ximen: (apple!)
Oh hey, I have a livejournal. I keep forgetting about that. I guess I could talk about what I've been doing these past months and months. Or I could just talk about today. Today was awesome, so I'll do that.

I woke up around 9:30, feeling nicely cool even though I was under a pile of blankets. Instead of the hot, awful weather the northeast has had lately, I instead got to enjoy a 53 degree morning. I played some Minecraft (sadly, Jono's server was down), and then got dressed and went with Ben to the amazing Thai Curry Simple, where owners Mark and Picha gave me hugs and free Thai tea with my green curry. After eating curry and a choco-banana roti, Ben and I ambled up towards the equally amazing @Cafe. I got my free drink (matcha latte), and spent the next couple hours hanging out with Grace and her mom, chatting and catching up. When Grace and her mom were busy, I read the newest Stranger. Then I came back to Ben's place, charged my mp3 player, and took a walk. I stopped at the Fuji Bakery Fuji Bakery to pick up some pastries, since I was hungry. The owner complimented me on my clothes and gave me an extra pastry, ostensibly for the outfit but probably mostly to let me try their newest offering.

After that I took a long walk around Pioneer Square and the ID, taking pictures of various things that struck me as extra Seattle-y. While I was photographing some cute graffiti down by the pier, I heard someone behind me say, "Hey, do you want to take a picture of this?" I turned around and saw a guy with a giant backpack. He waved me over, and said, "watch this," then turned towards the water. Slowly, a raccoon lifted its head up over the edge of the dock, and it carefully crept out to take a piece of fruit. "Be careful not to get bitten," I warned the guy. "Oh, I feed him every day. He knows better than to bite me." I took some pictures of the guy and his raccoon friend, then waved goodbye to them both and headed back.

Soon after I returned from my walk, Jon did too, and we got to talk and try the pastries. The new one turned out to be a cube of brioche with a raspberry and red bean filling, which was quite good. Then Karen showed up with another treat: It's-its! If you've never had one before, these are ice cream sandwiches made with vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies, than covered in chocolate. Only available in northern California or some West Coast Safeways.

Somehow I wasn't totally stuff yet, so after another hour or so of talking, the four of us-- Ben, Jonathan, Karen, and I-- set off for sushi at Tsukushinbo. As always, the salmon and monkfish liver were amazing, and we also got some specials. The sockeye salmon and yellowtail belly were too delicious to be believed. I'm not sure my brain is capable of processing how delicious these pieces of nigiri were.

And just in case curry, matcha, pastry, It's-its, and sushi weren't enough, at 9:30 PM Ben and I decided to head to Molly Moon's for more ice cream. I got a small sundae that contained chocolate ice cream, goat milk caramel, chunks of Theo chocolate bars, granola, crushed thin mint cookies, whipped cream, and cherries. I ate my sundae and watched the bike polo players across the street. A man wearing a dress, a very sparkly hat, and no underwear flashed us, but I looked away fast and went back to enjoying the bike polo game and my crazy sundae. Finally, I returned home and wrote this post. And soon I will sleep.

