Hangzhou (杭州)

Sunday, November 27, 2005


I was surfing and reading other expatriate blogs when I noticed some sort of concerted cheers coming from somewhere down below. Apparently, the construction of the building next door is proceeding at a rapid pace and has reached the phase where outside decoration is being put -- that includes grown up trees and other ornaments. The concerted cheers emanated from the workers erecting a tree (with a bit of help from a small crane -- but China still looks like the land of the mythical man month) Live plants are packaged with a vegetal fiber rope arranged as a loose bag around the dirt ball that's still attached to the roots.

In less than a week, the crappy old wall (dressed with revolutionary slogans) and the modest housings it protected have been leveled and now some western style landscaping connects the building future entrance to the street. Earlier during the week, a hole was dug and the remains of the older constructions thrown in -- I couldn't help but imagine that these house have been people's home for a while: peasants lived, loved, gave birth and died on what is now just a lawn.

Here, in the Binjiang district, you find 21st century modern housing being erected 10 meters away from a street where a more traditional living takes place: people cook, wash plates and utensils, wash their hairs right on the street. Litter is pushed aside for dogs to share. I ended in one of these streets this week-ended, it has been a memorable experience. Contrary to the appearance, these people aren't poor, their land (which technically doesn't belong to them -- land belongs to the State here) is worth a lot of money and if construction projects progresses in their direction, they'll quickly become quite rich.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

These stove tops suck!

Apparently, in Hangzhou (China) at an elevation of 141ft (43 m.) cooking fried potatoes on the LongHill Hotel boiler plates takes nearly 45 minutes. The good news is that they're actually quite good because :
  1. It's been a long time since I've had fried potatoes.
  2. The Italian made (is that supposed to be a mark of luxury) stovetop is of prosumer grade: the brand and price are selected for a crowd that (supposedly) thinks it understands it all but doesn't know jackshit. For instance, the device assumes it knows better than you do how to control temperature, which isn't a really good idea (I know how to cook, just give me control over max heat and I'll take care of the rest, thank you very much.) In short, I'm glad that despide apparences, they can do the job.
Well, I'm having home made fried potatoes in Hangzhou. Yum. One day, I'll tell you how I fared in my quest to make something that looks like bread in the land of rice.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A vistit from the Ma Feng.

I just went to substitute a cup of tea for some coffee (that Coco, our office manager, in all her kindness thought about buying this morning) when I noticed an oversized wasp on the window -- a good inch in length. The insect was seemingly lost and a little lazy from the colder weather we've had these day. I asked a co-worker to identify the arthropod, he told me this was called a ma feng (mother bee or the mother of all bees -- I didn't enquire) and it's actually a hornet.

We freed it a couple days later when the same co-worker realized it was still there.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

The boss lands the head.

I've been to that fancy restaurant by the lake two times already. The first time was a fun and relaxing "thank you" dinner with the people involved in setting up our operation in HZ. The second time was a business meeting.

This place is built according to some ancient construction code, with narrow alleys, corridors, stairs going in every directions (because ghosts only travel in a rectilinear fashion.) The place is nice but a bit spooky and manned by a small army of waiters carrying around exotic dishes.

During our second visit, our host (an important and respectable chairman) picked the menu and we were treated with more exotic Chinese food that I've seen so far (chicken feet skins anyone?) The plat de resistance was a fish, prepared by the staff to be served in bowls. As I observed the preparation work, I noted that the fish head, of respectable size and still quite menacing, was put aside and I started to have my own idea on what was going to happen to it. Comes serving time, everybody gets a bowl of fish, and the head is being presented to the first guest of honor (the dean of a local college), who deflects it to the second guess of honor -- my boss -- to whom it became quickly obvious that politely declining it wasn't an option. The delicacy ended in his plate and he mentioned (in English) that he wasn't sure how to eat it properly -- I was told you're supposed to go for the cheek and suck the eyeballs out. It's good to be a vegetarian more often than you think.

Our host was getting increasingly drunk, drinking wine from a small glass, transferring it from a larger glass where *gasp* ice cubes were used to cool it down. Then comes desert, a papaya cooked in wine and served hot.

As we leave table and proceed toward the exit, a waiter hurryingly climbs up the stairs carrying a cooked turtle in a clay pot. Downstairs, we're met by more swirling waiters rushing elaborate pieces to their final destination.

We meet the IT admin waiting for us outside in the boss' Beemer that he's asked to drive (and occasionally clean) around at his employer's leisure. I sincerely feel sorry for him, because he's a nice guy.

Friday, November 04, 2005

First post.

I'm tentatively starting a blog about my life in China. We'll see how far it goes.