Here’s to another week of Fulbright!
This week passed much the same as the last one, I finished my first and second books of Fulbright, one for work, one for pleasure. Work being my advisor’s “Nontraditional Russian Security Issues”, and the pleasure being “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. The first, a little dry. The second, great. If you’re interested in India at all, it’s a great read, paints an incredibly human portrait of some incredibly dark times. While it may not have been the best for my worldview, especially considering the state of our country right now, it’s a compelling narrative.
As far as other things, this week marks the beginning of New Year’s celebrations (which falls on the 28th), with Friday being “Little New Year” up here in the north. It’s also known as the Festival of the Kitchen God, the deity who oversees the moral character of each household. Families burn a paper image of the Kitchen God, dispatching the god’s spirit to Heaven to report on the family’s conduct over the past year. The Kitchen God is then welcomed back by pasting a new paper image of him beside the stove, which lets him oversee and protect the household for another year. This comes in conjunction with burning stacks and stacks of paper money for one’s ancestors, which has done some bad things to the air. Also firecrackers have started going off, and despite living here for this long, my first reaction is still gunshots upon hearing that noise. I hate it. Call me culturally insensitive, Americans burning logs during the holidays isn’t much better for the air, but we don’t have a massive smog problem. I dunno, it gets to me worse some days more than others.
Some other fun stuff, my friend Hannah and I had initially planned to skate across the Songhua river, but a fresh layer of snow made it unfeasible. So instead we walked across, still one of my favorite activities were it not for the -20 (celsius) temperatures. We then took a winding route across one of the islands until we found a bridge to take back. I promise to go back and take pictures when I can take my hands out of my pockets to take pictures. We happened upon a little village Hannah had been to before, and she said they’ve done an amazing job connecting it to downtown across the river. Beautiful promenade/walking area, and a little surreal how you can walk for twenty minutes and feel like your in the middle of a rural area, you’ll see. Then, to put some heat back in our bones, we went to a Korean spa (some hot tubs and a sauna) which was an amaaaaaazing decision.
Other than that, not much to report. Most exciting I suppose is that I’m on the road to becoming a counselor! (I start training soon) Did some exploring around the clothing “city” right near my place. I gotta tell you, if I was into clothes shopping, I would never be bored here.
When you don’t have the ingredients for butternut squash, why not make (pea)nut butter squash!? I also tried to make a baked pasta, but didn’t have enough soup :(.
On the subject of food, I also popped into this jianbing place down the road to check it out. It’s called “Turtle School Jianbing” (as in martial arts school), and it seems to have co-opted the character of master Roshi from Dragonball (very famous anime from when I was growing up. Never watched it, but I have a vague understanding of it) to sell jianbing. He’s the head of the “Turtle School”. He’s that classic lecherous, laughable old man character you see in a lot of shows, and so the store understandably uses sex to sell their products. Note the topless woman holding two jianbings and the guy saying “As soon as we (the royal we) finish eating this we’ll deal with you again.” So props for using a gay couple in an advert!
Seems like this’ll be a full restaurant review. I tried two of their jianbings, the classic veggie and the “lamb rib (shavings)” one. Their jianbings is more on the gourmet side of things, something I’ve seen more and more of recently. What makes a jianbing “gourmet”? First of all the fact that it’s sold out of a store rather than a cart on the street, which I was morally opposed to at first, but I’m coming around. Secondly is that the two “gourmetish” jianbing places I’ve been to both add black sesame seeds to the outside, and this place goes for some thousand island dressing as well, besides the gourmet fillings like black pepper chicken and lamb. Pretty good on both counts, if a bit overpriced. The lamb one had great seasoning and they actually double wrapped the jianbing with some flatbread before throwing it on a panini press for deliciousness. They also claim to have the “best milk tea in all Harbin.” I dunno, my pallet’s not that refined, but it’s tasty I suppose.
The owner, who was actually there the day I went in and was playing on loop on the TV, says he used Roshi to kind of go against”diaosi” culture. What’s diaosi? It’s 屌丝, which literally means pubic hair, and is kind of a byword for “nerd, loser, geek” etc. these words in Chinese. In China, your typical diaosi is single, plays video games all day, has a dead-end job if he (almost invariably it’s men this word is used on) even has one, is socially awkward, has no money, and has no drive to change any of these things. Also a lot of the time he’s obsessed with anime in addition to video games. So what this owner claims to be doing doing, rather admirably I feel, is doing for anime in Japan what superhero movies are doing in America, that is making it cool to like something that would have gotten you beat up in middle school 20+ years ago. He’s trying to separate anime, Dragonball in this case, from diaosi culture as a whole and make it cool and successful. Dunno how the owners of Dragonball feel about this if they even know. Side fun fact, The Big Bang Theory (the sitcom), which is incredibly popular here, was banned by the government for supporting the diaosi lifestyle and stifling the country’s progress. I know, right?
Lastly, a shoutout to my sister Clara and my mom Leslie for being awesome.
Lastly lastly, I tried to swim yesterday only to find the pool closed, so I explored campus a bit more and came across these great sculptures!