In Which Stephaine Buys a Bike, or Tour de Xiamen

One of the more challenging things about living in a city where you don’t own a car is buying big items and wondering how you will get them home. Last Saturday, Stephaine asked me if I wanted to go with her to pick up the bike she bought. I said sure, and we set off. We filmed part of the trip so people would know how to take a bus and how much it is. My battery ran out a third of the way into the day, which was a bummer, because some of the more interesting/hilarious parts of our journey never made it onto video. But considering what happened, maybe that’s a good thing.

Best outfit on the bus!

So we took the right bus, but got off at the wrong stop, so we took a cab the rest of the way. One of the fascinating things about China is that streets frequently do not have a cut and dried grid pattern. This makes for a labrynthine exploration opportunity. Sometimes, you just cannot get to your destination unless you walk for a bit after you get off the bus or out of the cab. We took a right turn after our cab ride, and ended up finding a Mexican restaurant, but not really knowing what street we were on. Stephaine ended up WeChatting the woman selling the bike and she met us. We were on a street that had several businesses on it, but also seemed like it was a part of the apartment complex we were facing. Anyway, buyer met seller, and we started to head back. We figured Stephaine could ride her new (to her at least) bike, and I would rent one of the many bikes available. It’s a handy set up: some bikes are in designated areas, other bikes, like the Hello Bike I rented, are just sitting on the street, like two-wheeled hookers, looking for their next ride. You download the app, and Hello Bike will show on a map where bikes are close by. It only took us a few minutes to find an available bike, and soon it was rented and unlocked.

We planned to ride along the edge of the island heading east. It would be a fairly long ride, but there weren’t any excruciating hills, and we didn’t have anything planned the rest of the day, so it’s not like we had to be anywhere. There are paths for bikes, so we wouldn’t have to ride out in the street if we didn’t want to.

So our path took us to a beach. I couldn’t resist walking to check out the water, but sadly, there was plenty of crud washed up on shore. People were swimming, but I was disappointed that this beach wasn’t any more promising than the one a quick bus ride away from my apartment.

I saw someone dressed up like Mickey Mouse and thought it would be fun to get a picture. I called, “Mickey, Mickey,” but he didn’t respond. I finally got his attention and posed for a few pictures with him. Too late, I discovered the pictures weren’t free. He showed me his business card, then flipped it over with the QR code you scan with your phone when you buy something. Shit! This guy wasn’t some company-sponsored mascot, he was a businessman! And he charged me 20 kuai! Things have been very, VERY lean since I am still paying back the advance I had to take when I got here, and I wasn’t planning on shelling out 20 quai for pictures I wouldn’t have paid for had I known he was charging for them. I should have known, I guess. I offer money to street musicians who refuse, but Mickey wasn’t performing—just pimping out his name and likeness. I could have just run away I guess, but I’d seen cops earlier, and there was a police station at the beach. Fuck. I scanned his code and trudged back to Stephaine. She wanted to pump the tires up before resuming our trip. We got ready to go, when Stephaine took a nasty fall. The bike seat was as low as it could go, but it was still too high. That meant that Stephaine couldn’t put both feet on the ground and still be seated. For some people that wouldn’t be a problem, but it makes me uncomfortable. We set off again.

We made our way around the perimeter of the island. It would have been a bit easier had the walkway not been blocked off due to some festival. It meant we had to cross a busy street. Chinese streets make things more challenging because they have fences that run alongside. So you are forced to walk or bike out in the street. I saw a temple while we were heading home, and we also saw several people pose on rocks for their wedding pictures. There must have been a dozen or so women, and a few men walking out on giant rocks near the water. One woman had two people holding her soaking train in the air, trying to dry it. I don’t see how the dresses can’t get ruined. The way the rocks are situated, you have to waIt wasn’t too far away from this spot that Stephaine fell a second time. This time, she fell against a bike that was next to a fence. lk on wet sand, then climb on the rocks in order to get far enough out to get that romantic shot against the ocean. It was interesting to see so many women in crimson gowns have their pictures taken.

