Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Afternoon Stroll in Lanzhou.

Mal and Sal lead the afternoon stroll.

Original post date: September 15, 2016.

Before Mal and I left our hotel room to meet up with Yim and Sal, I did the card hack to keep the air conditioning on in our room. While the room had cooled down somewhat between the time we arrived and when we were about to leave, I knew it wasn't cool enough for both Mal and I to be comfortable sleeping. Mal likes to sleep in a cold dark room as I do.

At the concierge desk, Yim and Sal got a map and information for suggestions on where to go. He marked off the location of a night market and a place to get Lanzhou beef noodles aka lamian. With the two of them navigating the way, we headed out. It was so nice to, for once, just be able to follow along. Typically, I'm the one doing all the trip planning and will already have a pre-marked map ready for use.


Our walk took us past a small city park.  This part of Lanzhou is very modern and clean with just a few tall buildings to obscure the sight of the mountains that lie on the outskirts of the city.  It's quite a green (i.e., lots of grass and trees) city.



Temperature wise, it's hot and not even five minutes into the walk and I was already regretting not bringing along my hat and my sunglasses.  I should've taken a cue from Sal who was well prepared for the walk.  She is a fast walker too.  She may look small and fragile but I think she's anything but fragile!



Our walk took us on Jinyan Bridge.  We crossed the Yellow River.


I'm guessing it gets its name from the mud colored waters that flow.  It's not exactly a  pretty color.


Surprisingly, Mal spotted a swimmer in the river.  I told her the water was muddy but probably clean enough for a swim though this is industrial China so who really knows what the cleanliness level of the water is.


As we walked, we passed by one  piece of modern architecture after another - lots of glass and steel and building shapes that were anything but square or even rectangular.  Building design wise, it's as if Lanzhou just sprung up in recent years.  There must be an *old* city somewhere but we weren't in it.

From the bridge, we walked off on to a small spit of an island that is located just feet from the bank of the river.



We the walked across a beautifully painted covered bridge to complete the walk across the Yellow River. 




We entered a lovely city park area called Shuiche Expo Garden.



Mal and I just walked as Yim and Sal navigated us on a relaxing stroll through the park.  It was especially nice under the shade of the trees.


There were quite a lot of people out and about in the park though I think we were the only tourists.  I jokingly told Mal that if there were any tourists around, she was the only non-Asian one!   I had to occasionally wait for her while she had her photo taken.  She's popular here and I think if I manage the photo ops properly, we could get a free meal :-)  I have to say she's very good natured about it, never turning down a request.


Asians love to do the *V* sign with their fingers.  You can read about its meaning in this article on time.com.


Even Mal got into the act.  These two girls were very friendly and very giggly.  It was hard for Mal to say no when they asked to pose with her.



I loved the small sculpture park with the whimsical figures of everyday life in Lanzhou.


....especially this group of sculptures representing the noodle maker and his diners.  One look at this piece and you know you're looking at China.


Lanzhou is the only city in China through which the Yellow River flows.  Back when it was necessary to irrigate fields with water from the river, waterwheels were developed.  Shuiche Expo Garden adjoins Waterwheel Expo Garden where recreations of large waterwheels and other ancient implements related to irrigation have been installed.



Enjoying a *waterfall*.

Walking on a wheel to move it.

An ancient *aquaduct*.

The Lanzhou waterwheel was invented by Duan Xu in 1156 during the Ming Dynasty.  Duan Xu learned about the technology from the irrigation machines in Yunnan Province.  He then invented a wheel with a very distinctive style - looking like a chariot wheel with a diameter ranging from 10 to 20 meters (32.8 to 65.6 feet). The center of the wheel rotated around an axle and  buckets hung from the cross bars. These buckets could carry water to a height of 15 to 18 meters (49 to 59 feet) in order to irrigate fields. Until 1952, about 252 waterwheels stood along the river in Lanzhou, and at that time, the city was nicknamed the *City of Waterwheels*.  In recognition of the city's waterwheel heritage, two large reproductions are installed in the garden.


When the water in the river is flowing high (e.g, in spring time), the wheels are actually driven by water from the river. Otherwise, they are mechanically driven by a pump.



Adjacent to the Waterwheel Expo Garden is a Children's Garden and while we did spot a few at play, it was the covered pavilion where adults were practicing their croquet skills that caught our attention.


Chinese are not shy about posing for photos.  Most times, you don't even have to ask - they gladly smile for you :-)


There was one stretch of walk lined with willow trees.  I love the lacy look of their leaves.  They love water so planting them near a river makes sense.


The next spot we happened upon was a series of interconnected plaza areas.  The one thing I really love about city parks in China is that they are fully used.  People come out not just to sit or jog but to socialize.  In the morning, you'll likely find people excercising i.e., doing tai chi.


By afternoon, the card players, mahjong players,  musicians, and dancers are out in force.  People live mainly in apartments so the parks are a great place for them to enjoy a bit of Mother Nature and meet up with friends.


We heard the sound of music and followed it to arrive at an area where locals were enjoying dancing. Oddly, there were two separate groups, each with their own music blaring out over loudspeakers, performing side by side. Given the size of the park, you would think they would have spread out to different sections.





We also happened upon several groups of men and women playing cards.  You and your friends bring your portable table and chairs and you just set up wherever there's a spot.


What are benches at any other time of day become tables at *card hour* :-)


Yim loves to take photos and every time we came upon something that she thought was photo worthy, she would mention it to me - indicating direction according to time on the clock e.g., 11 o'clock, old man.

