Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dazed and Confuzed

Blog Virgin:

This is Steve's first-ever blog post, so please bear with me while I learn how to do this.

We were met at the Dalian airport on the afternoon of Aug 7 by Victor (the chair of the English Dept) with a driver and a big black air-conditioned Audi sedan (Ernie Suarez, please take note) to take us to our flat on the LNU campus. We have a very comfy second-floor two-bedroom flat with a bathroom and kitchen, complete with fridge, 2-burner gas stove, and a washing machine. Susie has already re-arranged the furniture (pictures to follow) to give us a roomy main bedroom, a central study/dining area, and a living room/guest room (hint hint).

We stayed the first 3 nights at a downtown hotel while we learned to hail taxis, count money, navigate to shopping areas, and purchase essentials for the flat. In less than 3 days, we are pretty well squared away and moved in. Shopping is both an adventure and a pleasure. We are often tailed by a school of several clerks, all eager to show us products, plug things in to demonstrate how they work, etc. Given our somewhat limited skills in Mandarin, we purchase by means of elaborate pantomimes. So far, the outstanding nominee in this category is Susie's Oscar-worthy performance of asking where to look for an electric fan. Here are some pictures of the town and the apartment:

Dinner for Six:

On our second night here, the Dean and his wife invited Victor and his wife and Susie and me to dinner in a private dining room on the LNU campus. This turned out to be an incredible feast and an unforgettable evening. We all sat around a round table with a huge lazy-susan in the middle. The Dean kicked things off by ordering a bottle of local "whiskey" (bai-jiu) that he shared generously all around. It tastes slightly sweet and very strong, like an excellent German plum schnapps. The server began bringing dishes of appetizers (fish, apples, vegetables, pork strips, fruit). Before long, this escalated into a seemingly unending parade of perhaps 20-30 main dishes (various kinds of fish, beef, pork, veggies, dumplings, soup, sesame cakes, etc). Everything was indescribably delicious. The lazy susan is spun slowly around and around and each diner simply plucks a bite here and a morsel there, all accompanied by a good local beer. I began nibbling cautiously but soon was diving in to every dish with joyful abandon. The conversation flowed friendly and free. Our hosts are making us feel very welcome and very much at home.

Car and Driver:
On Saturday, Victor brought the car and driver to give us a tour of Dalian's coastline. The city is located on a peninsula jutting out into the Yellow Sea, between the Chinese mainland and Korea. As a result, it has many miles of coastline. The tour began at Xinhai Square, the largest public space in Asia that dwarfs even Tianamnen Square in Beijing, where many familes were enjoying a sunny holiday. The drive took us along the steep coastline, past swimming beaches, amusement parks, woods, gardens, and parks. We drove through a special enclave of exquisite villas reserved for visiting officilas and dignitaries, public beaches, and the huge working harbor. Dalian's coast is a combination of the central California coastline (minus the vineyards) and Baltimore's commerial seaport (but with better food).

Dancing in the Dark:
Last night (Saturday) we took our first stroll through the neighborhood around the campus. It was a very hot, still, humid night so thousands of our new neighbors were outdoors enjoying themselves in the evening air. There were cardplayers, diners, dog-walkers, families and couples, and gangs of middle-aged guys on tricked-out motorcycles with running lights and crocheted/beaded seats reminding me of the Mods of the late 60s. The best was a group of women doing a group line-dance to a boombox, and another group of women drummer/dancers. Susie and I did our best to reciprocate by providing free entertainment by simply strolling down the street. For an encore, we regaled customers and clerks as we bought bakery goods for breakfast. It takes very little talent on our part to amuse our hosts and neighbors.