This time, I was several feet in back of her, and I saw it happen. She had slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting some people. There are designated bike paths, but in China, people have a certain self-centeredness that might stem from so many people being there. What I mean is that in order to maintain some sort of privacy in public, you have to ignore people. So you’ll get people crossing a path in front of you and they will suddenly stop. This happens if you are driving, walking, on a skateboard or on a bike. Stephaine yelled out “nihao!” (Hello!) and the people stopped. She stopped to avoid hitting them and fell. The people just looked at her, but then one of them finally helped her up.

She was in pain, so we stopped for a little bit and had a snack so she could take some pain pills. I was really concerned at this point the bike was a safety hazard. But after a while, we kept going. We had to leave the path further up, but not before wondering how cars were permitted on a path designated for bikes. I was also floored at the speed a couple of cyclists hit while barreling down the same path where Stephaine had fallen. What would happen if someone stepped out in front of these speed demons? Or was that the secret? Go so damn fast that people got the hell out of the way?

We still had about eleven kilometers to go. That was maybe a little over six or seven miles or so. The day had started out pretty hot and sunny, but became overcast and cooler.

You see where this is headed, right? I don’t know how far we were from Stephaine’s place, but we had crossed the street yet again (and had lifted our bikes over a fence) when it started to rain. We continued trudging along, because at this point, we still couldn’t get over to the bike path, and we weren’t about to ride on the wet, Saturday evening street or on the grass of the median. It was so dark at one point, Stephaine looked back, but couldn’t see me.

Eventually, I realized where we were. We were soaked clear through, but knew it would be over soon. At one point, we were laughing so hard because it seemed like the day got tougher and tougher. Having to pay for pictures, Stephaine’s falls, the blocked off bike path, clueless pedestrians who think they are the only people on earth, and a steady rain that made things hard to see. We finally made it to her place, where we ordered take out and recalled the day and how things took such a painful turn.

At first, Stephaine was planning to re-sell the bike, but decided she’d buy a bike stand and keep it so she could cycle in her apartment during the winter. I still think she should sell it, but it was one of those days where stuff keeps happening, and you’re thinking, “it can’t get any worse, but it does.” I think the bike is a death trap, but it didn’t kill Stephaine. I told her the next time we ride bikes, we are going to take the elevated bike path, where we won’t have to worry about pedestrians stopping for no damn good reason, or it being blocked off because of a festival. We also plan to rent bikes where we can employ a variation of the three point rule. Three point rule is either having both feet on the ground, and one hand holding on to something (the truck door, the ladder, railing, etc.) or two hands on the ladder, and one foot on the step, etc. In this case, it’s both feet on the ground, crotch firmly on the bike seat.

Q and A With Gloryay!

Are all you care about is malls and food? That’s all you seem to write about.

I care about a lot of things, but I’m trying to keep this blog interesting and fun, and educational. My close friends know about the challenges I’m dealing with. I don’t necessarily want to broadcast my frustrations with my job, some of my friends, maintaining a house back in the states, ongoing financial struggles, and life in general. It’s too depressing to write about, and no one wants to read it. Since malls are dying in the United States, but seem to be booming here, I write about them. Since I’ve had trouble with food poisoning, I’m writing about my issues with food. And no, Chinese Chinese food is way different than American Chinese food. I definitely miss Panda Express. And to give you an idea of what Chinese hospital food is like, this is what my friend Stephaine got served when she was in the hospital.

Lizard? Frog? Who knows?

Have you been swimming?

Sadly, no. I love swimming, and I live a ten minute bus ride from the beach, but the water is nasty. There’s all sorts of crap that washes up, and the ocean doesn’t have a good smell to it. If people in Florida are ending up with flesh-eating viruses, I don’t want to swim and risk getting some weird infection. I have enough scars on my legs from bug bites, and I don’t want to get that one disease where the worms burrow through your skin.

You’ve done a photo essay on Walmart. Anything else we should know about it?

They have several check lanes, but only two people are running register, just like your local Walmart.

What’s your take on Xiamen?

I love it! It’s cool to be able to live in a big city for the first time in my life. However, I’m an exception in the fact that I am a foreigner and get paid way more than a retail worker would. If you work in retail, you still don’t get paid shit. I make way more than that, but I’m not rolling in money and probably won’t be. This is a place people come to retire, but I’ve not seen scads of old people. People have bucks here though—I’ve never seen so many expensive foreign cars in my life—I’m talking Mercedes, BMW, Audis, and Maserati. THAT is a car you really don’t see in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Oh, Lamborghinis too!