Seattle is my favorite city in all the world. Not just because of the freebies and the opportunities for gluttony. It combines the culture of the Pacific Northwest with an actual international city. It has temperate weather, it has mountains and water and trees, it has people from all over. I feel like I'm back at home. I've missed this place!
ximen: (minus)
Wow, it's been a year. A weird year that was long in some places and short in others and generally just full of stuff. Last year I was too busy moving to make my usual end-of-the-year post, so this year will be something of a fresh start-- no resolutions from last year to reflect on. But I can reflect on the year itself! )
ximen: (irritated)
I did not like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. This isn't that big a deal to me. I love the comics, which I starting reading sometime in 2007. I gave the first volume to my brother as a Christmas present, because I liked them so much and wanted to share. I don't think they're perfect, but I think that the comics are well-written and funny, and the message about growing up and learning how to be an adult in your relationships is an important one that resonates a lot with me. It's a message that I did not find in the movie. The way the movie took the dance fight with Matthew Patel, the South Asian villain, and changed it into Patel dancing and Scott just punching him made me uncomfortable,1 as did the the change from defeating the ninja girl in a sword fight to defeating her by poking her knee and giving her a deadly orgasm 2. I also didn't like that the female characters had fewer lines and drastically reduced emotional ranges. I thought Michael Cera was incredibly annoying. The movie wasn't uniformly awful; I thought the casting was otherwise quite good, many of the jokes were funny, the video game nods from the comics were well-adapted to the movie, and it was pretty. Still, I spent the bulk of the movie being disappointed and bored. Which is fine. I don't insist my friends and I have the same taste in things. I have friends who like Ender's Game! 3 What's less fine are some of the reactions to criticisms of the movie.

Lately, I've been seeing something pop up on the internet and in comments made by friends and acquaintances, to the effect of, "If you didn't like the Scoot Pilgrim movie, it's because you're not a nerd." This is the sort of thing that bothers me, not so much because it's happening this one particular time, but because it's something that happens a lot. There are problems with being into geeky things and not being a straight white man. It's harder to find media that includes people who look like you and aren't horrible stereotypes, so there's already a barrier to entry there. But whatever, there are enough books, comics, anime, and video games that I can usually find something that, problematic as it may be, is enjoyable. What currently makes me angry is when people who are in my subculture try to revoke membership. Just because I don't like the Anointed Nerd Movie does not somehow mean that I don't like roleplaying games, video games, anime, or whatever. If someone doesn't like Firefly/Serenity because it uses Chinese aesthetics while not using Chinese actors, they shouldn't have to be told that they're not one of us 4. I have people imply (or state outright!) that people of color are never geeks, that women are never geeks, even that Muslims and Jews are never geeks (I'm not really sure how anyone managed that last one). I've been told that I wouldn't recognize a web comic, because I wasn't geeky enough (Ironically, I was wearing my Cat and Girl shirt that day). Meanwhile, people who are less reserved than I about expressing their anger at the problems5 they see in geeky media are told that they are manufacturing their outrage, that they don't understand because they aren't the target audience, because they aren't in the demographic, because they aren't one of us. One of them, I guess. Maybe this is true. I know I'm not going to bother defending the social justice cred of nerds anymore. Identifying as a nerd is beginning to be embarrassing, not because of what I like6, but because of the association with people who feel the need to attack anyone who dares suggest that their favorite fantasy novel might contain some After all, I'm not male, and I didn't like the Scott Pilgrim movie.

This is where, in many similar rants I've read before, the writer feels the need to add, "But it's also okay if you do like these problematic things." (There's a very nice essay entirely on that subject). But you know what? I'm not going to repeat that part. You like that you like. You can either grow up and acknowledge that some of what you like contains racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever, or you can keep being defensive and insecure about your hobbies. It's up to you. I'm not going to try and make you feel better. I can't give you permission and anyway, why should I? I'm clearly not one of you.


1 - "made me uncomfortable" being of course my guilty white liberal code for "I think this was kinda racist but am worried that using the term will lead to people getting angry with me."
2 - same as above, but replacing "racist" with "sexist" and "getting angry with me" with "making fun of me for being a humorless feminist."
3 - Or worse, the sequels!
4 - If you liked Firefly despite being unhappy about the fetishization of China and exclusion of Chinese people, then you're like me, though I never saw Serenity.
5 - see notes 1 and 2, with the addition of issues, like homophobia
6 - I'm a grad student, for pity's sake. When I admitted that I like tabletop RPGs, two of my classmates immediately expressing interest in forming a gaming group.
ximen: (blah)
-Was Scott Pilgrim this whiny in the comics? I seem to recall him grinning a lot more, and whining a lot less.
-Did they have to make Matthew Patel's attack power all Bollywood-ized? And the Japanese twins had dragons?* Oh yes, let's play up how exotic the Asian guys were.
-What's up with all the "Ramona you're such a slut" stuff when he's drunk and, well, whiny. Again, maybe it was also in the comics, but seriously? She's dated seven people, and that's counting boys she held hands with for two weeks in middle school. Was that in the comic? I don't remember it. In the comic, Scott's main problems are that he's flaky and clueless and has trouble reading other people's feelings, and he messes things up because of that. In the movie, he spends a lot of time being whiny and bitter, which makes him a lot less sympathetic.
-Did he seriously kill the (bi/lesbian) ninja chick by poking her in the back of the knee and giving her an orgasm? Seriously?

