Ah, it’s been tough finding time to blog. Here, for those of you who haven’t been able to follow our adventures on Facebook, is a round-up of my latest Facebook posts, lightly adapted.

Wednesday, July 3 –  Bikes, clowns, noodles, heat wave…

I biked in to work this morning for the second day. I’m still amazed by how safe it feels. (Because it looks super scary when you’re not doing it.) I love it! Today, I even got up the nerve to do the thing that yesterday I swore I would never do — I turned left going through a major intersection during rush hour. And I survived! They think I’m a crazy Canuck here. I don’t think of myself as brave, but I’m finding that each day here I do something that I was previously afraid of. Who knows? Maybe I’ll come back with some scarification and some sky diving stories! (Don’t worry, gentle reader, the Kid and I are being super cautious about everything. I swear! *coughs*)

[…]

So, we’ve decided that it’s time to discover Nanjing’s nightlife. The local ex-pat blog, Hello Nanjing, reports that a Shanghai dubstep band, The Buck’Em Clowns, are playing at Castle Bar Saturday night. The Kid and I have decided to go. I’m not sure if I’m a dubstep person, but I’m looking forward to experiencing the Nanjing club scene.

[…]

The Kid and I had the most wonderful Uyghur lamian (hand-pulled noodles) tonight. Uyghurs are a (Muslim) Turkic ethnic minority from northwest China — the area bordering Kazakhstan. Their noodles are a miracle of nature. So good. We started with two bowls of lovely, clear, fragrant broth seasoned with various spices and fresh coriander. Then we had two lamian dishes — one with marinated cabbage and a spicy rich sauce, the other topped with the most delicious potato threads. And, we each had a drink. We brought home a doggy bag because there was too much food for us to get through, even though we started off really hungry. The bill came to 24 RMB, or about $4. And, the owners were so lovely and hospitable, the restaurant so bright and cool and cheerful.

Apparently, China’s having a heat wave. It’s hot, but I like it and didn’t notice that it was hotter than last year. Apparently, it will be temps in the high 30s (so, is that like mid-90s or so in Fahrenheit?) for the rest of the week. The news is showing people cooling off in air raid shelters, and playing mahjong while sitting in a lake. I’ve just been cheerfully sweating and drinking beer.

A tin of banana juice

Banana juice is also refreshing during a heat wave!

Thursday, July 4 – Strange fluids

Have I mentioned yet that the bell to mark the beginning and end of class periods at Nanjing University sounds exactly like a mechanical music box playing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory”? Oh, China. You just insist on being so Chinese.

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Had an amazing dinner tonight with The Kid and colleagues at Wu Shang Vegetarian — a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in a green, quiet, broad-avenued part of town near the old Ming palace ruins. The restaurant is a huge vegan buffet place with an extraordinarily inventive menu. We recognized some things, but some flavours and textures were utterly novel for us. We gorged ourselves on vegan sashimi, the most exquisite cold tofu barbecued pork, gorgeous fresh veggies and tofu that we selected and they custom stir-fried for us, amazing soups, dumplings, steamed buns, salads, tofu gelato. And the oddest beverages — neon coloured “shooters” that seem to have been made from fruit reductions and bright, clean vinegars. Emboldened by the strangely enjoyable vinegar drinks, I even had a warm “red jujube and fungus” beverage. It was… well, it grew on me. (No pun intended.)

Friday, July 5 — Rainy day art gallery

Day off yesterday. I slept in, and woke up to what sounded like a bomb going off. It was actually a terrific clap of thunder in the midst of a massive downpour. (When it rains here, it really rains. I still have nostalgic memories of last year’s typhoon, and our wonderful, ill-considered venture out for French food and ping pong in the middle of the storm.)

Starving. I quickly sated myself with sea salt dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter — not a perfect breakfast food, but I was starving, I had both ingredients ready to hand, and it was *delicious* — then made myself a proper breakfast of left-over Uyghur lamian and good strong black coffee (yay for my French press!).

A small sausage in a plastic tube.

The Kid’s breakfast — a tub of ramen — came complete with this little sausage. Surprise!

After a late start, the Kid and I gathered some colleagues (we’re their unofficial tour guides) and headed to the Nanjing Art Museum to see the travelling ink arts exhibition by Zhang Jiangzhou. Beautiful, unusual drawings on a massive scale.

The show, called Life Whispers, is Zhang’s effort to come to grips with the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008 that killed some 80-100,000 people in Sichuan Province. In elegant, spare brushstrokes inspired by traditional Chinese landscape art, the drawings picture groups of people, most of them eyes closed, most of them floating, with fragile limbs dangling relaxed at their sides. There is no trace of injury on any of the figures, and no direct evidence of the disaster. Instead, the drawings convey a sense of many people floating in a kind of limbo. The work is very affecting, and very well rendered. Zhang explained when the show launched that he did not want to represent the earthquake; rather, he sought to represent mourning.

The other art was beautiful too, but as our colleague the Art History prof noted, devoid of any conceptual aspects. …like dozens of Chinese William Morrises.

