Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Diplomatic Incident – Revised

I wrote and published this a few days ago. But then I felt unhappy. I had completely dismissed the place as a fake on the basis of a few publicity leaflets and a visit to the website of their Nanning branch. As I pointed out at the time, I had never actually eaten there.

So I decided to correct or substantiate my statements by visiting the place for an experimental meal. 

I’ve mentioned this place before. It is a restaurant on the 3rd floor of the Bubugao Plaza shopping mall. In the advanced depths of their delusion, they have persuaded themselves that they are an Italian restaurant. There is nothing, zero, zilch, niente Italian about the place. This is NOT an Italian restaurant by any stretch of the imagination.

LoveIK

Any real “Italian Expert” would probably know that Boston, Hawaii, Texas, Mexico and New Orleans (the supposed origin of the pizzas they list on their menu), are somewhere far to the west of Italy; or the east if you go the other way. They would also know that their signature dish, the “Thin crust pizza in Naples” as Google Mis-Translate translates for them is not in any way related or even on nodding terms with anything Neapolitan.

Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined (and legally protected). This shit comes nowhere even close. It is a close approximation of  an OK pepperoni and olive excuse for a pizza. Neapolitan pizza does not contain cheap, nasty, mechanically retrieved meat sausage or bottled, dyed olives. In fact, it doesn’t contain sausage or olives of any kind. But it does contain tomato and buffalo mozzarella (Their sad excuse for a pizza doesn’t contain the latter. And shows little evidence of the former.)

Not Naples Pizza.

Not Naples Pizza.

But something concerns me even more.

So. My visit. Apart from one almost happy experience, It was much worse than I even anticipated. I rolled up at 17:39 trying to be ahead of the 6 pm rush. Good thinking. The place was almost deserted. I found a seat and a young waitress handed me a menu then told me my name. Seems she knew me from somewhere. Then she left me alone to peruse the section on offer – bliss. I was expecting the usual Chinese waitress intimidation..

The menu begins with set meals then jumps to drinks then deserts then hops towards pizzas, noodles and rice dishes. Finally it ends up with a sparse four mains (sadly listed under the idiotic American term, “entrees”.)

Ten minutes later, I place my order. I have decided to go for the “Naples Pizza” just because it is the one they trumpet. I also choose the “Fresh Porcini Rice”, basically because I don’t believe it. Then I throw in a salmon salad. I also ask for a glass of wine from their extensive list of three, none of which are Italian. All of which are crap. Seven minutes later my glass of red wine turns up – ice cold! ¥18 

Italian experts who don’t know to serve red wine at room temperature? Still it does have the advantage that you can’t taste it.

First food to arrive is the salmon salad. Here it is pictured on the menu.

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Apologies for picture quality. I was using my cell phone to take pictures of bad pictures!

Here is what turned up:

1

Yes. Some lunatic has decided to improve the salad by drowning it in Kewpie* Thousand Island Dressing. I hate Thousand Island Dressing! Bizarrely, it also comes with a bowl of soy sauce and wasabi. They are just chucking everything at it. Except anything remotely Italian.  I push it to the side and ignore it. ¥23.

Next, at 18:07, my pizza turns up. It looks fine, but, as I’ve said, nothing like anything recognised as a Naples pizza. As I’ve also said, it could be a reasonable, if dull, pepperoni and black olive pizza. It ain’t dull. The first bite has me gagging and downing the glass of water they kindly provided me with when I sat down. This thing is so oversalted! I am very salt tolerant, but I feel like I’ve just exceeded the recommended annual dosage in one small slice of pizza. It is inedible! Utterly disgusting. ¥33

Probably I should have stuck with the “Larry Italian Pizza” which features both “blacl pepper beef short ribs” and”kungpao chicken”. As eaten by every Italian on a daily basis! What drugs are these people on? And who the hell is Larry? Their dealer?

Just as I fall into despair, the dish I have least confidence in turns up. My “Fresh Porcini Rice”. To my astonishment this looks nothing like its depiction on the website or leaflets. It actually looks like a  reasonable Italian risotto. I take a tentative forkful and it’s delicious. Perfectly cooked and flavoured with those porcini. I’m happy at last.

