Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Offally Bad News

Liuzhou is an offal place to live. The locals love nothing so much, in the colder months, than to chow down on some beef offal. Tripe, liver, kidneys, intestines, tendons, brains, bits you’d probably not want to hear about, bits you possibly didn’t know animals even possessed etc are highly popular choices for hotpots. Then there are the various parts of pigs,too. Goose intestines go down well. Frog’s oviducts. Dish swim bladders. Dog scrotum.

All very admirable, I think. Nose to tail. Waste not, want not. But then I like most offal.

offal

Beef carcase outside restaurant

Beef carcase outside restaurant

However, there may be a slight problem. The local press are on the case and have discovered that Liuzhou is getting through 5,000 kg of offal a day. Yet, Liuzhou only produces 1,000 kg a day. Where is the balance coming from?

Every restaurant boasts that its offal is fresh. This cannot possibly be true. They even go to the length of hanging the carcase up outside the restaurant to “prove” the freshness. Of course, it does no such thing, but the gullible are everywhere.

This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with frozen offal.

The problems are honesty in labelling and the fact that while there is usually an identifiable  supply chain for fresh meat, there is none for much frozen meat.

That was the problem last year in the UK when much “beef” turned out to be “horse”. I have no problem with eating horse. In fact I rather like it*, but would object to it being sold to me as beef.

Also freezing food is not a great tradition, at least in this part of China.

This shock horror news won’t deter many from indulging in offal hotpots over the next three or so months. It won’t deter me.

offal restaurant

Offal hotpot restaurant, Liuzhou

*Donkey is better. Donkey dick is a local specialty.

Woolly Hats

Some odd things pop up on the internet. Today I bring you Liuzhou woolly hats or beanies. Just on time for winter.

beanies

These items are on sale on Ebay for a cool $18.99 a piece. Here and here.

Whatever next?

No. I won’t be wearing one.

Qingdao 1997

Something someone posted on a food forum I follow mentioned this city and got my memory going.

Qingdao is a city in north-eastern China’s Shandong province. It lies on the Yellow Sea and is a major shipping and tourist city. You have probably heard of it, even if you’ve never heard of it. Tsingtao beer is probably China’s most famous export and Tsingtao is the old romanization of the now-preferred Qingdao. The city was, from 1898 to 1914, a colony. (These foreign occupied territories are often referred to as “concessions”. Only if conceding means being forced to do something.) The Germans built the brewery and to this day much of the city retains a lot of Germanic architecture.

Anyway, in the summer of 1997, after meeting up in Beijing, a bunch of friends and I decided to head there for a while. Tickets were bought, a train was caught and after one very uncomfortable night we arrived. We had heard of a hotel in the south of the city which had dormitory accommodation, so off we headed. The hotel denied any such arrangement was possible and tried to shove us into more expensive standard accommodation. Finding hotels willing to accept foreigners back then was difficult. We left.

As we wandered off wondering what to do, we passed a kindergarten. It was high summer so the kids were away. The woman who ran the place was standing at the gate and asked us if we were looking for somewhere to stay. She then showed us into a kid’s dormitory where the brats no doubt had their afternoon naps. The beds were a bit small and the place was festooned with Disney cartoon pictures.

“We’ll have it!” She charged us very little.

We soon found out that we were less than five minutes walk from the beach and right across the road was an open-air seafood restaurant. Bliss. Much time was spent lazing around the beach and doing our best to drink the city dry. No chance. We also found very quickly that Tsingtao also made a premium beer – Laoshan beer, only available in the city. Not sure if they still do.

The seafood restaurant kept us happy with the lumpy stuff (clams, shrimp, periwinkles, crab, razor shells, unidentified frying objects etc) while the beach bars dealt with the wet stuff. Although the restaurant also did a bit of the wet stuff, too.

One day, I had to go into the city centre to visit a bank and spotted a pizza place. They were rarer than the proverbial avian dentures at that time. When I got back, I told my friends and we agreed to go check it out for lunch the next day.

