Well I missed my opportunity to follow-up with my explanation of the fail train youtube video from yesterday…  During one of our many trips between the levels of IBM/ISTC Shenzhen, we came face to face with a flock of ISTC’s (International Systems Technology Company) line operators wearing green and blue smocks, who promptly piled into the elevator in an eerily similar manner as the poor souls on that train in the video.  Had my arms been free to move, I would’ve whipped out my camera for a shot of the sardine-vator.  I hope to get another chance to do so before I leave on Wednesday, April 1st.  As a side note, when I leave here on April 1st it’ll still be March 31 for you because in case you forgot, I’m in the friggin’ future!

Day 2: Retribution

I awoke from a deep slumber at 6:35 a.m. and brushed the sleep from my eyes.  I had set my alarm extra early for the opportunity to check out the hotel’s gym and do a little exercise to start my day off right. As of late, I’ve been slacking on my morning exercise routine and I figure that if I start getting into the habit now while I’m away, it’ll be easier to pick up once I return to the past (a.k.a. America).  The gym was on the same level as the “Spa by Lifestyle”, and was an surprisingly satisfying area.  There were two treadmills, an elliptical and a stair master at the far end of the room that were facing windows overlooking a large patio with tennis court and basketball; however due to the rainy weather of the past two days it was soaking wet and not exactly the best scenery.  Along the left wall of the room were some standard resistance machines and a rack of free weights, while the right side of the room was stocked with additional resistance machines and two “complete gym” machines.

After a nice relaxing workout, I headed back to my room for a quick shower and then readied myself to meet Tony on the third floor for breakfast again.  After making my way down to the cafe/lounge I grabbed a table for two and ordered up some coffee.  I vowed not to make the same mistake that I had the day before, and visited the large spread in the center of the room first, ensuring that I got plenty of eggs and bacon, plus a teeny-tiny eggs Benedict (it was on a mini-bagel), and some sausage before heading to the other table where I grabbed some fish and some more mini french toast triangles. When I had left for the restaurant I knew perfectly well that it was earlier than we had arranged to meet, but I figured I would simply be able to enjoy a slow, relaxing meal and let my food digest and settle in my stomach before rushing off to work, which is something that I rarely do.

I went up to the opposite side of the large center spread to get some fruit and a glass of juice after finishing my breakfast plate, and then ordered another cup of coffee from the waitress. After finishing that plate however, I began to wonder where Tony was, and when he would be coming to join me. I began to worry that he tried calling my room and assumed I had slept in since I didn’t answer. I pictured him banging on the door to my room screaming my name, thinking that I had forgot to set an alarm. In light of these thoughts, I rushed up to my room only to find that he was not in the hallway as I had imagined and I had no messages on my phone.  I was slightly confused, and then I looked at the clock and realized it was 9:30, so I grabbed my laptop and hurried back down the elevator to the lobby, where Stella was thankfully still waiting for me.

At this point she informed me that Tony would not be joining us because he had a case of the Burning Acid Belly and couldn’t even drink water without having to rush to the bathroom. For some reason I had a flashback from Mexico at this point, but the thought was too fleeting to truly understand what it meant. Regardless, we jumped in a taxi and were off to work in a manner quite similar to the day prior. After arriving at IBM/ISTC, Stella showed me to her desk and told me that if I needed any help with anything that I could come bother her, and then said that we’d meet for a free shuttle to take us directly back to the hotel at 5:45. I returned to my desk and literally hammered away at my keyboard all day working on a dynamic enclosure mapping system for a BCS chassis that was being unruly.

For lunch, I accompanied a few of the local TEs to a multi-leveled cafeteria that was full of local Fu Tian free trade zone workers of almost every representative company, and was continually ushered around with that all-too-familiar look of confusion upon my face. The kind gentlemen accompanying me ordered my food and helped me through line and then even offered to find me a fork and knife when they saw me comically struggling to eat rice with my chopsticks.  This is actually another thing that I forgot to mention in the last entry, was that so far at every meal in China I had been offered a fork and knife, as it was painfully obvious that I was not exactly well versed in the art of chopsticks; however I am a stubborn Polish boy and refuse to submit to the evils of western cutlery.

I initially thought that what I had pointed to in the lunch line was a plate of chicken; however when I asked why this chicken had bones in it, just like the chicken I had the day before at lunch, they all looked at me in disbelief.  Apparently I was eating pork, although that’s besides the point, because all I wanted to know was why everything had bones in it.  It’s very hard to eat meat that contains bones when you don’t have a fork to hold it and a knife to cut the meat off the bone, so I was very perplexed on the method with which to enjoy my meal. Nobody really understood what I was asking and after five minutes of re-asking my question of “Why does all the meat have bones in it?” in various forms, I finally just gave up and nom’ed away. This meal was actually pretty good, and luckily it wasn’t included in the Spice Challenge of the Century, so it didn’t cause anybody (me) harm.

As we lazily strolled back to the IBM/ISTC building Piano Wang, who has quite possibly the best name ever, asked me if I would like to accompany him for dinner that evening.  He said that he wanted to take me to the Huaqinagbei area and treat me to dinner at a restaurant of my choosing, so I gladly said yes. It was stunning to me how excited he was at the aspect of treating me to dinner, and I certainly couldn’t turn him down.

We returned to work and there were only a few minor problems in production, which were all resolved quire rapidly, so the remainder of the work day went rather smoothly. Around 5:30, Piano told me that he needed to resolve an issue and that it would take about 20 minutes so I should sit tight. At this moment I had a pretty good indication that I would be missing my daily quarter-end quality meeting at 8:00 p.m., which was absolutely correct.

