Shenyang: First Impressions
(Written on 3/5/2011 by Nick)
The Place I have yet to be living in Shenyang, China for a week, but I must say, this is a city like I have never seen a city before. One night, I am out in New York City, taxi’s clogging the road at all odd hours, pedestrians carrying on with dining, working, and playing… all seemingly on their own distinct schedules. When I head out for a run the next day I can quickly leave this metropolis behind (in less and 2 miles) and be in a world made up of metal shacks, dreary farms, and old smog-pumping factories. I can literally take a cab ride from an upscale mall featuring Louis Vitton (SP?), Tiffany & Co, Dior, etc…, down one road (passing another Louis Vitton I may add) for about 10-15 minutes and I will be smack in the middle of slumish farmland. I am having a difficult time pinpointing exactly what goods, both agricultural and industrial, are being created in this outer area. I have yet to see the new factories that Shenyang proudly boasts as it’s own: BMW, Boeing, Michelin, Mitsubishi, etc… but am sure they follow in similar fashion, lying on the outer ring of the metropolis, just out of sight from the executives in sky rise office buildings in the city center.
I find this contrast exciting and entertaining. Exciting in the fact that my sky rise apartment building that I live in (and basically the whole district I live in) was part of this outer lying ring of farmland less than 5 years ago. Entertaining in the fact that I have a front row seat of the rapidly changing and ever prospering country they call China. The constant construction happening around me leaves me with no doubt that even when I leave here in a mere 365ish days, Shenyang’s appearance will be vastly different than when I first encountered it.
The People (and animals)
Having such wealth mixed with such poverty in this extremely close proximity makes for a very fun crowd. I have had long conversations with toothless men who don’t understand a word of english, and me a word of Chinese. Then I will be in a Pizza Hut (I had to try it) and have a waiter be fluent in English and not give me a second look or thought. I have had a playful little puppy run up to me as I whistled to it only to start shrieking and barking when it came close and really got a good look at me… I bet you I was the first white person the dog has ever seen, and I didn’t even have any treats to give it. The puppy will now be stereotypical and racist for life! Mothers stare at me with a look of astonishment just as intense as their baby’s as I make funny faces at them in check out lines. I make the faces at the babies, not the mothers, but don’t really know if the mothers have any idea what I am doing. I think next time I will make the faces at the mothers to see if I get the same reaction.
Overall, the people of Shenyang are very proud, welcoming and friendly… it has been great so far. Because Shenyang hasn’t been considered a second-tier city in China (right behind cities like Beijing and Shanghai) until recent years, westerners are just beginning to invade the city. Honestly, this makes things more fun for us. Restaurants go out of their way to provide us with the best service possible and it never takes longer than a few minutes to have a taxi at our side. Also, everything is so CHEAP! This is the case in most of China, compared to Western standards, but because there are few tourists, we can eat outstanding meals and have transportation for just a fraction of the price in the states.
Take a look at the following pictures of recent meals:
There is a Korean BBQ restaurant about a block away from my apartment. This is a very popular restaurant, the first and only restaurant Leah and I had to actually wait for a seat ( and it was Monday! ). The way this restaurant works is that you order raw plates of various meats and vegetables and cook them on a wood burning grill that is right in the middle of the table! We went here on one of our first nights where I was still terrified of eating something that would leave me on and/or around the toilet for hours, so I picked the least intimidating looking raw meat on the menu… I think it was lamb, but regardless, it was flesh and not organs and was amazing! Leah had a plate of vegetables and we each had a large fresh salad. To accompany all of this we had rice and numerous pickled vegetables, seasonings and sauces to accompany our meal. We washed our food down with half-liter bottles of Tsingdao and tea… all for a whopping 75RMB which translates to about 11$ total. Awesome, right? An amazing meal and experience like this would be no less than 25-30$ PER PERSON in the states and I can walk two blocks and indulge myself for about 5 bucks whenever I want.
Next up we have our favorite spanish tapas restaurant in town… given it is the only spanish restaurant in town. We had read about this place online and decided we needed a break from typical chinese food and had to try it. When I say typical chinese food, I mean that even though this is a tapas restaurant, everything is still pretty chinese. This place was awesomely hilarious… the spanish decorations consisted of Carlsburg and Budweiser beer signs, strange rubber duckies, some wearing sombreros, some just painted with all sorts of shapes and colors, and to top it all off, weird, antique looking signs for the movie The Matador. No, this is not a classic piece of spanish film… this was a movie that came out a few years ago starring Pierce Brosnan. At least they were trying, and the restaurant had a nice ambiance to it… even though they played american country music the whole time (the old, good kind, not the popular stuff) The food was good, the beer was extremely cold, and the service was great. Leah had a Caesar salad and asparagus and I had bacon wrapped shrimp skewers… none of which is spanish or chinese, but hey thats China for you. Here is a look inside the place:
Another more notable dining experience was a “german” all you can eat buffet that one of our local friends took us to. He had never been to this restaurant before and I don’t know if he was taking us here because he thought the food was western, or what, but it was disgusting. Buffets are gross in the states but this place takes the trophy for weirdest, grossest and funniest buffets I have been to. First off, when you walk in, there is American pop music blasting and a chinaman on a microphone seemingly running some sort of auction. I found out later he was refereeing a beer drinking contest that I almost got to participate in. Then I saw the buffet… all chinese food, no german food, and all unappetizing. I didn’t want to be rude so i filled my plate up with rice and the most edible looking mystery meats I could find. I got way too much food as I couldn’t even stomach the rice, let alone the meat on my plate. I think it was a combination of chinese sausage (never ever eat this) and deep fried chicken gizzards. As I slowly painted my plate with my fork, attempting to cover up the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything, servers dressed in all german attire frequently came to our table with skewers of other mystery meat. I tried every one of them except for the chicken hearts and each one was more inedible than the last. Our host didn’t eat much either so I didn’t feel too bad barely touching the food and blamed it on a large lunch I had earlier that afternoon ( I will talk about this lunch next ). The thing that redeemed this meal, and what a redemption it was, was the home-brewed beer! We had a pitcher of a dark, coffee tasting lager that was not only delicious, but would have made Germany proud! Also, it was only 12RMB for the whole pitcher (just shy of 2$)… sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the food and everything, I didn’t want to be rude, or be reminded of this in any way…
Finally, here is our typical chinese meal. This is the kind of meal we eat regularly for lunch and/or dinner, especially since our kitchen appliances still do not work and won’t until next week. This restaurant is just across the street from our apartment complex and specializes in fresh sea food… you can see here that you can pick out your own LIVING sea creature before they slice and dice it. I love seafood but haven’t gotten it here yet just because there is so much other good food. This would be considered a very upscale restaurant. The menu has attempted english translations and pictures of all the dishes… combine this with one english speaking server, and it is very easy to order. Pictured below Leah and I split an onion and pasta salad while she enjoyed a huge plate of fried tofu and me a huge plate full of minced lamb meat and peppers with fresh lettuce to wrap it all up with. All this combined with endless pots of hot tea and rice was all about 75RMB total (10-11$ if you haven’t figured out the math yet). You can eat a very elegant chinese meal with drink for about 5$ a person on average anywhere you go. The food puts even PF Changs to shame… it is absolutely delicious and satisfying.
Ok, now my mouth is watering… I think its dumpling time 🙂