Next morning I woke with a severe case of the trots and felt generally like shit. I begged off, told them where I had seen the place and off they went to explore, then have lunch. I spent much of the morning in what passed for a toilet, then fell asleep. I woke up at noon, feeling fine. So, I popped across the road for a fix of seafood. I was just getting ready to tuck in when the owner arrived clutching a couple of bottles of something. I carried on eating, but he came over and offered me a drink from one of the bottles.  This usually makes me very wary. Chinese spirits are generally disgusting. But to my intense joy, this one was OK.

We finished the bottle between us and started on the second. The boss started yelling to his staff to bring us food. Lobstern crab, shrimp, and I forget all what – the most expensive stuff on his menu. We ate that and he yelled for more. It’s all a bit of a haze after that.

My friends eventually got back, felling a bit guilty at abandoning me to my sick bed and were amazed to see me pissed out of my brains and falling over, while shouting “More lobster!” To this day, I don’t know what that drink was. Probably, just as well.

Of course as George said, all things must pass, and it was time to head back to normality and work. We lived all over China and were mostly going in different directions.  A couple of us decided to go back via Shanghai, a city a hadn’t then visited. We found that there was a passenger ship between Qingdao and Shanghai (I think there still is) and decided that  would be a cool way to go, so bought our tickets for the next day.

Next morning was a beautiful late summer’s day. Hot and without even a whisper of wind. We said out goodbyes and headed for the pier. When we got there it was empty. No one in sight. We checked and checked, but were sure we were in the right place. Eventually, after what seemed like hours later we spotted someone in shipping company livery and asked her what was going on.

“No boat today! Come back tomorrow.”

“But we have tickets for today’s boat.”

“No boat today! Come back tomorrow.”

“Why no boat today?”

台风!”

“Typhoon? Are you crazy? There isn’t even a sparrows fart of wind!”

台风!”

It was pointless arguing so like shameful sheep we sloped back to the kindergarten and our friends, all of whom thought our tale hilarious.

That night, after a beer or three and more clams, I was woken in the middle at some ridiculous hour by this strange, loud noise. I looked out the window to see a taxi flying past. Literally flying. (I was on the second floor). Not only was it flying, but it was doing so upside down. Trees were crashing down everywhere. I was so glad I wasn’t on a ship in the Yellow Sea. That woman wasn’t wrong.  台风 indeed.

Next morning the wind had settled back down and we headed across the road for breakfast. Only one problem. What had been our restaurant and kitchen for three weeks had totally disappeared Nothing remained. Not a stick of furniture. Not a kitchen. Not a clam. It was just a vacant lot. But there was a smashed up fishing boat where we had been sitting the previous evening.

We decided to make other plans for leaving, but soon discovered that all trains had been cancelled because of the number of fallen trees littering the tracks. Ditto, buses and roads. The shipping company informed us they were unlikely to resume service for days and refunded out money. The airlines doubled their prices. So, we hit the beach and beer yet again. As I recall, it was almost another week before we could leave.

I was finally able to take the train to Shanghai, spend a nice couple of days there and head back to Hunan where I then lived.

Sadly, I have no pictures of this event.  Well, I have one very blurry, out of focus, badly lit picture of the group of us in the restaurant, but it could be anywhere really.

Good memory, though.

Bandits

mao_1949It is commonly assumed that the so-called “New China” was born on October 1st 1949 when Mao declared the People’s Republic in Tian’anmen. That is certainly what the party wants you to believe. The truth, as usual, is not so simple.

Although the Nationalist army had fled to Taiwan and the Communists held control of large parts of China, they certainly didn’t control all. Much of southern China was in the hands of warlords and bandit gangs, including, you won’t be surprised to hear, Liuzhou.

There are those who say that it still is controlled by bandit gangs.

In fact, despite Mao’s declaration fighting went on for about two years. It was only in May 1951 that they took control of much of Guangxi, including our fair city. That month, 63 bandits were sentenced for unspecified crimes (not being commies, probably) and several executed. Another 2,800 were  held and 1,100 weapons seized.

77DF411B34579C6905357C599F0BD03F

This picture is supposedly of communist troops near Liuzhou marching to take on the ‘bandits’. Or ‘bandits’ marching to take on the communists. You can be sure it isn’t a queue for a bus. They don’t do queuing for buses here.

