New Bars and ‘Hot Pot’

I wrote most of this post a week ago in Starbucks, and now I’m finishing it in Starbucks, but it’s still written from the perspective of last week.
The past week has had its ups and downs. Everything from wondering how I’m going to cope for the next 10 months in Xi’an, to thinking that come November I might sign up for a second year. As I’m still getting used to living here and to a new job and career it’s only natural that I’ll have a range of emotions and feelings about Xi’an and the job. In the past I’ve quit too many things because they got hard, and I’m determined to see this one through.

While my last post was mainly about taxi rides (hope you didn’t find it too dull… reading it back I certainly did…), between the taxi rides I went to two new bars, doubling in one night the number of different bars I’ve been to here. The first was a hostel bar a street from Park Qin. I actually like it better than Park Qin; it’s warmer and a bit more relaxed, with quieter music and it has more areas to just sit down and have good conversation with friends. The other bar was just along the street and has just been redesigned. Imagine a cool Shoreditch bar on overdrive and you’ll have a good idea; people know it as the ‘Alice in Wonderland Bar’. I really liked it for its quirkiness – it’s just the kind of cool place that if it were in London I’d find about too late to be considered cool – although Colin, Brittany, Lindsey and George were less impressed. Hopefully I can make both more regular places to go than the Belgian Bar and Park Qin.

I’m currently writing this in Starbucks while using the internet. While I’ve finally got internet in my apartment, it’s not particularly fast. It purports to be 4M, but most of the time it runs at about a quarter of that speed. Harry, the school’s admin assistant, came up to me in school a few days after setting it up. “How’s your internet, it’s fast isn’t it?” he asked looking quite pleased. After having asked such a proud leading question I didn’t want to disappoint him by saying that it’s about a tenth of the speed of my old connection in London. So instead I said “it’s 4M isn’t it – much faster than the connection at my dad’s house, I think he has 1M” (he lives in the middle of nowhere). Harry, beaming with pride, commented that China doesn’t offer 1M connections anymore.

The advantage of the internet in Starbucks is that it’s really quick, and downloading TV shows from the UK is much faster. Being bored one day I started trying to find a link to download a TV programme I saw about 10 years ago. The show was on Channel 4 and was a reality TV game show where three teams of two people were abandoned somewhere in the world and had to find their way back to Trafalgar Square as quickly as possible. It was great, but, I presume for two main reasons, it only had one series. It was filmed in the first half of 2001 so I guess making follow up series was difficult, and it was shown late at night so it didn’t attract many viewers. Anyway, I didn’t see all of the episodes at the time and I’ve occasionally wondered if it’s possible to download it. Unfortunately it was called Lost!, and since 2004 when a rubbish but very popular TV drama with the same name was made, googling ‘Lost’ trying to find a TV programme from 2001 has been pretty pointless. But, bored one evening I managed to find it! It’s here: http://thebox.bz/details.php?id=145523 and I can highly recommend it.

On the way to Starbucks I bumped into Carrie who finished her contract at the beginning of January then went to Thailand for a couple of weeks. She’s back in Xi’an for a few days before heading back home to the US. It was nice to briefly catch up with her and hear about how warm and sunny Thailand is.

For Carrie’s leaving dinner at the beginning of January we went to a ‘hot pot’ restaurant. Hot pot is a speciality of Shaanxi province that everyone seems to love and was raving about before we went. I’ve only had it once so feel a bit bad writing a scathing critique of it, but I really don’t see the attraction. As with most Chinese food everyone sits around a round table and shares the dishes in the centre. But with hot pot there is an additional pot of hot sauce on a burner in the centre of the table, and the food delivered is raw. It’s up to the diners to drop the raw food into the pot, wait a bit until they think it’s cooked, then fish it out and eat it.

In principle it sounds fun, but in reality it’s messy, I think actually not that tasty, and also potentially risky to health. With a pot of boiling sauce in the centre of the table, and people dropping in food and fishing it out again, the table and diners end up covered in splashes of the sauce. The sauce we had was spicy and a deep browny-red colour, and proved difficult to wash out of my clothes. A lot of the food to drop in was frozen cuts of meat. The meat here in China isn’t great to begin with, and slicing it a millimetre thin and boiling it didn’t do anything to improve it; it just came out like a fatty stringy mush with a slightly gritty texture from the sauce. Dropping in potato slices was pointless as they took half an hour to cook, and then were too soft to pick out with chopsticks. But the worst part was not knowing if the meat I was fishing out was the bit I dropped in a few minutes ago that was cooked, or a bit someone else dropped in a few seconds ago that would give me another bout of gastroenteritis.

After the meal I looked a bit apathetic towards the whole experience, and people assured me that this one was merely ok and that they’ve had better. Well if that was ‘ok’ I wouldn’t like to see what a ‘bad’ hot pot is like. I’m sure in the next ten months I’ll have another hot pot at some point, and maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now I’ll avoid it if given the choice.

Tonight at midnight is Chinese New Year, so I’ll be going into the centre of Xi’an with my camera and trying not to get blown up by fireworks. We have the week off work so I’m sure I’ll have time to regale you with more stories from Xi’an, for example, last week I went to KTV, which could fill a blog post on its own! Maybe I’ll even get round to uploading more photos.

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