Wednesday, December 22, 2010


So I've mentioned eating hot pot a few times before, and during our trip to Dandong I finally remembered to take some pictures. FIrst a quick explanation of what it is. Basically a hot pot is a large pot of boiling water with spices added that you cook vegetables and meat in at your table. It's a great food in the winter for warming you up quick. We usually order beef and lamb (cut super thin) and then tons of vegetables. My favorite is something I'd never tried before called wintermelon. Usually eating hot pot takes quite awhile because we have to cook things in stages. Here's a few pictures to help you visualize:

My first hot pot experience was at a nicer restaurant with some people Nick had been meeting with for work. They took us to a restaurant where we each had our own individual hot pot and a turntable in the middle to pass the various foods around. It was really fun and we got to try a whole variety of things, some good like wintermelon, and some not so good like Chinese mushrooms. The next experience was a little more stressful for me. We were with a group of 8 people all sharing one pot. I guess everything gets sterilized because it is boiling, but I still can't handle it. People kept dumping in more food before the previous batch had cooked and so some things weren't done while others were overcooked and you had to dig to find food you wanted. My poor little organized brain couldn't handle the chaos. Let's just say I left that meal still very hungry! Our last hot pot experience was just the 2 of us sharing a pot and that wasn't too bad, Nick understands my compulsive need to organize everything right down to food.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mini Vacation in Dandong

Last weekend Nick and I decided we needed a little vacation from Dalian. We decided to head to Dandong for a night. It is the Chinese city on the North Korean border. Our original plan was to go by bus, but when we got to the station Friday afternoon about 3:30 we found that the last bus had left an hour earlier. Well we had a hotel reservation, and we were really looking forward to getting out of town for a few days so we found another way. For only 30 RMB more per person than the bus we paid to go in a car. There are people that sell seats in their vans so we ended up with 7 other random people in the back of a van and headed to Dandong. It was quite an adventure. I think I've mentioned how crazy people drive in China, but this guy was especially bad. The freeways have lots of tolls on them, so not as many people travel on them so he was going fast!

Well, we made it in one piece to the hotel that was right on the river that divides China and North Korea. It was super cheap, and we had a beautiful view. It is crazy to look down the river. The Chinese side is very developed (I think some one told us Dandong has a population of 2.3 million) with tall apartment buildings, while the Korean side is empty. There are a few buildings you can see during the day, but apparently they were built by the government and no one actually lives in them so there is no electricity there or anything. Anyway, we got in pretty late so we went out for dinner (the one I posted pictures of a few days ago) and then went to bed. The next morning we were up early and ready to go out. We called a taxi driver and ended up getting a pretty nice private tour of Dandong for 2 hours. He drove us all over and was telling us about everything, very informative!

Here's a quick picture summary of our trip.

A picture looking down the river. China on the left and North Korea on the right. Crazy contrast!

In the back of the van that took us to Dandong.

Fishermen. We saw a show about how these fishermen use birds to catch fish before we came to China, but it was crazy to actually see it. Basically they have birds and they tie a string around their throats so they can't swallow. When the birds dive to catch a fish they can only halfway swallow it, then the fishermen haul them up and pull the fish out of their mouths. It was crazy. They also make these cool noises to call the birds as they move down the river. I wish I had a recording of it.

As past of our tour the taxi driver took us through this little town. It is crazy how fast we went from the city to this rural area. It was actually pretty funny, they were staring at us because they don't see too many foreigners and we were staring back at them because we don't see carts like this very often.

Nick with North Korea in the background. We had quite a few pictures like this.

If you squint really hard you can see the eastern end of the Great Wall of China in the background of this picture. We could have toured it, but it was expensive and the driver told us it wasn't worth it. This was my first glimpse of the Great Wall, but I guess I'll have to wait a little longer to climb on it. In the front of the picture you can see a green fence and that marks the border of North Korea. The river in between is neutral, but the North Koreans have a small part of land on the Chinese side of the river where they can launch boats and give people tours. They put up this green fence to mark the boundary. We were just 3 feet away! Apparently it is possible to get a Visa to go on a heavily supervised tour to North Korea, but you have to hang out in Dandong for a few days and now probably isn't the greatest time to be traveling there anyway.

Short story real quick. We were taking pictures by the green fence that marks the border to NK and we looked across the river. I mentioned before how it isn't really developed over there, so there were no buildings, well we saw 2 men in a field and at first glance we just dismissed them as farmers. The taxi driver told us to take a closer look, he said they were snipers watching the border! Sure enough we took a picture and zoomed in on the camera and it became pretty clear they were not out there just farming. Its safe though as long as you don't do anything stupid or try to get too close to the fence.

Here I am on a bridge that went about halfway out into the river. Our taxi driver/tour guide told us that this was a bridge that the Americans bombed during the Korean War. It was pretty cool, because it was farther away from the city we could see a few buildings, houses and cars on the North Korean side. There were people taking boat tours on the river that got closer, but we opted not to do that this trip.

This is the bridge that currently connects NK and Dandong. It looks really pretty at night.

Nick in front of a Chinese looking building in a park. We had a few hours before our bus left to go back to Dalian, so we found this park. It was built on the side of a hill, so we had to hike up to it. It has a really nice view of the city. I wish we had a park like this near our house in Dalian.

The entrance to the park where we went hiking.

It was a really quick trip, but we had fun. I would love to go back in the spring/summer and explore more. I was told by Mona at work that there are lots of fun places to go explore in the mountains around Dandong.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chinese food

After a couple posts about all the yummy Thanksgiving food we've been enjoying I figured it was time for one on Chinese food. We went on a mini vacation to Dandong this weekend (don't worry pictures/details are coming soon) and we were hungry when we got there. So we walked into a little restaurant off the street. It was delicious!

This is a pumpkin dish. It is the one my friend Mona tried to teach me to make on Thanksgiving. This one turned out better than ours though.... I guess the key is to deep fry the pumpkin first and then add the yellow seasoning stuff later. (Mona kept calling the seasoning duck eggs, but I prefer not to think about that when I eat it.) We didn't have enough oil, or the patience I guess. Ours turned into more of a pumpkin mush. Anyway, the pumpkin at this restaurant was delicious.

This is probably one of my favorite things I've eaten in a Chinese restaurant. It is eggplant with pork stuffed into it where it is sliced, and then deep fried and covered in a sweet and sour type sauce. We need to find a restaurant by our house that will make this pronto. I have eaten more eggplant these last 2 months in China than I could even imagine existed before we moved here. I think I ate it maybe once a year before, and now we eat it several times a week. They cook it so well here. I need to learn a thing or two before we come home.

We finished off our meal with some chow mein. I love eating noodles. I got tired of eating rice pretty quickly here, but I don't seem to ever get tired of noodles.

Don't worry we didn't even come close to finishing all that food. It always amazes me how big portions are here. Especially because they are so cheap. Our whole dinner cost 6 dollars, and we had so much leftover food we probably could have fed another 2 people!