Real estate is expensive. I think I might have passed by someone’s actual house today (July 6, 2019) but I’m thinking if you are wealthy, you probably have a very nice apartment. Maybe on the outskirts of the city there might be actual houses, but apartments seem to be the norm, and even buying an apartment will set you back probably $1,000,000. And it’s not really worth it, because the workmanship isn’t good. Chinese construction seems to be learn as you go, and the motto, “Gaps are not important, because it doesn’t get really cold here.”

Gloria, what do the people think about what’s going on in Hong Kong?

I don’t want to say anything about that. The school has told us not to talk about it on social media.

Name a frustrating thing that you deal with.

People will be going down steps, and they will stop right where they are to check their cell phones. Like, no consideration that someone might be behind them, carrying a heavy load, and wants to get to the bottom of the steps without interruption. Some guy pulled that on me the other day, and I just kept going and clipped his elbow. I heard him gasp audibly, but I was in such a bad mood that I didn’t bother to turn around or apologize.

Earlier today (July 6, 2019) I went with my friend Stephaine, who was buying a bike. That was a hell of an experience, and we made a video about it, which I need to edit. Anyway, she was riding it home, and a group of people stopped right in front of her. She slammed on her brakes, but because the bike is too tall for her, she fell. A couple of people helped her up, but with the way people walk/stop in front of cyclists/ebike riders, I’m surprised more injuries don’t happen.

Are you spelling Stephanie’s name right?

Yes, it’s Stephaine. Blame her mom.

But aren’t you concerned about the protests in Hong Kong?

I can’t do much. I’m only one person. I’m here to teach, not stir up trouble. It’s not like the United States is perfect. Locking up kids at the border and mass shootings every day or so doesn’t make the country look like paradise. America needs to deal with their own shit before they point fingers elsewhere.

What else?

When I buy something, and it’s like 3.50 Yuan, and I try and give them 4 Yuan, they only take 3. I took a taxi ride and it was 20.50. I gave the driver 30, because I didn’t have a half Yuan piece. I told my Chinese teacher about that, and said that would NEVER happen in the states. If something cost $21.50, you’d better have the .50. I can’t imagine how much a cashier’s till would be off if they only accepted even dollar amounts. Most employers flip out if a till is ten cents off.

What’s your take on Chinese fashion?

Lots and lots of shirts with English writing on them. I’ve seen at least two Purdue University shirts in the time I’ve been here. I saw one of our students wearing a shirt promoting a business in Omaha, Nebraska. I wonder if maybe the shirt was printed wrong and it was shipped here. I’ve heard when they print up shirts for the Super Bowl or whatever, they take the shirts of the losing team and send them to third world countries. Lots of inspirational, non-religious sayings. There’s a lot of positive sayings here, not just on shirts but on pillows, notebooks, etc.

Some fashions are pretty cute. But some just look bizarre, like the knee-length skirts with the overlay of lace/tulle/whatever that extends mid-calf. Or the mini skirts with the lace/tulle/whatever overlay that extends mid-calf. It looks like they ran out of material and tried to fix it. Hello Kitty is huge here. Her face is plastered on damn near everything, from smart cars and ebikes, to the usual shirts, backpacks, lunch kits, coffee cups, coin purses, etc. I saw a shirt today (July 6, 2019) that had devils on it, and it looks like Coop did them. The style was very similar.

Chinese Sheldon Cooper got married!

What are some unusual sounds you’ve heard?

The cicadas sound different. In Fort Wayne, they sing a rhythmic drone that speeds up, then they stop. It’s almost like they are choked off. Then, they start again. Here, the cicadas sound like a weak power drill. The same sound, constant. A constant, metallic drone.

There’s also the Chinese Throat-Clearer. Usually male, they walk the streets, when all of a sudden, they snort/clear their throats, then a split-second of silence until the wad of saliva/snot hits the ground with a plop. There is evidence this is an endangered species.

But Gloria, aren’t you really, really concerned about the protests and trade–

Shut the fuck up!

Eaten any dog?

No, but today we passed by a business called “Cat Porridge.” We debated if it was actual porridge made out of cat, or because it is near a street that is known as Cat Street, it is merely a porridge business that decided to call itself Cat Porridge out of proximity. The sign was in English, and Stephaine was convinced it was porridge made out of cat. We didn’t investigate.