But it’s a bubble about to burst. As I tuck in I begin to find foreign objects lurking within. Large pieces of raw, cheap, fatty bacon. This is not mentioned on the menu. Lucky I’m not a vegetarian. I wade through the rice digging out the intruders, then settle back to the rice and mushrooms. I still don’t know if the porcini were fresh or dried – I suspect the latter, but they were fine. However, they could have been washed a bit better. As I reach the bottom of the dish it gets grainier and grainer until I feel I’m eating sand.

I can’t say I was disappointed. I got more or less what I expected. Bad, non-Italian food. It wasn’t the worst meal I’ve had in Liuzhou (this was), but it ran a close second.

The bill.

The bill.

The diplomatic incident? Their latest promotional leaflet trumpets the joy of “Week cheddar cheese soup”. Another Google Mis-Translate disaster. The word ‘week’ gets thrown into the ‘translation’ as it is the literal meaning of the first of the two characters used to phonetically approximate “cheddar” (周打).

"Week Cheddar cheese soup"

“Week Cheddar cheese soup”

But this is not the major offence. The Chinese name is somewhat different. Wars have been fought over less than this – Hundred Year Wars

 According to the Chinese the soup is 法国周打芝士汤, which translates as ‘French cheddar cheese soup’.

French cheddar cheese? France might be the only country in the world which doesn’t make cheddar cheese. I can hear Napoleon and De Gaulle turning in their respective graves. The good people of Cheddar probably ain’t too happy either.

Can’t they see the irony in claiming to be Italian experts then attempting to sell French cheese which actually originated in England? There is nothing Italian about it! Idiozia!

This is just ignorance. As I’ve asked before, what makes people open restaurants ‘specialising’ in food they know nothing about? It can’t be about making money. Few do. One pizza place in Bubugao didn’t even survive the first month.

*Kewpie is a major Japanese producer of bottled mayonnaise and thousand island dressing, among many other factory food products.

Shadow Art

shadow art (Medium)

Shadow puppetry in China dates back to the Han dynasty (approximately around the time of Christ) and remains a popular art form.

I’ve mentioned before Liuzhou Museum’s occasional, free, short term exhibitions which are held in the temporary exhibit hall on the first (ground) floor. These tend to be displays of local artists’ work, photography, calligraphy etc. I’ve been to a few and, apart from calligraphy (which does nothing for me), none have disappointed me.

At the moment they have this Shadow Art exhibition showing artworks based on the ancient shadow puppetry. Here are a few examples:

shadow art9 (Medium)

shadow art8 (Medium)

shadow art7 (Medium)

shadow art3 (Medium)

shadow art2 (Medium)

shadow art1 (Medium)

shadow art4 (Medium)

There are many more.

They are also showing puppetry in action, although I was unable to find out times when I visited today. All the staff had retreated to the shadows.

As I said, the exhibition is free and it runs until April 18th (closed Mondays).

Recommended.

 

Friday Food 118 – Chinese Haws

Friday food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This time it’s haw, haw, haw.

tanghulu man

Tanghulu Vendor – Liuzhou Pedestrian Street

All across China but particularly in the north,  there are street vendors selling candied fruit threaded onto bamboo skewers. Known in Chinese as Tanghulu (糖葫芦 or 冰糖葫芦, literally ‘sugar bottle gourd’), they come in a number of varieties depending on the fruit used: banana, strawberry, grapes etc. These are also found in Liuzhou. Not only are there the usual itinerant vendors, but a number of snack shops also sell the things.

This one below is on the corner of the pedestrian street, opposite Soho Bar.

tanghulu shop2

tanghulu shop1

There is another tiny shop among the greasy snack and sticky drink huts at the McDonalds end of the same street.

The Tanghulu shop is the tiny one on the left.

The Tanghulu shop is the tiny one on the left.

Most common of the fruits used  and certainly most traditional are candied Chinese haws or 山楂. These are the berries of the Chinese hawthorn  (Crataegus pinnatifida), a small tree. The bright red berries are about 1½”/38mm in diameter. The slightly bitter taste of the fruit is offset by the sugar candy coating.

Candied haws 2

 I  don’t recall ever having seen fresh berries on sale in any of the markets here; we are too far south. But they must be around somewhere.

As well as being used in this way, the haws are also used in the making of jams and jellies and in flavoured wines. The are also widely available in the form of ‘haw flakes (山楂片)’  made from the dried fruit and sugar. The little discs (the same diameter as the fresh fruit and about 1mm thick) are sold in every corner shop.

