Thursday, November 5, 2009

October 27th to November 5th

A period of settling in and being sick. We both got very nasty coughs, which are still hanging around but not nearly so bad as they were at one point. We were warned off local doctors (medication happy) but we eventually reached our doctor back home and got some advice on what to take. Anyway, here it is day by day.

October 27th Pavan got quite sick. We were rather worried as we couldn't figure out what meds might be appropriate. She was coughing and generally complaining of feeling poorly but we agree to try to wait it out being dropping antibiotics or anything on her system. At work dumplings were had for lunch in a little local restaurant. For dinner Chris and Rod  went to De Fa Chang near the Bell Tower and ordered the dumpling feast. Our guidebook said this was some eighteen different types of dumpling. We tried very hard to order a pot of tea for ¥230 but the waitress kept shaking her head and pointing at the ¥40 cups. We thought the pot was refillable and the cup not, but eventually she mimed refilling the cup and we clued into the notion that the cups were refillable also and there was really no benefit to spending the extra ¥150 to get a pot for two. The first plate of dumplings to arrive were pork. We enthusiastically devoured them and they promptly brought more. It dawned on us that the pork dumplings were filler and the fancy dumplings had yet to arrive. After a while some fancy ones showed up. There were duck dumpling shaped like ducks, seafood dumplings, pumpkin/meat dumplings, walnut dumplings, spicy chicken dumplings, disgusting unidentifiable dumplings, and more! Unfortunately partway through Rod started feeling sick also.

October 28th and 29th we evidently did nothing worth taking notes about. Curious as we surely did *something*. Chris (traveling companion) headed for Beijing prior to returning to the West. Somewhere in there Rod got sick enough to stay home from work for a day and Pavan was sleeping and bed-ridden most of the time. It was somewhat unclear if she was getting better or just staying awful.

October 30th. After a routine workday with Pavan feeling sick at home we decided to go find a rumored subway. We made it to subway and there were four young Caucasians there! We got to talking (for quite some time) and learned they were American students studying in Xi'an. They recommended a restaurant for American style food and suggested that an excellent means to give cabbies directions was to take a card from the restaurant or store so you could return. This turned out to be brilliantly effective.

On October 31st we borrowed a Skype headset from work. We also figured out that we an get a wide variety of familiar music from internet radio, including Pavan's beloved JRFM. We went downtown and wandered around near the Bell Tower. McDonalds was nearby and we succumbed to temptation and gave it a try. Turns out that in Xi'an McDonalds is still normal McDonalds. KFC is not normal KFC - it's got a distinct asian flavor, sauces, etc (it's probably better than normal KFC). Subway is not as good as at home somehow. We also notice that we never see whole desirable bits of meat anywhere - no chicken breasts, steaks, etc.

Both of us were feeling sick and a bit weak still so we sat in a Starbucks, sipped an Americano, and people watched. After a bit of that we walked East along East Street (streets in cardinal directions off the Bell Tower are rather predictably named). We hoped to spot the foreigners bookstore that is supposedly on the North side of East Street but failed to identify it. After a fairly long walk down East Street we found a DVD store. It was awesome. Each disk of the Godfather was listed for ¥12; somewhat better than the $100ish we paid for the set back home. DVDs without a price indicating otherwise were ¥8 ($1.30 more or less). We bought 8 DVDs for a total of ¥74, hoping that at least a few would play in our laptops. We then wandered West back to, and past, the Bell Tower (thus onto West Street), then went North, then somewhat East, and finally stopped for dinner somewhere in the Muslim Quarter (NW of Bell Tower) on Beiyuanmen street. The restaurant had a picture-menu so we were able to order. What we thought was spicy chicken proved to just be colorful chicken but it was quite good. We walked back to the Bell Tower and on a whim strolled into haagan-daz. It was like a fancy restaurant. They had a fantastic array of elaborate ice cream concoctions (13 scoop sundae/sculpture anyone?) for $12ish. We took a cab home and tested a few movies on the MacBook and they worked :)

By this point we were both on the upswing from sickness, though still coughing a lot and feeling pretty far from 100%.