So yeah. It was fun and all, but I was disappointed.

*It's possible that both of these were in the comic and I've just forgotten, since it's been two or three years since I read the first few volumes. But it's still annoying.
ximen: (minus)
Thursday was my last day in Seattle. I went to the @cafe for one last free latte, played with Bibi, talked with Grace and her mom, and finally said goodbye, with lots of hugs all around. I'll miss them. Then I went back to my studio to get my bag and to say goodbye to the studio. It was a good studio. It was there when I really needed a new place to live, and it was exactly the place I needed. I will miss it. I teared up saying goodbye to it. After that I took my big bag, and went with Ben to have lunch at Thai Curry Simple. On the way I looked down the street to the perfect view of Mt. Rainier my street corner has on clear days, which Thursday was. I will miss the view. When I went down the hill and had lunch at TCS, the owner came over to say goodbye (he already knew I was leaving). Noticing how sad I was, he offered to give me a packet of curry paste, and asked my favorite. "Either red or green." He brought me six packets: two each of red and green, and another two of Penang. Then his wife, the cook, came out to give me a goodbye hug, and then I walked to the light rail station and took the train to the airport, watching the view of the mountain as long as I could. I'll miss Seattle.
ximen: (blah)
I've spent the past few days packing up and preparing to move. I've been eating at all my favorite restaurants, eating lots of Rainier cherries, and trying to see various friends before I go. I've also been hanging out in the @Cafe, where I've moved from being a customer to being a regular to being something between "employee" and "family." I gave the owner, Grace, baking lessons so she can make cookies and lemon bars for the cafe, and as a thank-you she now gives me free drinks and lets me hang out as long as I want, using the internet and chatting with her and her mom. Her mom and I practice our Mandarin (it's not a first language for either of us, but it's our only common language) and now when she brings lunch for Grace she makes a bowl for me, too. And when there aren't any customers, Grace brings down her kitten Bibi and we play with him. It's really the perfect place, and I'll miss the cafe, Grace, her mom, and Bibi a ton, along with all the other Seattle things.

Today my dad came up from Atlanta to help me take my boxes to the post office and to have one last visit to the Northwest while he still has an excuse. After the post office trip, we went to Tamarind Tree, which is a serious contender for best Vietnamese food I've ever had (the other two being the place near Chris and the place in Chicago I went for graduation). Ben was around helping me pack, so he came too. We had papaya salad, prawn satay, grilled pork salad rolls, steamed coconut milk rice cake with prawns, beef spareribs, and catfish with turmeric. Other than the prawn satay, which was only okay, everything was amazingly good. The ribs were super-tender, the fish was incredibly flavorful, and the salad rolls combined perfectly grilled pork with fresh lettuce and little crispy bits of fried spring roll skin. But my personal favorite was the steamed rice cake, which was warm and soft and very slightly sweet and full of coconut milk flavor. My dad seemed suitably impressed.


Tomorrow we're going to Mt. Rainier for some hiking. I'll be back on Wednesday to finish the packing and shipping, give away everything I'm not shipping, and say one last farewell to everyone before leaving Thursday afternoon. I'm not ready to go!

