Day 4 - Pancakes at the Zoo

New Year Decorations
Thursday, February 11, 2016

That middle bit? There should be
three mountains there.
I’ve been sleeping on concrete. My shoulders and neck are yelling at me, and it’s 5:30am. Again. This means I’ve slept 3 hours. Hoorayyyy. The couch in the living room is more comfortable than the bed, so I move in there to see if I can catch some more sleep. I couldn’t.

Instead, I ended up reading a lot of comics on Marvel's insane reboot of their universes. Very entertaining. They basically get to take whatever heroes they want and throw them into whatever situations they want, and kill them whenever they want. It really  makes for better stories when you aren’t afraid of throwing a fan favorite away at any time. Taking a page from Mr. R. R. Martin, eh?
It's still quite early, so I decide to chip away at my laptop/phone internet issues. For the phone, it seems that Androids detect internet access by their ability to reach Google’s servers. Guess what’s blocked in China? That’s right - everything Google. This means that whenever I connect to a router, it will always tell me that I’m connected without internet access. Lying SOB. As far as my extremely limited internet browsing tells me, I can’t turn this off. The VPN on my computer is hobbling around and will occasionally pop-up a message saying “You have a Facebook update!” only to tease me because it still won’t let me check it. Sleep deprived and extremely frustrated, I give up after an hour or so and move on to writing and cooking.

Those táng hūlu. Quite good!
Shimou wanted to show me a different area of town, but we stop to grab a few more sundry items (batteries for the dumb gas meter) and walk over to the bank… which is closed. An upside: when leaving the store, Shimou bought me this traditional Beijing dessert, táng hūlu (sugar bottle gourd). It’s a stick with many Hawthorne berries(?) which has been dipped in melted sugar. This particular one has a red bean paste on the berries, in addition the candy coating. Quite nice!

I’ve been using the mountains I can see from my window as smog detectors. The first day I was here, I could see three mountains: small, medium, and large. The 2nd and 3rd days, I could only really see 2, but you could make out the 3rd if you strained. Today you can’t even see to the 1st mountain. I’ve read that living in Beijing - just breathing the air - is the equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day. Not nice, but the way I see it: if smokers quit smoking entirely, their lungs will fully recover if given enough time. Hopefully the same will be true of whatever the hell it is I’m breathing in.

Random Flying Pig in the Mall
The traffic is pretty crazy, and the cab we took.. had no seatbelts. We went to an even bigger mall in a busier area of town. There were lots of decorations to do with the new year, and a lot of red. Despite all the decorations, the smog does a wonderful job of making everything seem black, white, and grey. Shimou says that Beijing is more beautiful at night because then the smog isn’t as visible. She also said this is the worst day for smog since she’s been back on January 30th.

We get food at one of her high school favorites, “Da Kuai Huo.” I’m relying on her language skills too much and justifying it because I know there will be enough times in the next year where I’ll have to sink or swim without her. I try ordering by saying the number - one of the few things I have down decently - and they said something back. Well, I’m lost. Turns out they were verifying that the number was the same thing that I thought I was ordering - 1103, Hong Kong style Half-coffee, half-tea.

People seem to move differently here.. something about the way they swing their arms and shoulder when they walk feels slightly different from home, and it seems consistent among both the men and women here. Not universally, just a subtle difference that appears more common.

The Restaurant
We catch a cab back to the Haidian qu ([chu]; district) to “Guo Shu Hao” ([Go-Shoe-how] Fruit-Vegetable-Good) a grocery store next to my apartment complex. Man, everything is so close by! It’s great. This store has a lot of strange fruit, and no translations. Google translate fails me, which can translate using the camera - very useful when you can’t even write the characters you’re looking at… if you could actually access the network. Some stuff is exceptionally cheap, like 6 yuan (1.27 CAD) for a large container of dehydrated kiwis. Never had them before, but at that price I’d sure be willing to give them a try!

We regroup at the apartment then head over to the mall to see if I can get internet access that’s decent enough to allow for my VPNs to work. Zoo Coffee it is! Nice cafe on the 5th floor of the mall. I heard a family studying english at the table next to me, and the barista didn’t know the english version of their drink names. When I picked up my drink, one called “excuse me!” after me, but then they acted embarrassed when I came toward them. Not sure what that was about.

Exotic Animal Themed. Try the Orange Cappuccino!
Shimou was hungry again, so she went in search of food while I waited on the drinks and grabbed a seat. She brought back “Chinese Pancakes” which are like a wrap made of a crepe, filled with sauce, meat, and crunchy tortilla bits. She got them to throw in some lettuce and green onions, so it was actually quite good.. and only $2 CAD! It’s about 4”x4”x2” pocket of food! Gen ta ma de hao!

Back at the apartment, I showed Shimou an episode of Rick and Morty to see if she would get it. It’s fairly fast paced,  but she seemed to find it funny enough. Sweet. Check it out if you haven’t, by the way. Amazing show by the same creator as Community.

Editing Music: Shimou's Snoring

Bonus Pic: Random Toy Story decorations, presumably for the New Year

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