Note all references to bandits herein is a direct translation of the communist party’s term () – not mine.

Sunday

Ontario_Sunday_Laws

I’ve always hated Sundays. When I was a kid in the wilds of central Scotland, Sundays were utterly miserable, thanks mostly to the puritan, presbyterian dickheads who took it upon themselves to tell everyone else what to do, or more usually what not to do. Negativity was their strong point. A bit like our friends in zhongnanhai.

Everything was closed. All shops, all pubs (not that I went to many pubs as a kid), all parks, all life. All you could do was wait for Monday.

There was television. Black and white, of course. You had to sit through “Songs of Praise” and the like. Sanctimonious idiots talked nonsense while much preferring getting back to sexually abusing choirboys. And the horror of “It’s a Knockout”. The host of that is also doing time for sex crimes.

Then there was Sunday night at the London Palladium. It was usually dull. The latest hit singer alternated with a ventriloquist, a man who could play spoons and a brain-dead announcer who thought he was a lot more funny than the audience did. I mean Jimmy Tarbuck? Funny? A bit like CCTV’s Spring Festival special. A lot like most CCTV output and “performance parties” throughout China.

Well, that was a long time ago.

Now I am ensconced in China and Sundays are much better just as bad. Although shops mostly stay open, I don’t really want to go shopping. I have work to do. On the internet.

But on Sundays, Liuzhou’s internet grinds to a near halt as 99% of the population log in to use the only things the internet is capable of – shopping, playing games, chatting to friends and downloading movies. I understand the last one. Chinese television is clearly designed to destroy brain cells. VCR recorders never took off in China – there is almost nothing anyone in their right minds would want to record.

Most of the specialist forums and information sites etc that I subscribe to also stop because people only use their computers when they should be working. Just yesterday, I was made to wait while a shop assistant finished her QQ chat. Well, I would have waited but I thought it might be better to go to another shop for better service. I’m still looking.

Another thing you can guarantee at this time of year is that Sunday will be devoid of sun. It has been pissing down all day. As usual.

Now, you might think I could take advantage of all this lack of activity by chilling out a bit. Just relaxing and enjoying the peace. You, know, sensible stuff.

Fat chance. 75% of my neighbours are utilising their day of rest by getting out their vibrators power tools and drilling random holes in things. An ancient Chinese custom, the origins of which are lost to time.

Roll on Monday.

Update: Three minutes after I posted this, there was a power blackout. Not unusual in Liuzhou, but unusual where I live. I live next door to Liuzhou Communist Party HQ and its employees’ accommodation. Of course, they rarely suffer the blackouts regularly introduced all over the city and I am fortunately on the same supply as them. I don’t know how long it lasted. I went out. But it shut up the drilling idiots for a while.

Red Stairs Removed

I am delighted to report that the idiotic red glass stairs at the north end of the People’s Square which led to the foot bridge over 广场路 and on to the second floor of Bubugao’s shopping mall are being ripped out.

Apart from being hideously, tastelessly out of place in the context (in any context really), they were also dangerous.

red steps

The red glass with its black lines meant that, in certain lighting conditions (i.e most) it was impossible to see where one step ended and the next began. When they were wet, it was even worse. Especially going down them into the square.

When I went past today, a gang of workmen had stripped all the glass to reveal the concrete steps underneath, but were still in the progress of removing the framework which held the red glass.

Looking down

Looking down

Looking up

Looking up

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t replace them with something even worse. Taste and sense aren’t their strong points.

 

What’s In Your Balls?

Some bright spark has managed to work out that if beef is currently priced at ¥40 per kilo and frozen ‘beef’ meatballs are only ¥10 per kilo, then there is a fair chance they aren’t exactly beef balls, at all. It must be that famed Chinese maths ability, again.

Beef Balls

Beef Balls  牛肉丸

Having investigated and analysed a load of balls, local food authorities have announced that these balls may contain as little as 10% beef or less. The rest is made up of cheaper pork, chicken or, more probably, starch. Anything else is up to your imagination.