Then, we were off to the 1912 district for a late lunch in a stylish tea house type restaurant. I had iced milk tea with tapioca pearls and an order of Taiwanese style deep-fried silken tofu with chilli sauce and pickled vegetables. The Kid had a massive chocolate ice cream type dessert– it was billed as a rocky road smoothy, but almost everything about that appellation was false. Others at the table had noodles, hot chocolate, fresh pineapple juice with tapioca pearls, and gorgeous little rice and coconut cakes, served warm and filled with a marvelous house-made mango compôte. Everything was delicious.

From there, we headed past Nanjing’s massive futuristic public library, past the park where people gather for tai chi and dancing after dinner every night, and descended into Carrefour, the three storey *underground* department store, for a bit of shopping. The Kid asked a store clerk to find her size in a stylish pair of oxfords she’d been admiring. No dice. Strangely (except that everything, and hence nothing, is strange in China), the clerk, instead of suggesting other oxfords, proceeded to urge upon the Kid first a pair of velcro sandals and then a pair of running shoes. The Kid didn’t bite.

After a cocktail break (and a quick raingear photoshoot) in our hotel room, the Kid and I headed out again to the nearby Deji Plaza to have dinner at our favourite nearby Hunan restaurant, South Memory. We’re regulars there now — from what we can tell their only white regulars — so they greeted us with excitement and kept coming by our table to chat in fragments of English and Chinese and to drop off delicious complimentary snacks. Here’s what we got for about $15 total: a spicy cucumber and chilli salad, light and buttery scallion pancakes, spicy eggplant, green beans and chillis in a rich dark sauce, pickled vegetables and house-boiled peanuts, two bowls of rice, iced kumquat green tea, fresh watermelon juice and a plate of watermelon slices.

A photo of Shannon on a bike in a large raincoat

Ready for monsoon cycling! Check out my stylish raingear.

Back home, we skyped with the Guy before snuggling into the big bed to watch Akira. A very good day.

Saturday, July 6 – Alas, no Buck Em Clowns

Today is rainy again. We’ll stick close to home for most of the day, but tonight we’re going to have dinner on the very flashy and well-illuminated pedestrian Hunan Road before heading to the nearby Castle Nightclub to see a show by the new Shanghai dubstep outfit, the Buck Em Clowns.

[…]

We had a lazy day in our room before heading out with colleagues for dinner on Hunan Pedestrian Street. We had very good Indian food, and then parted ways with our friends so that the Kid and I could head to Castle Bar to watch the Shanghai dubstep outfit, Buck Em Clowns. Alas, after an hour of searching, we were forced to abandon the project. The bar could not be found. We spoke to several locals, two of whom eventually let us know that the bar had moved. So, no Buck Em Clowns for us, but the Castle is now our holy grail for this trip. We won’t rest until we find it. We began our search riding someone’s free in-room wifi at the Intercontinental Hotel as we sipped mojitos and martinis on the 78th floor of the Zifeng Tower. Tomorrow, we’ll get an earlier start. We are taking colleagues first to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, a moving and beautifully executed museum, and then, after lunch, to the Cloud Brocade Museum. And, our plans for next weekend’s trip to Putuoshan, an idyllic Buddhist island in the East China Sea, are firming up. We’ll be staying on the beach, beneath the giant statue of Guanyin Buddha, at the Purple Bamboo Hotel. Can’t wait!

Sunday, July 7 – Brocade and noodles

Sunday night. This morning, we took colleagues to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. It was way more crowded than last time we visited, but still very affecting. After lunch at a nearby Hong Kong place (unremarkable except for our new discovery there — deepfried corn kernels, something that seems more Iowa than Hong Kong), we went to the nearby Yunjin Institute, where Nanjing’s distinctive “cloud brocade” is made and studied. We got to watch artisans making brocade on huge looms that require two people to operate. One person crouches on top of the loom, perhaps 15 or 20 feet in the air, and controls the tension of the threads while consulting the pattern to guide the worker below; the person below sits at the loom, like a church organist, with bamboo poles for pedals, and weaves the shuttle back and forth while pushing pedals and strategically adding brightly coloured thread to the thread on the shuttle.So impressive. We ogled brocade clothing and decorative pieces costing as much as $20,000. So beautiful and well wrought.

Two people weaving brocade on a large wooden loom

Then, back to the hotel room for a little while for a cold beer and some cards with the Kid, and then — yay! — I booked the hotels for next weekend’s tropical island adventure. Then, we met up with the gang again to take them out for Uyghur food. Stopped and bought big, juicy grapes from a street vendor on the way home. Now, tucked up in our room, chilling, waiting for bedtime…

Postscript: From travelogue to food blogging

As I go over the last week’s posts, I notice how different the tone is from last year. We feel so comfortable and at home here this year. I have much less of the sense that I formerly had of visiting a wonderland whose every exotic idiosyncrasy must be catalogued. China is still amazing and impressive, but I confess to feeling less like an anthropologist/adventurer and more like a food writer than I did on the last trip. (Fortunately, there is much delicious food to describe; so…)

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