(I'll never be ready to go)
ximen: (horo)
As I mentioned the other day, playing Portal left me with a desire to bake a cake. Given the game's contents and my general disposition, this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. And since my cake-baking urge resulted from playing the game, I thought it might be fun to try and make the cake in the game. Not the one from the bizarre "recipe" you can see on some of the screens and hear from the third piece of GLaDOS, but trying to make it look like the cake in the game. Ben told me that the cake in the game was modeled on a black forest cake from a Chinese bakery out in Redmond, and showed me a picture. Knowing that it was a Chinese-style cake made me more interested in trying it, because I've been wanting to make a Chinese-style sponge cake with whipped cream frosting for a while. So I found a sponge cake recipe online, and a stabilized whipped cream recipe, and a black forest cake recipe, and I sort of cobbled something together.


The cake!


A single slice:



So how was it? Pretty good. The sponge needed more simple syrup, and the syrup should have been made with straight kirsch and sugar, not watered-down kirsch and sugar. The whipped cream could have been sweeter, and also needed a little more gelatin to stabilize it. But overall it was pretty tasty, and I will happily make it again, especially if someone wants to try it.
ximen: (Default)
It doesn't balance out the sadness of losing Ichiban, but we do have a new coffee shop and a new market. The coffee shop is called @cafe, and is run by a really nice young woman from Guangdong, named Grace, who is really into coffee. She's also really good at making coffee, and can even make good soy milk drinks (soy milk is hard to foam properly). So if you're in the general neighborhood, check it out-- it's at Dearborn and Rainier. Apparently once she settles in a bit (this is only the second week), Grace is going to start offering proper loose-leaf tea, using her connections back in China to get good stuff. Sadly, this will probably happen about the same time I move.

The other bright spot is the new Jackson St. Market, which is going to be a weekend outdoor market. So far all they have is a lady selling bottlecap jewelry and two guys selling produce, but the produce looks fresh and good, and is really cheap: Rainier cherries for 3/99 a pound, and avocados that are 4/$1.00. Next week they'll have their EBT machine in place, so I'm looking forward to trying the cherries and avocados.

Also, it turns out that the little Hong Kong restaurant next to Thai Curry Simple has great HK desserts, and TCS continues to be excellent. So there are a few bright points for the neighborhood, as we all try to cope with the loss of Ichiban.

No!

Jun. 4th, 2010 11:39 am
ximen: (why?)
One of my favorite Seattle restaurants, Ichiban, closed about a week ago. I wish I had known they were going to close-- I would have had their misoyaki salmon one last time.

First Unicorn Crepes, now Ichiban... it's as if Seattle is trying to make it easier for me to move.
ximen: (happy!)
I beat Portal!

It was pretty challenging, and there were four times where I had to give up and take a break: twice when the puzzle was hard (the end part of testing chamber 17 with the two buttons, the part of testing chamber 18 where you have to get to the block), I had to go take a break and think about how to solve the puzzles. There was another puzzle in chamber 18 (right before the really hard one) where I knew how to do it, but wasn't sure I could get the actual button-pushing and mouse-clicking timing right. And of course, at the end of test chamber 17, I had to take a few days off from the game to mourn my little friend the weighted companion cube. I'm proud of myself for never having to rely on advice or online strategy guides in solving the puzzles, and for figuring out the final battle fairly quickly.

Overall I think Portal is a really good game. It has an excellent difficulty curve that advances at about the pace I learned each skill. I was rarely too frustrated, but the game was hard enough that solving the puzzles was satisfying. I also really enjoyed that both the main characters were female (well, the AI is "female"), and that neither are all sexy, like in so many other games.

This weekend, I may have to make some black forest cake.
ximen: (kick!)
Still no internet. When the technician ran a diagnostic and said, "That's really weird! I've never seen anything that weird!" I knew it was going to be a long wait. If it's not fixed by Friday, just canceling my account and relying on the library for the six weeks I still have here. On the plus side, a new coffee shop opened up about two blocks from my apartment, so on rainy days like today I don't have to go very far.