Why anyone ever thought they were pure beef is a mystery to me. They don’t look like beef. They don’t smell like beef. And they sure don’t taste of beef.

The supermarkets are full of balls.  They are popular at this time of year. Hotpot material. Beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, fish etc. Except maybe not.

If you really need balls, make your own. It’s easy and you have a chance of knowing what’s in them.

Liuzhou Model Citizen

model

The above reads 2014 年度”公民榜样” 评选” which means “2014 Model Citizen” Public Nominations

Yes, once again they are looking for model citizens to honour. The scheme started in 2008 and awards have been given to 120 people including Olympic athletes from Liuzhou Prefecture and posthumously to a lad who jumped into a river, saved a drowning girl but drowned himself in the process. Others include cops,  fire-fighters, and teachers. You know the sort of thing. So far as I know, no models have ever been awarded model citizenship.

Call 0772-2880000 with your nominations.

11.11

Singles'_day_illustration

November 11th. In my mind it is inextricably linked to poppies and remembrance. As you probably know, World War One officially ended at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 and the approximately 10,000,000 dead are remembered in the UK each year at the precise minute of the anniversary. The remembrance has since been extended to include all the dead in all wars.

Her Maj and her government come out on the nearest Sunday and lay wreaths on the Cenotaph in central London while a minute’s silence is observed.

11_queen_r_LRG

Betty lays her wreath – November 9th 2014

Of course, China knows nothing of this and has come up with a totally different ceremony. In recent years, November 11th has become known as  光棍节 or ‘Singles Day’. The unofficial celebration originated in Nanjing University in the late 1990s when some bright sparks with no girlfriends noticed the significance of all those number ones. It really took off in 2011, when the date was 11-11-11 and rapidly spread through China’s college students.

Today, various dating (often blind) events are organised and, well, it’s sort of a meat market really. It’s odd, I think, to have a festival about being single in which everyone tries not to be. But why shouldn’t the lonely have a special day, too?

Of course, being solidly communist capitalist, China (mainly in the form of Alibaba and its on-line shopping site, Taobao) has tagged on to the popularity of the celebrations and turned it into the world’s largest on-line shopping day. Today is a good day to be the owner of a delivery company and a shit day to work for one. Billions of Yuan (The equivalent of $5.8 billion US, last year, for Alibaba Group alone) are spent. A lot of parcels to deliver. Every year the press carries images of delivery stations overflowing with parcels.

alibaba-singles-day

China was slow to get into on-line shopping, but have now fully embraced it. But I struggle to connect being single with shopping!

That said, I often use on-line shopping myself. I can get things on-line that I can’t find in Liuzhou and of the things I can find, they are usually cheaper on-line.

For the record, I am single. At last.

Update. It has been reported that Alibaba’s Single’s Day sales for this year were 57,112,181,350元 ($9.3bn / £5.9bn)

 

Reversing King

In another moment of madness, Liuzhou is having a “Reversing King* Competition”. This requires drivers to do the simple sort of parallel parking which is necessary to pass a driving test in most places, but not China.

park

Left a bit. Right a bit. No Right! Damn! Try again.

I’ve often said the locals just can’t reverse their vehicles without someone to guide them. Hence why every parking lot has at least one ‘reversing’ assistant.

In the competition, drivers are required to reverse an Audi A3 car into a space 5 metres long and metres wide. You know, the sort of place you could park a bus!

It has emerged during the qualifying stages that none of the qualifiers are actually from Liuzhou. Not a Liuzhou skill, it seems, somewhat embarrassing the self-professed “Motor City”.

The final was to have taken place on Sunday last, but was postponed until Saturday 15th. Parking in the rain is just too difficult.

The venue is 36 箭盘路, just 500 metres south of the Industrial Museum. The competition is, of course, a stunt to advertise yet another housing project. First prize is ¥5,000 in shopping vouchers and a year’s free property service charges in their ghetto. Of course, you would have to buy an apartment to get that part of your prize.

* Note. “King” is a non-gender-specific word in Chinese. A Queen is a female king. (女王)


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