One particular group of men caught her attention.


While she was not able to approach them to see what they were playing, I am not shy so I walked right up to the group. The men were holding up long rectangular shaped cards. On each card were dots that looked like what you would see on a domino cube. Below the dots were Chinese characters.


According to Yim, they were playing Chinese dominoes. The men were playing for small change. The man that I was standing right next to won a hand and then a second hand and then a third hand. He decided that we were his lucky charms and was so happy that he asked me if I would dance with him.

I was the lucky charm for the man seated on the left, with his back to me.

I giggled at his proposition and most likely blushed as well. I gently waved my right hand side by side to indicate that I was declining his offer as I don't dance. I was flattered though and smiled and waved to him as I walked away.

We continued our stroll and we hadn't walked far before we heard the distinctive strains of Chinese opera.  I am not fan of music but I love the costumes.  We had to check it out.  There was indeed a performance taking place.  Unfortunately, it ended seconds after we arrived.  Too bad.



We paused to take in a view of the river.  I think that's Jinyan Bridge in the distance.


We were standing above a place where you can hire a raft to for a quick ride across the river.  The raft is held up by inflated sheepskins! :-)  Apparently, it's a Lanzhou thing - read about it here.


From the park, it was time to get down to the serious business of finding the night market and the restaurant.  Yim and Sal, the navigators, did a quick check of the map before leading us on.


From the heart of the park, we headed into the heart of the city.


It was approaching dinner time and hungry eaters were out in force.  Had I been on my own, I would have been standing in line with the folks below, ready to pick up some street food. Like the people in Shaanxi province i.e., Xi'an, the people in Gansu province LOVE spicy food.  Everything is either drenched or coated in red chili sauce!


It's fall which means grape season.

Yim and Sal were on a mission to find the restaurant that the concierge had recommended for Lanzhou beef noodle soup otherwise known here as lamian. It proved to be more challenging than expected as the concierge had not marked the restaurant on the map but the police station that it was located near. To their credit, Yim and Sal stopped and asked countless people for directions. We actually walked past the restaurant at least two times before Yim and Sal finally figured out what the concierge had done.


Mal and I were quietly complaining to each other about being dragged around.  I don't quite have the patience of Yim and Sal; I probably would've just eaten in another restaurant.

In any case, we arrived to a restaurant that looked like a fast food joint on the inside.  We ordered our bowls of noodles from the picture menu that hung on the wall behind the counter and then took our tickets back to the guys working in the kitchen in the back of the restaurant.  Same process as what we did last night in Tianshui.


Two guys were hard at work hand pulling and cooking noodles!



Lanzhou lamian is beef noodle soup.  The girls were referring to it as niu rou mian which is Taiwanese beef noodle soup.  I know they're not the same dish but I don't know exactly what the differences are.  In any case, we shared several plates of thinly sliced beef, sauteed potato and veggies.  They also gave us some fresh eggs to crack into the broth.


Typically, the cook will top off the bowl with a BIG ladle full of chili sauce but I have decided that after a week of spicy food in Korea and days of eating spicy noodles in Xi'an, I am giving my tummy a bit of a break so I ordered my bowl with just a couple of spoons of chili. I just want enough to impart the spicy taste but no longer burn my the insides of my mouth or make my stomach burn.

As it turned out, the little bit of chili sauce that the cook added was just right for me - a bearable amount of heat and I could easily finish off the bowl without sweating or drinking water to temper the burning sensation in my mouth.


This is what my bowl looked like after I swirled in the chili.  What's amazing to note is just how thin the noodles are and the strands are fairly consistent in thickness.  It's not easy to hand pull noodles let alone make them this well.

Although I prefer last night's noodles and soup more, I did like the fact that we had more meat and even a couple of cold side dishes thrown in. It was a larger bowl of noodles as well and I left the table happily stuffed.


We made our way back to the hotel via taxi (took a while to flag one down) and we were all having such a good time that we laughed all the way. Even the taxi driver commented on how happy we were. It's nice to be with a group of people that you immediately feel comfortable being with. Considering that I am the *outsider* to the group, the other three ladies have made me feel a part of the group. There are no divas in this lot and for that I am grateful.



Back in our room, Mal and I settled in for the night. When we met up with Yim and Sal in the lobby this afternoon, they asked if we had gotten our box of mooncakes.  What box of mooncakes?  Didn't you see the red box?  No. No box.  So before we headed out on our afternoon stroll, I  had  Mal tell the receptionist we were missing our box.  When we got back tonight, there was the beautiful redbox. 

Inside were 6 different flavored mooncakes.  Aren't they pretty?  And in the center of the box as a bag of Chinese black tea.  You can't eat mooncakes without tea :-)

The mooncakes weren't labeled to tell you what the flavors are so I will have to ask Yim tomorrow. I'm certain she's already sampled a few of the cakes.


Tomorrow, we have a long drive and last night I had not slept well. Hoping that the room will be cool tonight so we can both enjoy a restful sleep. Mal suffers from sleep apnea and she was worried that her breathing machine would keep me awake. I told her to not worry, that once I am asleep, a train could run through our room and I would not wake. I also confessed that I am a heavy snorer myself, very likely that I also suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. We all have our natural weaknesses and she needs to know that she should not feel that she should have to apologize for hers.

Time for me to turn in.

Goodnight from Lanzhou!