Haw Flakes

Haw Flakes

Haw Flakes - 山楂片

Haw Flakes – 山楂片

Perhaps most interesting, are the dried whole fruits 山楂干.

Dried Haws 2

These are available in supermarkets and in traditional medicine shops. Like everything else in China, they are thought to be of medicinal value (in this case particularly recommended for cardiac conditions) and are used to male a ‘tea’ which is often sweetened with sugar or licorice. They can, however, also be used in cooking. Sweet soups are a common usage, but they also feature in savoury dishes such such as chicken or spare rib stews etc.

River Bus Suspended – Too Much Water in River

no rbI have now learned that on Tuesday (April 1st, but no joke), two days after the service was launched, the river bus service was suspended for  much of the day. The reason: too much water in the river.

The bus operating company have now said that, although the river bus is not subject to traffic lights or traffic delays, it is more susceptible to weather conditions than regular transport.

The service will be suspended in times of high water (which can last for weeks on end), if there is too much trash floating downstream (which can be drawn into the propellers), if it is foggy (as it has been for weeks).

So, the bus only seems to operate about half the time and then we can’t get on anyway. The farce continues.

Another Tale From The Riverbank

Today is 三月三, or the third day of the third month by the traditional Chinese lunar-solar calendar. For many of the ethnic minorities in China, particularly in the south, this is one of the most important days of the year and is marked by huge meetings, games, fireworks, matchmaking rites and eating on a grand scale. It is also known as Shangsi Festival (上巳节)

This year, for the first time, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous Region declared a two day public holiday in the festival’s honour. THis runs straight into Qing Ming, an ancestor worship festival which is celebrated nationally and is one of China’s public holidays. So while the rest of China will enjoy a one day holiday (which they convince themselves is three days by counting the weekend, Guangxi will have three which they reckon to be five, or in some cases six.

Anyway my point is that today is the first day of that extra Guangxi holiday. Despite it being a grey and drizzly day, the streets and shops were fairly busy, although I was surprised to see that restaurants weren’t pulling the usual crowds.

Just before lunch, I found myself walking across Wenhui bridge (the red one) heading north. Near the northern end of the bridge I spotted the 东门 (East Gate) river bus stop and this time there were people waiting.

IMG_2990

Waiting

As you can see there are nineteen people waiting for a twelve seater bus. These river buses are not like regular city buses which seldom understand the concept of full and always manage to squeeze on at least three times the official capacity.

I decided to hang around to see how things developed. After about ten months river bus pulled up. By that time there were about

"Let us on!"

“Let us on!”

By this time there were about 36 people waiting on the ‘bus stop’ platform and about another dozen hanging around the riverbank path either just watching or waiting to see if they had any chance. They didn’t. The boat berthed fairly quickly and it immediately became apparent that, not only was it already carrying its full complement of a dozen passengers but none them were getting off in the middle of nowhere.

So the bus headed off again upriver having picked up no one. Still, there will be another along in another half hour when the same thing will happen again.

Bye!

Bye!

The whole service is a complete joke. A shambles. And people are not happy. The local newspapers will, however,  no doubt flaunt it as a total success. The party never mistakes, do they?

In a similar vein is this unrelated and somewhat off-topic post of wonderful stupidity. I haven’t laughed so much since some lunatic in the high reaches of the party declared that China has the most open internet in the world. Rather amusingly, the website which reports his statement is er, blocked in China!

[af#Google ADsense]

Liuzhou Airport Re-opens

Flight from Kunming lands at Liuzhou Airport 30th March 2014

Flight from Kunming lands at Liuzhou Airport 30th March 2014

Liuzhou’s Bailian Airport re-opened yesterday (March 30th, 2014) after a five month closure to rebuild and upgrade the runway. Flights have resumed to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as 13 other Chinese cities.

Passengers from Kunming arrive in Liuzhou Airport - 30th March 2014

Passengers from Kunming arrive in Liuzhou Airport – 30th March 2014

Navigational Knobs – A River Bus Sequel

 

This morning, I took a stroll down to the riverside to examine these rumoured bus boats for myself. At 东门 (East Gate), under the shadow of Wenhui Bridge (the red one), I found this river bus stop.

river bus stop

river bus stop2

As you can see, it was teeming with people anxious to hand over their three pictures of Chairman Mao and be taken somewhere they didn’t really want to go.  Well, no. The place was deserted.

