Sunday, February 24, 2013

A return to "The Way Up North Province"

You may remember my trip to Changchun last year, in which I hoped to never return in winter. Such thinking has a way of afflicting affecting your life, perhaps I sealed my fate with that wish. As it became apparent I'd be visiting again for a week in January and February, I nervously eyeballed the weather forecast. The weather-guesser told me to plan for days topping out around -10F and nights down around -33F...good thing I brought long-johns to China.

Snow Minnie Mouse and that other character I'm too old to photographed from the taxi.
The extended forecast steeled my will as I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. Lady luck was on my side and extended forecasts maintained their reputation as notoriously inaccurate. Nature dealt me weather with highs closer to freezing and lows bearably close to zero...and visibilities near zero as well.

China's air pollution has been in the news lately because Beijing has had troubles. My experience has been the problem is bigger than Beijing, Changchun being another particularly bad city. My habit of taking pictures from every hotel I visit finally paid dividends, as seen in the following comparison.

Two pictures taken from the same hotel, looking the same direction

The first day temps were high enough to melt some snow, which left a layer of filth all over the city. My theory is that snow grabs the air pollution from the sky as it falls. This is just a theory based on one day's experience, but have a look at the black stuff we were walking in.

Wipe your feet!

The cars did an even better job of displaying the filth.

A nice white Lexus

Eventually, the air returned to the "cucking fold" range on my thermometer and all the black schmuck refroze so we didn't track it indoors. I found the cold weather agreeable, as it was a good reason to warm up with coworkers around a delicious hot pot. Hot pot is similar to fondue, but instead of oil or cheese you use boiling soup to cook. Very delicious, even though it tested the limit of our expense book.

Hot pot!

Not every meal was high cost, as I again visited the dirtiest restaurant I have ever seen. It's the one located in an alley behind the place that has an English sign. It was still serving the best Chinese food I've had and the waitress was still in the mood to shamelessly flirt with a laowai. Visiting again for dinner gave me a chance to interact with a drunken Korean who held his nose like a pig after finding out I'm American.

Easily avoid eye contact thanks to this bathroom "door"

Again we finished up work a smidge early and had time to recreate. After spotting some ice skaters on TV, I asked Carl if he'd ever done any skating. He's from the south of China and had little experience with cold weather and ice skating wasn't available. He even had to buy a warm hat for this trip. We asked for some advice on where to go and found out the lake we toured last year offers skating. Back at the hotel, I put on all the clothes I brought and met Carl in the lobby for some cold outdoor skating

This is when I found out the Chinese word for "ice skating" sounds similar to the word for "snow skiing" and the concierge told us the lake had skiing...not skating. To skate we'd have to go to a mall, a place I later learned was the largest indoor mall in Asia. Seriously, it was huge.

In China, the Christmas season lasts well into Summer.

We paid 50RMB for an hour and rented skates. My big white guy feet pushed the limits of their rental skate inventory - settling of one size too small turned out to be OK. It had been a long time since my last skate session, so things started a little wobbly but it didn't take long to remember enough to have fun.

I look fat because I'm overdressed for indoor exercise.

Having worn too much clothing for indoor skating due to the communication error, an hour proved to be too long for me. I was really sweating by the end but Carl had a hoot. He started out with a few laps hugging the rail and by the end was brave enough to stumble around in the middle.

Carl having a life experience, not pictured is a huge smile

A young girl slid up next to me and asked in perfect English "Where do you come from?" I replied in Chinese "I am an American," and she ran to her mom yelling the Chinese words for "AMERICAN! AMERICAN! AMERICAN!" In my Chinese textbook "Where do you come from" is one of the first chapters, so I imagine English lessons here have a similar curriculum. Later she tried talking to me in Chinese and I had no idea what she said.

Still smiling

Another time I was run into by a young woman who had lost control. I saw her coming with just enough time to reach out and soften the impact. However, in reaching out I accidentally touching her breast - it happened so fast and I felt bad. She embarrassingly skated to her group of friends where they whispered and laughed.

Still smiling?

Skating was a spectacular end to what should be my final trip to Changchun. My company should have no reason to do business here in the future. It was great to provide Carl a chance to do something he should never have a chance to do again.

I shouldn't tempt fate again by saying I won't be back, but maybe next time will be warmer.

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