Evenings at the Beach

I’ve been trying to be kinder to myself recently. I do live on an island, so I’ve been heading to the beach after work to unwind a bit. Sometimes I’ll bring food from home and have dinner. I did that again the other night, and could feel the tension melt away. I don’t know what it is about the beach, but I like it a lot. Despite the beaches not being totally clean, and interesting garbage stuff that washes up, being near the water is helpful. Here are some pictures I’ve taken over the past few evenings I’ve visited.

In addition to shells, here’s a helping hand!
A dead fish. (One of two)
The other dead fish. (Two of two)
Being closer to the east side of the island means I don’t have as much chance for sunset over the ocean pictures. Still, this is nice, I think.
One way to get the moon and the water in the same shot.
Looking westward during a sunset.
Looking southwest. I think I was on a pier when I took this.
A badly over exposed day shot? No, this was taken at night with my Canon Rebel T-5, at a two second shutter speed, at an F-stop of 3.5. Exposure compensation was at +2 1/3. One of the reasons I love my camera is that it records the technical (read: boring) stuff so I don’t have to write it down.
I set my camera down on the beach to get a different perspective. This rock is only a few inches tall.
This footprint gives the impression that this guy is a crushing giant. I’ve never seen footprints this destructive looking.
Not sure if this is being used as a trap or what. I like the way the bone-colored hat pops against the sand.
If you’ve been reading, you’ll know I’ve been leery of food because of food poisoning my first day on the job. I decided to try these–they are hawthorn (?) berries coated in what I think is liquid sugar that has hardened. Anyway, they were delicious and I didn’t get sick! There are several vendors at the beach.
A fellow photographer wanted to get a picture of a kite vendor. The vendor wasn’t having it. I would rather take pictures of the actual kite. I particularly love this shot, and the way the kite fills the frame. The kite vendor was nice to me because I wasn’t taking his picture.
Maybe you had to be there, but the yellow of this wheelbarrow seemed like it was glowing. It caught my eye, so I tried to emphasize the glowing as much as I could.
Just another example of stuff that washes up on the beach, and the shaft of this shovel seemed like it was glowing too. What can I say? I love bright lights and bright colors.
Xiamen is a musical city, and this singer brought his own light show! I suspect on Friday and Saturday nights, the beach is an inexpensive place to have fun. There’s playing in the sand, looking for shells and crabs, just watching the water, having a snack, and free entertainment.
I just searched, but I could not find out what this building is. On closer inspection, it looks like it might have been a stadium. The entry gates were closed. There was a security guard hovering around, but the air of the place was one of desertion. Maybe someday I will find out what it is.
One of several vendors at the beach. You can get fruit, drinks, and a variety of cooked foods.
Who on earth would wear heels to the beach???
This chick, I guess.

Millions of Xiamenians Go About Their Business, Because They Pretty Much Have To

Rooters—Millions of Xiamenians went about their business this week, instead of protesting extradition in Hong Kong, or the U.S.–China trade war, or the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the northwest part of China.

“I will not say anything,” said Chen, who didn’t want his given name used.

That’s pretty much the mindset of the average citizen in China. China’s population is already monitored by security cameras, and the social credit system rewards and punishes. It is not surprising nobody is talking about recent events.

Hong Kong is an hour plane ride away from this coastal city on China’s southeast coast.

Guy Dudebro, a teacher from Austin Texas, said, “People are super-chill here. I know that people are more concerned about the heat and humidity. Yeah, Budweiser is 25 percent more because of the trade war, but there’s other beer. Like Pabst Blue Ribbon! Also, you can go local with Tsingtao.

Other Americans here are also not offering up any discussion. Lolly Gagger, also a teacher from Philadelphia said, “We are guests here, teaching English, and no country is perfect. There are Chinese who are very curious about our culture, and especially why we elected that asshole, Donald Trump, but we don’t talk about the Chinese government. We know they make people disappear. I promised my parents I wouldn’t drink too much, and they’d be super-pissed if I ended up in prison for protesting.”

