When in China, eat Chinese food

Eschew the "Spaghetti Bolognaise".  Venture not unto the "Russian Bortsch".  And under no circumstances sample the "Cheese Burger".  But get the "Beef Brisket Noodles In Soup" for $10 and you'll eat it all and order it again later.

I didn't need to be reminded of this, really, but in the past the Baolilai has done a damn fine steak.  Not this time.  It was gristly and gelatinous - on the cool side of rare when I'd requested medium rare - and cost $34 for an 8oz cut.  The revolving buffet restaurant on the 24th floor has slipped too.  When I was here in 2010 I gorged myself on the raw bar.  Shellfish, sushi, this is a port town and it was all pretty close to nature.  They still put out a half dozen kinds of small whole fish which they'll grill for you on the spot, and that's really lovely, but the raw selection has dwindled.

I've been eating lunch at my company's cantinas.  The system goes like this.  If you're a production worker, you live in the dormitories and you get an allowance for three meals a day at the cantinas.  If you're an office worker, you get one meal.  There are two cantinas; the downstairs one has spicy food and the upstairs one is less spicy.  Downstairs you get what a westerner might expect:  chunks that are more bone than meat; thin broth; lots of rice; and vegetables that are mostly preserved rather than fresh.  The upstairs cantina, though ... honestly if I got that food from a sit-down Chinese restaurant in the US, I'd be very happy.  When was the last time somebody made you fresh pasta in front of your eyes, starting with hand rolled noodles that had never been dried or frozen?  I was enjoying one of these lunches when I came to the realization that the food at the cantina was better than half of what the Baolilai offered.  My coworker was shocked when I told him so.  The production workers are a captive market, the food doesn't have to be this good, but it is.

So I've been eating a lot of tofu, and I don't mind at all.  In other news, it has been determined that if I had to eat with chopsticks for a week with no access to silverware, I wouldn't starve.  But it ain't easy to pick up wet noodles with polished metal sticks.

Chaos, stillness, labor

There's a peculiar stillness about an airport at 5:30AM. It's jittery, half-alert, empty of people but full of potential like the gray suction of the atmosphere before a thunderstorm.

I write from Newark airport, killing time through the first of two long waits. The second will be the flight to Hong Kong, 16 hours in a horizontal grain silo hurtling through oblivion at nearly the speed of sound.  In that purgatory it is not easy to lie to oneself. In Hong Kong, I will run the gauntlet of immigration, customs, car, and immigration again into Shenzhen. A car will pick me up at 8:30 to carry me to see face to face the coworkers I've been emailing since June, the last time I was there.

Yes, I've been silent here for a while. In October I agreed to relocate to Durham, NC, where my company has a site. Even before then, my travel schedule had ramped up until I was gone one week out of four, and then came the effort to sell the house. First repairs, then cleaning and cleaning and cleaning again, living in a theme park version of my house and periodically being shooed out for tourists.  Until finally, three weeks ago, negotiations. After that, a mad dash to Raleigh - Durham to tour other people's houses. A funeral. And a trip to China. Last week wasn't the most stressful week of my life, but it was close.

I would have liked to post about the many illuminating and infuriating things we went through to sell our house, but there was too much uncertainty. Now we have a contract to sell our house and (almost) a contract to buy another, so there is nothing left to do but execute plans.

There is a lot to execute. The current house needs repair to satisfy the city.  The next house is smaller by a third, which means trimming our belongings. After moving comes the settling in. And I have to move my lab as well - I thought I'd be able to leave some machines installed at the Cleveland lab, but the space has been promised to others.

So bear with me, please, as I deal. I do plan to continue to post, though I've handed the reins of the Lake Erie Moose Society blogger meetup group to my good friend, veteran Cleveland blogger Heidi Cool.  Watch this space.