I hung around a while, but got bored and started slowly ambling down the riverside walk towards the next stop which is just to the east of Liujiang (No1) bridge. It was equally deserted. It was about then that I realised something odd. I’d now been watching the river for almost an hour and there was one thing I hadn’t seen – a river bus. Whatever happened to the half-hourly service?

Then I discovered what had happened. All the river buses are hopelessly lost somewhere at sea. You see, the the river bus company’s navigational skills are on a similar skill level as their financial planning – i.e clueless.

Right beside the bus stop I was now standing at was a proudly displayed map of the river bus system. It has a sign pointing north to orientate yourself by.

river bus map

The only problem I can see is that the arrow pointing north is actually pointing directly to the west. North is to the right of the picture, not the top. I am no maritime navigator but I would guess that a 90º error in your bearings might get you a bit lost. Hence the lack of buses. The are all probably half way to Australia by now. They might even find that place.

Oh well.

A slight update since yesterday.

Had the buses  not all gone AWOL, you could have gone on on of the two lines. A loop taking in all nine stations for ¥3, or a point to point river crossing for ¥2. They seem to think that people are going to wait 30 minutes then pay ¥2 to cross the river by boat rather than cross it by the many regular buses doing the same trip for ¥1 and which actually stop outside the shops etc, rather on a deserted river bank. Or walk. I do so regularly. It takes about five minutes.

Here is a list of the stops on line

river bus route1

北车渡码头南车渡停靠点海员码头停靠点市政办证厅停靠点市委东门停靠点金沙角停靠点东门停靠点北车渡停靠点西来寺停靠点红光景江苑停靠点南车渡停靠点.

River Boat Fare Shock

rb3

Just yesterday, I mentioned that the river bus company had not announced the fares for their new service which started this morning in pouring rain. Now I know why.

After confidently predicting for weeks that the fare would be between 1元 and 2元, the cowards waited until the last minute to announce that the fare is in fact 3元, making it the highest bus fare in the city for one of the shortest journeys.

They are now making feeble, whining excuses as to why the fare is so high. The capital costs, fuel prices, the need for two members of staff per bus, that each bus only has 12 seats. Something they apparently didn’t think about before. Who chose 12 seater buses?

Really, what they are saying minutes before opening the service is that it isn’t now and never was economically viable. Overpriced buses that go nowhere near anywhere 99% of the people want to go is a bit of a non-starter.

 

Random Picture No 73 – Tall Tales

Random Picture No. 73 is one in a series of pictures, taken in Liuzhou, which amuse, baffle or otherwise interest me.

Firestation and Diwang

The white building in the foreground is Liuzhou Fire Department’s HQ and fire station. It was built in the 1960s and was, at the time, by far the tallest building in the city. Designed as a look-out station, it was possible for anyone on the top floor to survey the whole city, looking out for fires.

Today, it is dwarfed by several nearby buildings, but particularly by the new Diwang Tower being built just behind it. This is now not only the tallest building in Liuzhou, but the tallest in Guangxi (until they build the next one).

River Bus Tests Map

Liuzhou’s new river bus service is due to open tomorrow morning at 7 am.  All week they have been testing the buses (and presumably testing that the drivers know where they are going, etc.)

5464338

5464350

At the same time, they have released a map showing the nine* ‘bus stops’ involved.

*No, I can’t make them add up to 9, either.

riverboat map

Although there may be no traffic jams, traffic lights etc on the river, and so the journey should in theory be quicker, sceptics realists point out that the docking time for a boat is somewhat longer than that of a bus dropping off passengers, and that donning or removing of life jackets and the various associated safety procedures add more delays.

And, to be honest, the river bus doesn’t really go where most people want to go. They are claiming that a new regular non-river bus service will tie the river bus together with the city centre and places beyond, rather defeating the point. This undefined bus service (route 100) is not expected to be fully in place until May. They also promise green rental bike stations at all river bus stops.

No announcement has been made regarding the river bus fare, that I can see.

I’m thinking this is just a publicity gimmick. It may be attractive to a few tourists, but as a viable contribution to the city’s public transport, it’s going nowhere.

When I arrived in Liuzhou there was a (just) active water taxi system ferrying people up, down or across the river.  I used it twice. It died soon after.

In other transport related news, the city’s so-called BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system has claimed its first fatality. A BRT bus went through some disabled traffic lights and smacked into this car. The woman passenger in the front of the car died from her injuries. The car driver was also injured, but not seriously. No one was injured on the bus.

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