The cold I caught flying back from China is slowly beginning to lift, which is good. I have a reading list I need to start tackling, but I've been waiting until I'm less congested, and just reading lighter stuff in the meantime. I read Game Change, about the 2008 presidential election, which was pretty interesting, and full of entertaining anecdotes. I do wonder, if Clinton or McCain had won, whether Obama would still be presented as so cool and on top of things, or if the outcome influenced the way all the candidates were presented.

I also read Upton Sinclair's Oil!, which was somewhat disappointing. There was so much Socialist preaching that it squashed a lot of the emotional impact of the story, and the plot was sort of meandering, and the ending was unsatisfying. Oh well.

Also, for those of you who might be interested but haven't heard, my little brother has started college at GA Perimeter! I'm really proud of him-- it's hard to go from being a 9th-grade dropout to taking college classes. Way to go, little brother!
ximen: (why?)
My internet at home has been down since Tuesday night. I called Clearwire Wednesday morning, and they promised to look into it. Nothing happened. So I called them Thursday afternoon and asked them again, and they said there was a problem with my tower and it would be fixed the next day. Nothing happened. So I called them this morning, and after spending nearly an hour on the phone (not on hold, just trying everything), they promised to send someone in to check things out. But the soonest this person can come is Tuesday, meaning that I get to spend a week without internet. This is really annoying, since the times I like to use the internet are in the morning and at night, which are also the times when the library and all the nearby coffee shops are closed, and also when fewer of my friends are on chat. Plus, I can't try QQing with Jiang Lian, because the times I'm at a coffee shop are the times when she'd be asleep.

Despite this, things could be a lot worse. For one thing, being in China for a few weeks has moderated some of my internet addiction, so a few hours at a coffee shop leaves me feeling completely full of internet. I was motivated to go to the library and pick up my holds, because I wanted to place more hold orders and I couldn't do it at home. And because I'm in Seattle, there are tons of places with wifi that is either free or comes free with a cup of coffee. If this were Boston, all the coffee shops would charge extra for their wifi and be miles apart from each other, the library would require a library card to access their overloaded internet, and I would be once again reduced to huddling outside the Pizzeria Uno just to check my email. And I have various library holds coming in, so I have things to read. So I'm not all that upset.

But that said, if for some reason you need to get in touch with me, use the phone or be willing to wait a day for me to check my email.

home!

May. 26th, 2010 07:32 pm
ximen: (blah)
Actually, I got home two days ago. But on the 24th I was too exhausted to compose complete sentences, and yesterday I spent being lazy until I went to see a movie. After the movie, I was too much in shock to do anything of substance (where substance="more brain-intensive than making cocoa and chatting online").

The movie is called City of Life and Death in English, and 南京!南京! (Nanking! Nanking!) in the original Chinese. Those of you with some historical knowledge can probably guess what the movie was about. If not, well, here's some wikipedia for you.

Cut for review of violent movie, but there aren't any spoilers )

To summarize, excellent movie, but I don't know whether I'll ever watch it again. I had tears running down my eyes through most of it, and at the end I had to just silently sit there to stop from just falling apart. If you're emotionally capable of watching a movie about WW2 atrocities, than you should see this movie. If you're not, well, I understand.
ximen: (Default)
This afternoon I arrived in Shanghai. After finding my hostel and dropping off my bags, I met up with El again to go book shopping. I found the book I was looking for, the Wang Li dictionary, and also splurged on a book I want to give a friend. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to find the Wang Li, but I was hopeful when El and I spotted the "Shanghai Ancient Bookstore," which had a lot of history and reference books. And indeed, when I asked the somewhat apathetic bookstore employee if they had the Wang Li, she took two steps forward and handed me one off a stack without blinking.

