We spent last night in a small town of 200,000 people. Our hotel is a funky little place, but nice.
It is also cheap. A standard room is 158 RMB per night. That’s about $23.70 US. That includes a real breakfast: One hard boiled egg, two kinds of mixed vegetables, white soda bread or a croissant-like thing, (The translation was “Chinese hamburger”, but I don’t think so.) white rice, and three choices or hot porridge: Soy milk based, corn based, or rice based.
I am here with Hao, Kai, Dong, and Mr. Liu. Dong is another Merck associate and Mr. Liu is the local product distributor. Dong mentioned that there was no water in the hotel, so we would buy some. There is water in the hotel, but no bottled water. Even the expensive big city hotels recommend to not drink the tap water, but they give you bottled water. I asked if this was the case across China and they said yes, one cannot typically drink the water, even in large cities. This is pretty shocking today, and reminds me how we can take some pretty important things for granted. Chinese like to drink hot water or porridge at meals . Hao thought that practice may have developed because water was not safe unless you boiled it. Hao used to work for a dairy magazine in China, and once he was assigned to cover the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI. He went with a small group of Chinese. They were frustrated trying to find hot water to drink. All the water had ice in it, which they hated. They also needed hot water to cook the noodles that they had brought from home for breakfast. Normally every hotel room has an electric pot to heat water, but those stupid American hotels only had tiny one-cup coffee makers, and they got tired of running cup after cup through them. Thus Hao went to Starbucks and asked the young barista if he could buy hot water. The fellow said he supposed so, but he didn’t know how much to charge. How much would he like? How produced a large jar. The barista agreed to fill it four $5, which the Chinese thought was a little rich, but since they were desperate, agreed. When they were leaving Hao heard someone in line complaining that they would have to wait now since some Chinese guy bought all the hot water. He thought that was hilarious.
While waiting in the hotel lobby yesterday I heard a familiar tune – took me a minute, but then I got it: “Its a Small World After All.” My first thought was an ice cream truck, but then I remembered I was in China. I looked out the door and saw a truck go by with a very large fan on top. It was spraying something up in the air above the street, perhaps a pesticide for bugs on the trees. Somehow a pesticide spewing truck blasting Its a Small World seemed both really creeping and funny. Welcome to China.
This morning I heard it again, but when I went to the window I saw this:
This truck was spraying something on the street – water, I think. That song seems much more appropriate. We had a lovely dinner last night in a small local restaurant. Kai and Hao seem to think I need to expand my horizons regarding food, so they look to order things I may not have eaten before. This is somewhat concerning. Most of the menu items were not recognizable to me. It seems as one gets farther away from the big cities the food gets a little more adventurous. Of course the meal was great in the end. There were some interesting things including “demon eggs”. These are raw eggs that soak in quicklime for some time, effectively pickling them and turning the white into a gel-like dark purple material. The yolk pretty much looks like a boiled yolk, only darker. I did not find them to be my favorite, which everyone thought a hoot. I did point out that my 1/4 Norwegian ancestors had done pretty much the same thing by using lye to pickle fish into a similar gelatinous substance called Lutefisk. They had heard of it, and insisted demon eggs smelled much better. We also had squid. I remarked that it was called calimari in America. They said, in China it was “Sea Rabbit.” There you are.
Today we went to a dairy that has 10,000 cows, or 5400, or 4500. I think it actually is designed for 10,000 but is not yet filled, so there are lots of heifers in pens that will have lactating cows. It is really huge.
I don’t think two 80 cow rotary parlor decks will milk 10,000 cows three times a day. I pointed that out to the gang after we left, over lunch, and they agreed and offered at least five more headcounts (cows) , all of which they were certain of. Anyway it is a really big place, however many cows are there or will be there. It was a very nice facility and I was quite impressed by the staff and how they cared for the cattle. I told them all my clients’ farms looked just like this one, only that they had better, American genetics.
They had some concerns which we discussed for some length. I hope was able to offer some helpful advice.
Then it was back to town for lunch; not sure why we did not eat at the farm today. Mr. Liu recommended a great little dumpling restaurant.
These two were in a room by the stairs we used to go up to our special room. They are the dumpling makers. Of course I was not sure how things worked at a “dumpling restaurant” but as usual, I kept my mouth shut and waited. Then, one by one, 7 courses of food were brought up. Yes, only 7 since it was lunchtime. But I had no idea how many courses were coming, so I assumed each one after # 2 was final, and ate accordingly. We had: Sole and vegetables, some kind of small catfish, scallops and chopped scallions, broccoli, some other mixed vegetables, and deep fried vegetables. All were very tasty. I was really full. Then they brought the dumplings. Four plates. Four different fillings: vegetables, pork, shrimp, and some other meat. I would characterize the flavor of all but one with the mystery meat as remarkable. The other one was just a 6 of 10. I would say it was one of the best meals I have ever had. We also had Chinese beer, which is kind of like American beer in before about 1990 where everything tasted the same. The Chinese do not know how to make good beer. We also had a fermented milk of unrecognizable flavor, and of course hot water.