Life goes on much as usual in china, work is busy and lots of teachers away on holiday means we are covering other peoples classes, which is fun. One of our teachers left for America this week, so we had a good send off for him on Sunday night. Aside from that, not much to report.
On Monday we spent the morning exploring the back alleys and lanes of Fuzhou. The main avenues and boulevards of the city are 6 lane roads, with a wide bike lane and an even wider pavement either side, lined with banyan trees, boutique shops and high rise buildings. Walking down past the jade river near our apartment is always nice, the banks have mini parks and flower beds, and there are buildings traditionally used to house and repair dragon boats that are often appropriated as barbecue restaurants and mahjong dens. We also came across an open temple built around a pagoda in a pond, that looked like a city retirement home for monks who were tired of lugging their shopping up to the mountain temples. Venture down a side street though, and you very quickly get into the real Fuzhou, a winding maze of dark tunnels, so overhung with dangling power lines and encroaching ramshackle buildings that they never see daylight. This is where the majority of people live and work, in the market stalls and tiny shops that line the alleys, selling basically everything and anything they can.
Few foreigners venture off the beaten track here, so we get a lot of attention in the backstreets, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we were the first white people to walk down a lot of these roads. We nosed our heads into a sort of antique shop at one point, and were promptly seated and given cups of tea, (standard procedure here), by a brilliantly enthusiastic local. Sam had the fairly standard conversation of “where are you from, what do you do, etc”, and despite the very limited language, he was more than happy to entertain us seemingly indefinitely. I had a wander around his shop, which mostly sold rough boulder sized mortar and pestles, painted door panels, and huge wooden carvings chopped from the eaves of old Chinese buildings.
After a day spent wandering the streets we were famished, and headed for a restaurant we’d spotted a few days previous. On the top floor of our local mall, it was a Chinese attempt at a western restaurant, and while we’ve had some bad experiences with these before, we were tempted in by a promising looking beef wellington on the menu board.
Suffice to say it was the best meal I’ve had in China to date. Delicious food, exceptional service with an attentive waiter topping up our wine glass, and for that matter, proper European wine, which is a rarity here. We had a good laugh when we both tried to eat with a knife and fork, and evidently struggled so much that the waiter ran over with chopsticks for us both. It was outrageously expensive by local standards, so was only frequented by businessmen trying to make a good impression, and couples splashing the cash on dates. If the average decent noodle, veg and beef, sit down meal, for two, is ¥40 (£4) here, and this cost us ¥400, that’s 10x as much. Say the average meal for two in the UK would cost you £40, that’s the equivalent of spending £400 on a two course dinner. Crazy, eh?
We’ve been playing badminton with some of the Chinese teaching assistants fairly regularly, and are getting pretty good at it now, so after our extravagant meal we thought we’d better get some exercise on the cheap. An early start and a brisk walk in the sun got us to the local courts, (indoors on the third floor of the post office, obviously) where we met Ella, a brilliant TA with infectious enthusiasm and a unquenchable optimism that makes her one of the most fun people I’ve ever met. She’s also spectacularly good at badminton, and proceeded to thrash us both around a court for two hours. Luckily another English teacher and two teaching assistants turned up and so we all took turns getting soundly beaten. A good time was had by all, and somewhat sweaty and knackered, we wandered towards the local park to make the most of the nice weather.
A quick lunch of Chow Mien in a backstreet cafe, and a wander through more alleys got us to Jin Ji Shan (golden chicken mountain). While most of the city is flat, this jagged ridge stretches well into the city, and after much landscaping is now one of the nicer parks in Fuzhou. The Chinese love a good waterfall, and if one doesn’t exist, they just cover a slope in concrete, put in a massive pump, and make one. Sounds hideous, but they are quite good at it, and their artificial rivers are a lot cleaner than their natural ones, so it’s a nice change to able to see the fish. After wandering up and round the mountain once, we got a message from Ella, who had gone home to change. She was on her way to the park with her brother, whose name happened to be Bun Baker. We met up, and despite being quite tired now, did another lap of the park, on a raised boardwalk that winds its way around the peak. Calling it a boardwalk doesn’t really do it justice but i don’t know what else to go with, it’s 15 feet wide, and 100 feet high in places, if it was in the U.K. it would be a motorway.
With the turn up of the weather we were also able to bake some bread this weekend… with it turning out to be the best loaf we’ve made to date! Fluffy on the inside (though still fairly thick) and super floury and crusty on the outside, it was one mean loaf! Look out, Paul Hollywood… there’s another master baker on the rise!