万不要乱吃东西" (don't eat random stuff). There's plenty of similar food to be had in cleaner areas of Shandong and Qingdao, so you're not missing much other than the course of ciprofloxacin that you would have had to take after getting sick. The cooking food did smell pretty nice and it is tempting.

Laoshan is famous for the local spring water, and apparently the mountain water is also used to market the concoction in the red bottles, 崂山可乐 (Laoshan Cola). That label design would definitely fly in the US. There looks to be no copyright infringement whatsoever there.


A food vendor near the Qingdao waterfront with some shrimp and crabs on skewers.

Labels from years gone past seen at the Tsingtao beer brewery museum in Qingdao. The I think the one in the lower right looks politically incorrect.

Laoshan

Laoshan is a typical Chinese mountain with a cable lift to take you to the top, various temples and lookout points, rocks that are named after things that they vaguely resemble, and locals selling food of questionably cleanliness. One of the highlights for me was seeing two guys almost get in a fist fight while waiting in line for the cable car.


Lethargic mutt resting on some fishing nets near Laoshan. "Hey dog, if the fish aren't biting one day, guess who's getting cooked in a stew for dinner?"

Fishing boats at low tide somewhere between Laoshan and Qingdao. I stumbled into this deserted area while the bus stopped at a tourist trap dry seafood store for the Chinese on the bus to spend their money on overpriced dried squid and shrimp.


Women at the Tsingtao brewery bottling area looking very engaged in their work.

Street scene in the German style area of Qingdao. The truck in the distance was selling live octopus and squid to local restaurants and retailers. They had to keep a lid on top of the crates of octopus to keep them from spitting water all over the place and crawling out.


Yantai waterfront after sundown.

Yantai waterfront exhibit to teach young adults about the dangers of pubic lice.

Weihai

There's not much to see in Weihai itself. It's just a typical smaller sized Chinese city, with an airport that has just a few flights each day. I only saw one KFC and no coffee shops like you'd see in Beijing or Shanghai. Liugong Island and perhaps Chengshan Cape are the primary things you'd base yourself out of here for.


The sailor is thinking, "Babes. They gotta love the uniform. I'm totally digging this naval academy gig." This was near the military school on Liugong Island.

Museum worker on Liugong Island dressed in a Qing dynasty era navy uniform.


This was one of the first things I saw in Weihai. Even in a city of several million, they have so few Western visitors that word spread quickly when I arrived and I got the official state welcoming line. It makes me feel guilty that we only gave Hu Jintao a lunch but no formal state dinner when he was in Washington.

Downtown Weihai has stream billowing out from cracks in the street wherever it has broken. These workers wander about all day with a giant waffle iron and fix the asphalt in places where steam is escaping.



Navy recruits marching to campus on Liugong Island. The guy at the front staring me down is the non-commissioned officer leading the group.

If you look at this symbol while it's below the waistline of the giant man to which the hand belongs, you'll be punched in your bicep by a giant fist. Most guys probably know about this game.


Similar steps to those leading up to Pai Mei's house in Kill Bill II

Qingdao street with the Catholic church in the distance


Yantai

Yantai seems like a nice place to work and live, but there are few attractions here. It's a good place to stay while you visit the Penglai Pavillion. The climate and style of the city are somewhat similar to San Francisco.


View from my hotel in Yantai

Avoid any girls that have a car looking like this. Girls should have grown out of the pink cuddly phase sometime before high school.

Signs to help you improve your Chinese


Translation: "Fine for taking a dump, 50 yuan".

This sign was inside of a public restroom that had only urinals, no sit down toilets. It reminds me of that classic college prank where a drunk guy takes a dump in the urinal or shower in the dormitory bathroom.

Translation: "Please move in close when peeing."

This was above the urinal in a McDonald's restroom. Apparently they had problems with guys standing too far away and having contests to see who could pee the farthest. There's no English translation, despite the fact that many Westerners go to McDonald's. Can we conclude from that fact that Americans don't usually try and make giant rainbows when urinating in public?


If you're too dim to grasp the concept of what "high tide" and "low tide" mean, I doubt an in-depth technical diagram is going to help you.

No stopping. See on the tourist wharf at Liugong Island.


Chinglish signs

Once you get outside of the tier-one cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, you can see superb examples of one of the purest Chinese arts, the Chinglish sign.


For some reason, Santa Barbara is the official sister city of Weihai. Is "corner of urban residence" a good or bad thing? I feel that San Bruno or Daly City would be a much better fit for a sister city.

Remember when Bart Simpson's mail carrier arrives and he says "Hey, it's the female man"?


Click on this one and get a closer read.

Makes perfect sense to me. Garbage that can't be recycled is obviously called "irrecycling garbage"