After shopping around for books, El and I went to her aunt's, where we had dried plums and chocolate and soda pushed on us. Then El's dad took us all out to dinner, which was an experience. He ordered 11 dishes, so I'm already having trouble recounting them all. Some of the ones I do remember are the glass noodles with various kinds of seafood; the abalone with ginger, garlic, and green onion shoots; the beef with peppers and sesame and the fried eggplant in a sweet-and-sour sauce. The most memorable of all was the flaming chicken, which came to us already cooked and propped up on some sort of stick. Then the waitress set the alcohol under the chicken ablaze, then poured alcohol on the chicken and blowtorched that, too. As if an entire flaming chicken was not enough, the flames then set off the sparklers placed on either side, sending sparks shooting everywhere and making me scoot away backwards before I could catch fire too. Everything was delicious, and I am now too full to do much more than stagger around and go to bed. So I think I will go to bed.

Tomorrow I leave Shanghai. I'm a little sad-- there's more things I wanted to see and eat and do. But it's time to go home, and I'm okay with that.

More Xi'an

May. 23rd, 2010 06:54 am
ximen: (Default)
The next day, we got up pretty early, which gave us time for breakfast before checking out. Breakfast turned out to be a round piece of flatbread filled with spicy meat: beef for me and chicken for El. Then we each drank a bag of strawberry yogurt to stop the burning from the chili. We checked out, moved to our new hostel, which is much less nice, but has kittens! The new hostel is also conveniently located by the South Gate of Xi'an. Xi'an has managed to preserve its old city walls, which form a rectangle around what used to be the city, and you can go to the top of the wall and look around. Unfortunately, to get to the ticket booth, you have to cross a very busy street with no crosswalk or light. Playing human Frogger didn't really appeal, but we really wanted to go across, so we waited until a few other people had shown an interest in crossing, and then we used them as a sort of human shield as we all crossed together. At the top of the wall, we rented some very creaky old bikes and rode all the way around the city wall. The bikes were old and the wall was uneven, so the ride was not the most comfortable, but it was fun and we got a good look at various parts of the city. We managed the trip in exactly 98 minutes, a number I know because the bikes were rented for 100 minutes. Then we had to try and cross back. Since you are reading this post, you know we both survived (if El had been killed this post would be much more distraught), but it was pretty scary at the time. Xi'an really needs to install an underground crossing to get to the gate.

Then we went to the Great Mosque, which is basically what it sounds like. It was especially interesting seeing Arabic calligraphy decorating a Chinese-looking building. We also got more Muslim food, since we were in the neighborhood. The stir-fried rice noodle cubes that were kind of disappointing, but the other two snacks were delicious: the fried flatbread with cabbage and peppers inside was the best, but I also liked the glutinous rice cakes with sesame paste that had been rolled in peanut and then drizzled with rose syrup and smeared with red bean paste. Like Portland, Xi'an has roses planted everywhere. Unlike Portland, Xi'an is also filled with rose-flavored snacks. Sorry Portland, I think Xi'an has you beat as City of Roses. After that we went back to rest and digest, and just as we were starting to feel hungry again, El's cousin showed up. He's a geology professor who happens to be here for a conference, so he and a local professor decided to take us out for Beijing duck. No complaints here. My favorite part of Beijing duck is that right when you're starting to finish making and eating the little duck tacos, they bring you the soup made from your duck. Then we went home and I realized I had gotten sunburned. Given that it was cloudy and occasionally drizzling all day, I was pretty annoyed.

Yesterday we got around to Xi'an's main draw: the Terracotta Warriors. I forgot my camera, so I'll have to wait for El to upload her pictures. The warriors themselves were really impressive, as were their terracotta horses. Also impressive, but not in a good way, was the 15 minute walk in the burning sun from the parking lot to the entrance gate, and then the five-minute walk from the first entrance gate to the second entrance gate. Why does it need two entrance gates? Why can't they put any shade up? Even with sunscreen I was worried about further burning, so I did the Chinese girl thing and hid under a sun umbrella.

