Saturday, April 5, 2014

Guanggu with Amy

I was flopped on the couch, thinking it would be a solitary and quiet Saturday night (not that I, as a confirmed introvert, mind those, at least sometimes...) when Amy called.  She wasn't doing anything either, and was a bit stir-crazy to get out.  Did I want to go out and get some dinner?  

We dithered back and forth politely for a bit about where to go--somewhere here on campus, over to the much wider selection at Zhang Fa, the campus-next-door, or did we really want to go out out?  Finally we got past the polite "What would you like to do?  Really, anything is okay with me..." stuff, and she admitted she really wanted to get off campus.  We ended up catching a taxi to Guanggu, which if you follow my blog you might remember is that huge square (digression: we need a better word than a "square" for a central open area surrounded by buildings that I think of as a piazza; many of them aren't square, but I can't think of a really appropriate word in English...this one is round.), surrounded by shopping malls and restaurants and a subway stop, that is the hub of activity in this part of the city.  

We meandered around the largest mall, Ocean City, considering our options for dinner.  We wound our way through a crowded, crazy maze of food stalls on the back side of the fourth floor; I had barely been aware that that area even existed.  We kept getting separated by the flow of people, mostly students, squeezing up and down the narrow aisles; the floor was a bit of a landmine of spilled drinks and dropped chopsticks.  Everyone was eating something-on-a-stick or slurping spicy noodles from paper bowls.  We had a snack--she an ice-cream cone (surprise, surprise; Amy is a bit of an icecream nut), and I a strawberry juice.  We decided that we'd prefer to actually sit down somewhere to a bit more substantial supper, though.  There was a Korean restaurant stuck back in the corner, though, that I might have to check out another time. 
There are several quite nice restaurants up on the fifth floor; several are favorites of mine and many of my American friends: Show Coffee and Tea, despite its name, is know for its western food (I think I got lasagna last time I was there), but is quite expensive; M Kitchen is a south Asian fusion place, with a really wonderful mix of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese; the Korean Barbecue place (I've never bothered to actually learn the name of the place--the others have signs in English) has little grills built into the center of tables, on which you can cook all sorts of meats and vegetables, then dip them in the provided sauces and spices, and also has quite a few Korean dishes and soups, as well as, for some reason, quite a selection of sushi.  There are also a couple of more generic Chinese places on the other side, but I've never bothered with them as I can get great Chinese food anywhere, and they look expensive.  

Of course, on a Saturday night in the most popular shopping mall in the university district of a city of ten million, there was a bit of wait time.  We were dithering a bit about M-Kitchen or Korean Barbecue, so we took a number for both and decided we'd go to whichever came up first.  So, Korean Barbecue it was.  We didn't end up grilling anything; Amy wanted to try a cold noodle soup (I tried a few bites; it was good but I'm not sure I really get the appeal of cold soup) her friend had recommended; I ordered black pepper beef and rice (unimaginative, I know), and we ordered a plate of niangao to share.  I should have just ordered a whole plate of the niangao myself and not bothered with the rice; that's what I was really craving anyhow.  Niangao, often called rice cakes in English (not those crunchy things health nuts are always munching), is a thick, chewy noodle-like stuff; before I've often had thin oval-shaped slices in hot pot, but in Korean places they cut long rectangular pieces, looking a bit like string cheese.  Floating in spicy Korean tomato sauce, they are wonderful.  Although nearly impossible to eat with those slippery black plastic chopsticks they always seem to have at restaurants.  Even Amy gave it up and used a fork.  

After enjoying our Korean food, we poked around a few shops and stopped at Carrefour, the French wal-mart-like store, as I needed some peanut butter.  Before leaving, we stopped and stood at the rail, looking out over the courtyard where a big sale of knock-offs was going on, over the fantastic neon designs overlooking the five floor of brightly-lit shops, and over the sparkling high-rises behind, which have running lights blinking and dancing at the shopping mall below.  we did ponder a moment how the people in those buildings ever sleep at night with all those blinking lights outside, but mostly we just enjoyed the color and craziness for a minute.  Sometimes you just need some city lights.  

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