Finally, around 6 we were ready to go, so we hopped on a bus to get outside of the free trade zone and then took a taxi for about 15 minutes to what I assume was the Huaqinagbei area.  This area was very busy compared to most of the other places that we had driven by up to this point, and there was an abundance of bright lights and advertisements, so it was a pretty clear indication that this was a very commercial area. Almost immediately in front of where the taxi let us off, I noticed a large mural depicting an under water scene prominently featuring a shark.  This mural was located above a doorway to a restaurant, and around the right side of this building was a huge glass wall that was numerous aquariums filled with all sorts of different kinds of fish.  I saw people pointing to the fish as a man in a chef’s outfit would take the fish out and promptly smash their brains out on his chopping block. It was quite apparent that we were at a seafood restaurant, and Piano not only confirmed my suspicion, but also said that it is a famous one and that we should choose to eat there.  So we did!

Shortly after being seated, a cart was brought to our table side for us to choose some appetizers and after a quick scan I chose the plate of pig ear and Piano chose the baby bamboo shoots.  Sadly, my pig ear was somewhat hard to eat, as each piece has a large, white piece of what I assume was cartilage running down the middle (refer to picture at left, bottom right plate), which made the Bamboo and Pig Earotherwise gooey strip have an extremely tough, crunchy texture that was quite possibly the most unpleasant texture I’ve ever had in my mouth.  Every time I tried to take a bite it felt like that feeling you get when your jaw bone muscles slip and make that popping noise, or if you can imagine the sound of somebody snapping a tendon in their leg, it was very much like that only inside my head.  I tried to ignore this sensation and simply concentrate on the taste, which was pretty decent; however I could not ignore the crunching and snapping of that white strip of hardness. On the other hand, the bamboo was delicious and had a hint of spice.  They were very soft and very unlike the pig ears. We also received some peanuts that were actually purple inside and kind of wet? I can’t really explain that one, but finally our fourth appetizer was a small bowl of baby onions that were soaked through with some type of alcohol that I could not quite identify. The alcohol was overwhelming, and didn’t really allow you to enjoy the taste of the onions themselves.

As we snacked on our appetizers I glanced over the menu to find the picture of something that looked interesting, and settled on the picture that looked something like a spiky log. My first thought was, “Oh this must be a sea cucumber”, and after asking the waitress I was indeed correct; however she said that it was very tiny and that I should get something bigger, like the thing picture immediately above it, which not only featured a sea cucumber but a goose talon as well. Yum… After handing the menu to Piano he gave it a once over before having a very long exchange with the waitress.  During this time, he didn’t say anything to me and I could tell he was ordering multiple items because she kept writing things down and then counting them before he would return to the menu and order another item. At one point she came over and read off each of the items that he ordered to which I exclaimed, “Don’t you think that’s a lot of food?!”, which was dismissed with a laugh as he ordered one last dish.

Armed with the knowledge that we were getting an army’s ration of food, we enjoyed our appetizers and drank beer with the occasional gambe salute. Slowly, but surely, our table was over taken by food.  First we received a basket of what appeared to be chicken wings; however upon asking what they were I was informed that they were in fact Pigeon wings. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly really), these tasted exactly like chicken wings.  They were fried and had some sort of teriyaki sauce on them, and they really were quite enjoyable.

The next food item for us to appear was a wok-like pan filled with peppers and various vegetables and a whole crab, broken up into pieces. This was introduced to me as “Spicy Crab” and it was definitely the most spicy of all the dishes of that night; however it didn’t even come close to anything that was served the day prior. This crab was quite good, and the only down side was that we had no shell crackers with which to extract the delicious meat. Furthermore, the meat was sticking to the insides of the shell so even if you cracked it perfectly with your hands, you still had to scrape the meat away from the chitinous shell. All complaints aside, I’d have to say this dish was the winner of the evening. Another note about this was the open flame beneath, which is hard to see in the picture above but captured in these images here.

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/YjFNr4IRtrJjpw7b8i6yCw?feat=directlink

Following the spicy crab our main dishes came out.  Mine was of course the sea cucumber and the goose talon, while Piano’s was some slab of beef, which is apparently his favorite thing to eat when he goes out.  I was basically a steak, but something about it looked… off.  I don’t really know what.  After staring in awe at my plate for a good five minutes another waiter came over and heavily recommended that I get a knife and fork for the sea cucumber as it was apparently slippery like jelly.  Piano concurred and said that he did not like the consistency of this animal and never ordered it, and preferred tough things like his steak, but he agreed that I should get a fork with which to stab the cucumber of the sea.

Well it was very true that the consistency of this animal was that of jelly, and it reminded me of eating a thick slick of fat off of a pig’s hind quarter, as it was soft and gooey and just empty.  Even with the fork, it was hard to pick up the creature; however I managed to gulp the entire thing down. My review of the goose talon is simply that it tasted exactly like turkey.  It was a darker meat, and that brown liquid that is sitting in the plate is basically some type of gravy, so it was not much unlike a thanksgiving dinner except for the fact that it was the foot of a goose instead of the leg of a turkey.  There was a severe lack of meat on this portion of the meal and I wish they would’ve at least given me part of the thigh because most of the talon was just skin.

The last item worth mentioning that we ate was an oyster. This oyster was extremely delicious and almost as good as the crab.  I took a picture of one of these guys, but it didn’t turn out so well, so if you care to see it, it’s here.  Don’t go flashing that picture around to all your friends though, because I’m not particularly proud of it.  Sad face.

So we had a rather thrilling journey in the land of new foods on this evening, and I’d say I’m a more complete human being now that I’ve eaten pigeon and goose talon and sea cucumber.

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