Yesterday also had more delicious things to eat: some flatbread stuffed with pickled shredded vegetables, almost like a mostly-vegetarian flatbread banh mi, the super-spicy noodles we had for lunch, and the beef and homestyle tofu we had for dinner.

Today I get back on a plane for Shanghai, and tomorrow I return to the US. I'm sad, but also kind of relieved to be going home. I miss my cat!
ximen: (Default)
With El, no less.

The day before yesterday, my overnight train got in, and I went to my hostel, only to discover that I'd reserved the room starting the night before, and so the hostel had marked me as a no-show, charged me for the night I missed, and rented out the room. Fortunately, they had a room for that night, so I wouldn't have to try and get El directions to a new place right away. So I took a shower, did some laundry, booked a new hostel, and waited for El to show up. Once she did, we went to Xi'an Bell and Drum towers, towers at the center of the old city where the giant bell and giant drum were used to mark time. They were really pretty, had nice little museums on their second floors, and climbing to the top gave us some nice views of the city, though I got a little nervous walking along a narrow balcony with only a centuries-old railing for safety. By the time we got down from the Drum Tower, it was dark and we were hungry and right next to the Muslim Quarter where the Hui live. So there was plenty of Chinese halal food, which involves a lot of lamb and beef, to choose from. We got little cakes of steamed rice flour that were drizzled with rose syrup and rolled in sugar and crushed peanut. Then we wandered the nearby streets until we found the place with the longest line (this is the traditional way of choosing restaurants in China), and went in there to try their yangroupaomo, a Xi'an specialty. Yangroupaomo is a soup featuring thinly-sliced land and small pieces of shredded bread that soak up the soup. It later turned out that the place we went is widely considered to have the best yangroupaomo in Xi'an, so our method must have worked. Then we walked back to the hostel, buying some yogurt on the way to eat back in our room.

And now I need to give the computer up, so more updates will have to wait until later.
ximen: (minus)
Yesterday I went to Qingcheng Shan, a mountain covered in Daoist temples. All the greenery and mountain air made for a nice change of pace from the noise and pollution of Chengdu. Of course, this being a Chinese tourist site, there was no lack of noise and people, but it was still quieter. I hiked for about two hours, until my knee informed me that it was time to go home. Fortunately at that point I was only half an hour away from the gate. By the time I made it out, my legs were shaking. I'm out of shape! Fortunately I had the two-hour bus ride back to recover in.

When I got back I bought some cookies to snack on and relaxed back in the hostel for a while, then wandered over to Jiang Lian's store to chat. I hadn't had a chance to eat hot pot yet, because hot pot isn't really something you can eat solo. So I offered to treat Lian to hotpot so that I'd have an excuse to go, and someone to talk to. While we waited for the shop to close, she showed me various pictures on her QQ page. I tried to show her facebook photos, but it turns out facebook is blocked. Other blocked sites I've noticed so far are youtube, blogspot, and wordpress. Meanwhile, Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, and Livejournal are all available.

The hot pot place wasn't too far a walk from the hostel. We got the spicy kind, and went to fill up our try with skewers of vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, and meat. Jiang Lian warned me it would be spicy, but I assured her that I was used to spicy food. And indeed, everything went fine, until I had a piece of the fried tofu. The tofu itself was great, but about fifteen seconds after eating it, I started choking. The fried tofu, like a sponge, had absorbed all the spicy oil it could hold, and suddenly that oil was coating my throat all the way down. I gasped and choked as Lian asked me, "Do you need something to drink?" I nodded, still trying to breathe. "Is cola okay?" *nodnod, choke* She ran off and came back with a bottle of coke, which I immediately started drinking. Slowly I become able to breathe again. After about five minutes, I could start eating again, and even finished off the tofu. But I think my voice might be permanantly lower than before.

Tonight I leave for Xi'an on the overnight hard sleeper.