Several weeks ago the university took the College of Liberal Arts faculty on a working
retreat. The topic of the working retreat was "Oxymorons." We stayed at a resort that
advertised hot springs, a waterfall, a temple, and something purporting to be a section of
the Great Wall. There was, in fact, a "hot spring," if you count water piped in from the
local power plant. At least it was hot, and hopefully not radioactive. In China, you can never
quite tell about things like that. Is the pool lighted, or does it glow in the dark? Hmmm. And
there was a waterfall, too, if man-made waterfalls thrill you. I'm sure Emerson and Thoreau
would have loved it. There was a temple around the corner, though it wasn't much and didn't
seem to be much used. I'm not really sure what, if anything, it had to do with the resort.
As for the newly-constructed replica of the Great Wall, I'm sure it would have been
impressive, if any of us had found time and interest to visit it. There was also an exercise
room for which no one at the hotel could produce a key, and a sauna and massage center we
were told was "off limits" for reasons that were never made clear but still raised a few
eyebrows. And if this sounds like the vacation from hell, remember that the meetings were
held mostly in Chinese, which only a few of the western faculty speak. But we tried to be
good soldiers and listen patiently while our fellow faculty railed about the usual things faculty
rail about. Some complaints need no translation.
After the "working retreat," we took a day to visit a real local waterfall, which was
quite nice. I took a few of the usual photos, but what continues to interest me is the way
things look digitally altered. I can't say why that is. Sometimes ordinary things look
extraordinary to me in a different light. I've put some new photos up below for you to see,
if you choose.
Today is winter solstice and I always liked winter solstice better than Christmas,
even. That probably says something about the kinds of gifts I've gotten over the years. I'm
no Pagan -- not by a long shot -- but I like the idea of a rational day of beginnings and
endings. Technically, today is the shortest day of the year and should be the "middle" of
winter, not the first day of winter. But I didn't make the rules. Still, I like the idea of the
days getting longer now. Spring is on the way. Also that the world didn't end like some
prognosticators forecast. But really, what did the Mayans know? They didn't forecast their
own end. Why should I believe their forecasting ours? I'd have at least expected some
measure of success before I gave them any credence.
Two things I'm really happy about right now: food and food. The first is that I
finally found a couple of killer Sichuan restaurants in town -- and I do mean killer. I have no
idea what they serve. The staff speaks no English, the menu is in Chinese, but man-oh-man
is the food great! Last night I ordered what I thought was Sichuan Beef and some Sichuan
beans. The beef was red meat, I'll grant that, though what the heck it was cut from I
have no ideas. At least I didn't find any tattoos. It was sliced thin, fried in oil with lots of
pepper and what might have been fennel seed. A perfect blend of charcoal, wood smoke,
pepper, and licorice. But seriously, it was seriously good, whatever it was. As for the
"beans," I can't tell you whether they were animal, mineral, or vegetable. They looked kind
of like beans but they tasted vaguely like seafood and were chewy like something that might
come out of a shell. I have no idea what it was, but I do have a receipt, and perhaps I'll
get it translated. Or maybe not. Some questions are better left unanswered. Do I really
want to know?
The other food of interest is my own cooking. For months I have been looking for a
Sichuan spice called MaLa. According to Wikipedia, the term málà is a combination of two
Chinese characters: "numbing" (麻) and "spicy (hot)" (辣), referring to the feeling in the
mouth after eating the sauce." That's not to say it is so hot it numbs your tongue, but
literally, it is hot AND it numbs your tongue. Tickles kind of like ginger ale, but hot. A
strange flavor unlike anything I had ever eaten. I first encountered MaLa in Singapore, and
sure enough, found that I had never had it in the USA before because it wasn't legal in the
USA until 2005. Still isn't, unless the importer has heat-treated the herb. But I found
some at a store in town, and the other night I cooked my own pepper beef (I think it was
beef), and was it ever good! Sigh.
So that's all the news that's fit to print from Shantou today. Photos below, and drop
me a line sometime.
|Melvin Sterne: Writer, Teacher, Editor, Photographer
|Welcome to my home page.
It's the next-best thing to visiting me at home!
|Graffiti carved on bamboo
closeup of a palm leaf
|Digitally altered flower
|Digitally altered flower
|Digitally altered bird
by the pond
|When thieves strip down a car in China,
they really, really strip it down.
|Tastes as good as it looks! I can cook, a little.
|This has to be my favorite of the
bunch. If I write a book of travel
stories, this will be the cover.
Through a Forest of Strange Trees.