On November 1st Rod had to give a presentation (who books a web conference for Sunday?!) in the morning so Pavan got to sleep in until 1pm or so. The request to speak and for a picture came after we had packed up at home so the picture used wound up being from a web album of a San Diego wild animal park visit. The Taobao content was interesting; these guys are kicking the crap out of eBay in the China market. Very new company; started 2003. Part of the Alibaba Group. After the conference we tried using out purchased Skype Credit to call Canada. Works well and costs $0.024/minute. We also tried out using the Subway Card to guide cabs - it works - and went to try out the Village Cafe recommended by the American students we met at Subway. Finding it was a bit tricky but it turned out to exist and to make genuine western and mexican food. We had a Hawaiian pizza and early gray tea. It was awesome. We got a card from them so theoretically we can cab back to it if we get the urge for western food again.

On November 2nd Pavan was feeling a little better and we'd heard from our Western Doctor by email and were feeling a little more confident. Pavan soloed a cab to an Indian restaurant Chris from Active had mentioned and it made her day. She was SO happy to have had familiar food.

On November 3rd we hit up the Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was a little different than what we're used to at home but it was still really nice to have a nice Indian feast. Amusingly, Pavan doesn't seem to "get" Chicken Biryani. When we walked out of the Indian restaurant and looked left it turned out we were right beside the Big Goose Pagoda! It was very cold and late so we didn't stay long but it was a nice surprise. We picked up a teapot and cup for Rod to use at work from the supermarket.

On November 4th we went exploring and wound up at Pizza Hut for dinner. The menu and the venue were surprisingly nice; it's a decent restaurant over here! Expensive by local standards, it cost ¥127 for three entrees and two desserts. By contrast Rod bought lunch for four consisting of four dishes & rice for ¥40 in a local "village". "village" is a curious concept. Near the high tech zone where the Active office is there is an area locals refer to as a "village". It is basically an area of a couple of city blocks in which there are lots of little cheap (and Chinese menu only) restaurants, stalls, and so on. It may possibly be somehow connected to a group of farms. In any case this designated "village" in the middle of a city is a nice place for the high tech workers to get relatively cheap food. Rod told Pavan all about this and we resolved for her to come out for lunch to try it as it has a charming local feel, it's dirt cheap, and the food is really good!

On November 5th Pavan came to the office and joined us for lunch. We had a bunch of dishes, including duck blood! The duck blood was made into a sort of brown tofu-like substance which was presented in a bowel of spicy sauce. Pavan was totally revolted and couldn't stomach it. Rod ate it but didn't really like it. The rest of the dishes were superb and we greatly enjoyed ourselves. ¥55 for food for 5!! For dinner we went for a walk near the apartment to an area with restaurants we had spotted while visiting Pizza Hut the day before. Unfortunately the menu was all Chinese and the staff had no English! We persevered and between looking at other peoples food and finding two words (chicken, dumpling) that we all knew we ordered ... stuff. It was a bit of a surprise when it showed up but quite good. It turned out we'd ordered some dumplings that were a bit bland, some duck fragments in sauce, and some sort of pickled/vinegery meat and veggies. We managed to add rice to this and had a decent meal. None of the food was all that great but the experience was great fun. The waitresses got quite a kick out of it also; some of them were still giggling as we left. After dinner we walked over to a bookstore we'd noticed above starbucks and found they had a selection of English books. A VERY basic selection but at least we can get some reading material if we get desperate. There is also a fantastic little cafe called Sculpting In Time (a chain) that has cakes, coffee, western breakfast, juice, and so on. Fresh squeezed OJ was fantastic - though more yellow than orange - and a cup of Earl Gray (served without milk) was pretty nice also.

One of these days we'll go to the "village" with a camera and post some pictures. We haven't really been trucking the camera around for most of our sickly period but hopefully that's more or less over now. If only the cursed cough would bugger off...

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