Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Why I love it here
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Or maybe I should say, Why I love Harbin. Here are three things that have happened to me in the past two weeks:

1. I went to the research campus of this university, about half a mile from my campus, and met a friend for lunch. We walked around after lunch, and were approached by a woman who told us that [a] she was a former professor of English at HIT, and [b] she's 79 years old. (I would have put her at 65, tops.) We chatted for fifteen or so minutes - she'd been to the U.S. for a year, and had really enjoyed herself - and then she asked, "Can we sing a song, to commemorate meeting each other?" So I told her to choose. She began singing "Red River Valley." From there, we went to "On Top of Old Smoky" and "Daisy." Then we exchanged phone numbers; if I have time next month I'm going to try to get together with her. I'm thinking she probably has some stories to tell . . . It was really cool.

2. The other day, I was on my way back from the swimming pool, and it started to rain. I didn't have an umbrella. A young male student offered to hold his over me, and he walked me to my dorm - out of his way - so I didn't get wet. How cool is that??? In the US, male undergraduates don't even see me half of the time.

3. Tonight Lara and I went downtown, as usual. After a short stint at Slow Life Coffee Book (where I was just too tired even to be able to read), we headed off to the beer/barbecue tent:


Well, it's really more substantial than a tent. But you can see that we were rushing the season a bit; not many people are there.

The deal is, you go and order food - mostly items on skewers - from one (or several) of the vendors on the side, and they cook it for you, then bring it to your table.


Here's most of what we got:


Counterclockwise from the top left:

1. Noodles in a hot sauce.

2. A plate of long, skinny mushrooms in a pepper marinade, along with very thin potato sticks flash-boiled and then fried in oil.

3. A plate of edamame soaked in water and salt to soften them; you pop them in your mouth and pop the beans out of the shell and hten discard the shell. Also, more potato sticks.

4. The barbecue. The yellow stuff on the right are the same long, skinny mushrooms, grilled with a little bit of oil, sesame, and I'm not sure what all else, but it's delicious. There's also a skewer of chicken in there. The yellow stuff in the middle is dry tofu wrapped around lettucelike greens, marinated in a soy sauce concoction and then barbecued. And finally, there's some bacon wrapped around greens. (You can't see the jellyfish or the pig intestine or the chicken hearts . . . it's amazing what I've come to like eating, it really is.)

As we were enjoying our dinner, a seventysomething guy came up and began to talk to us. He speaks both English and Russian in addition to Chinese. He had lots of small items for sale - maps of Harbin in English and Chinese, a two-language map of China (which I bought for teaching purposes), a Harbin guidebook, and steer horn slices, which you can use to massage your skin (which is one of the recommendations you get from doctors who practice Chinese medicine). He drew a small crowd as he was talking. (Lara says that after he'd finished, one guy walked away muttering, "I didn't understand a single word of that conversation.")

It's kinda fun to be in a place where you're a minor celebrity. And it's also wonderful to be able to get to interact with people a little bit like that - I don't think this sort of thing happens very much in larger, more metropolitan areas. I really like the sense that something interesting is just around the corner . . .

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