Gloria Diaz, another teacher from Fort Wayne said, “I’ve had the police come visit me twice at my apartment since arriving about three and a half months ago. There is absolutely no way I’m going to ask people at my school what they think about the situation, because I don’t want to get them in trouble, and I certainly don’t want to get myself in trouble. No one is protesting here. They are protesting in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not Xiamen, and vice versa. China is a big-ass country. There are a lot of countries that do things that are not so great. But the U.S. And Americans are the first to point out human rights abuses in other countries, but seem to forget they are separating families at the Mexican border, and there seems to be a mass shooting every other day. And let’s not forget the human rights abuse that is called the U.S. Health care system. If people in the states want to know what’s going on, by all means, buy a ticket, come over and start asking questions. You’ll end up like that one guy in Tiananmen Square—Tank Man. No one knows what happened to him.”

Indeed, people in Xiamen were living their lives, as evidenced by this photo of a man in front of Nome, a fashion and accessory store based in Sweden.

“They have free ice cream,” says Wong, who didn’t want his given name used. “That is all I will say.”

Xiamen citizen Wong contemplates Swedish fashion and free ice cream at Nome, at Ruijing Mall.

Tacos is the best Mexican Restaurant in Xiamen!!!

Okay, so last time I said, “next time, more strangeness.” No strangeness today, just a review of an excellent restaurant in Xiamen.

I’m super-picky when it comes to things, so if I rave about it, you can bet that it is good!

I heard about a Mexican place that was going to open up a couple weeks ago. I tried it this past Friday night, and boy does it deliver! Not literally, but if you are in Xiamen and looking for authentic Mexican food, check out Tacos. It’s on the west side of the island, near the expat area. Cheque is the owner and one of the cooks, and he’s a really friendly guy.

Stephaine both had a rough week, and I definitely needed a drink. A frozen lime margarita sounded great, and Stephaine tried mango. They arrived, heaping, frozen and DELICIOUS. It was a great start. I must say they had an extensive drink menu; it was four pages. I could have ordered another lime margarita. I was very tempted, but decided to stick with Coke. I hardly ever drink, and the one margarita, combined with my food, really relaxed me. I was in a bad mood when we got to the restaurant, but I mellowed out quite a bit after my tummy was full.

The best margarita I have had in a looooooong time!

We ordered chips as an appetizer. They weren’t shaken from a bag and thrown into a heater. The six large chips were suspended from a mini clothesline. It was an interesting way to serve chips, as I’d usually seen them in a basket, with salsa on the side. We had two kinds of salsa, and I think guacamole. Anyway, the two salsas I tried were excellent.

Stephaine had an assortment of tacos, one of which was cow tongue. I decided to go with steak, chicken, and shrimp fajitas. She couldn’t finish all of her food, so I had one of her beef tacos. It was very good. I had I think four or five flour tortillas, which was nice. Usually when I order fajitas, I only get three tortillas, and it’s never enough. I always end up with a ton of food and no tortillas, and that didn’t happen this time. Along with the shrimp, chicken and beef, there were sauteed peppers and onions. My mouth is watering right now thinking about my meal; it was just that good. There was the right amount of spice as well, not too hot, but not bland, either.

We chatted with the owner, and I went exploring, and found out there was an upstairs dining room with a POOL TABLE! YAAAAAS! So I asked Stephaine if she minded if I played pool and asked her if she wanted to play. We joked that it would be very late once the game was finished, because we are not very good. But we had fun. (It’s free pool, so it’s even better.) I think that was the first time I’d ever played on a brand-new pool table.

The décor is authentic as well, Cheque said he gets the sombreros from Mexico, and the light fixtures are little straw sombreros. It’s a comfy atmosphere, and definitely inviting. It’s no hole in the wall joint, that’s for sure. I know people who say that the best Mexican food comes from places that aren’t very aesthetically pleasing, but Tacos is a place that looks good as well as tastes great!

The food was just … amazing. Stephaine said it tasted like home. And it did. Mexican seems to be hard to find here, but the addition of Tacos is great, and I will definitely be back. I think my entree was 98 Yuan, which is about $14 USD. I want to say with my drinks, my meal was probably around 150-165 Yuan, well worth the money.

Tacos has all you can eat tacos on Tuesday for 108 Yuan, which for you folks playing back in the states, is a little over $14. I may be getting my Mexican on a little more often, thanks to Tacos.

Tacos

41 Lianyue Road, near Paragon Plaza

Xiamen, Fujian Province, P.R.C.