Virtual meanderings

Nan Ning Eve Ning

Nanning, China

Nanning, China. Courtesy: Rex Pe @ Flickr

As agreed the previous day, in the evening Sammi (the Chinese girl I met on the bus from Hanoi) and a friend of hers living in Nanning met me at the hostel and we went to have a dinner together at a nearby restaurant they’d chosen (side note: crossing big streets in the absence of a traffic light in Nanning is about as intimidating as in Hanoi). The place was big (or was it really? The word ‘big’ in China tends to wear off quickly) but somehow cozy. It was a Saturday evening and there was hardly an empty table (expecting this, Sammi had called earlier to make a reservation).

We were taken to our table, seated and given a menu. Around us Chinese families and companies were already enjoying themselves. Traditional music from the restaurant’s sound system blended with the hundreds of conversations. Cozy the place was, but quiet it definitely was not.

About a third of the items in the menu were translated in awkward English (just restaurant managers trying to boost the place’s ‘coolness’, I presume, since it was Chinese people all around). Each of us selected some dishes that we’d then all share. Helped by my two giggling companions, I picked items from the menu with a hope-for-the-best-prepare-for-the-worst feeling. The tree of us together went for: a soup for each, rice, chicken, fish, pork, beef steak, some weird vegetables, beer and tea (I’ll fast forward and say that the whole dinner cost $20 total).

A copy of our order was left on the table and each time a new dish came, the waitress stamped a small sign next to the item to mark it as delivered.

Since none of the tried-and-true soups that I’d tried at Chinese restaurants back at home was available, I settled for “pickle soup” (just sliced pickles and some herbs, no meat). When I got it at the bottom of the bowl under the pickles were small cubes of what looked like liver. And they tasted just as bad. I asked Sammi what those were. She got herself thinking, struggling to find the proper word, then remembered it. “Blood!” – she shouted, so I can hear her through the noise and the music.

I assumed I did not hear her right. “What do you mean, ‘blood’? These are cubes. It does not look like blood. Are you sure it is the right word?”

Sammi shrugged and for the umpteenth time that evening began pinching the keys on her mobile phone which featured a very useful Chinese-English dictionary application. Then she triumphantly stuck the screen into my face. There was the word translated in English – ‘blood’.

Then it crossed my mind that people in some parts of Europe too once used blood to make puddings or sausages, albeit this tradition is all but lost. Not in China. They’d collect the blood, let it harden, slice it in cubes and sneak those in my soup. I say sneak, because they’d omitted this ingredient from the menu item’s English translation. I gave up on the soup and focused on the main dishes. Those were plenty anyway.

Throughout the evening Sammi’s mobile phone continued its translation tool role, going back and forth, until we moved to the topic of Chinese movies. I’d seen  a few of those that made it to international distribution and I generally liked them very much. Then it transpired that the original names of Chinese movies were often different from their English versions.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was kind of easy to nail with some tiger-dragon reenactment – and my pronunciation of actor Chow Yun-Fat’s was spot-on, presumably. But really, there were better movies to talk about, like “House of the Flying Daggers”.
“House of what?”
“House of the Flying Daggers”.
“House of the Flying Daggers”?
“House of the Flying Daggers”!
“House of the Flying Daggers. What movie is this?”
“Give me the phone.”

The two of them had never heard about that movie. Or the translator program had failed us yet again. Or the move name in Chinese had nothing to do with flying daggers. The fact that actress Ziyi Zhang starred in both “Crouching Tiger…” and “House of…“ did not help either – I was either mispronouncing her name to the point of being unrecognizable or they simply did not know who she was (“that beautiful actress… that young one…you know… oh, whatever”) We then moved on to Chan Long – a very famous Chinese actor, they said – who’d played in a ton Hollywood movies, they said. Finally it dawned on me that Chan Long was, of course, Jackie Chan.


            After the dinner we went on for an evening walk around the central part, which is basically a huge shopping area. It was the exact time the area livened up and you saw thousands of young people on the sidewalks and in the shopping malls. This was the most consumerist-looking place I’ve been to (and I’ve visited a few places in the US, if that’s any indicator). I’ll post some photos of this area, but for this particular post I decided to post just these three:

A fashion show in downtown Nanning

A fashion show in downtown Nanning

I took this photo in the evening – the best time to show off whatever you’ve got to show off in Nanning.

Earlier that day at a nearby central location – older people enjoying dancing lessons

Dancing seniors, Nanning

Dancing seniors, Nanning

And this is how the younger generation is doing it… in the shopping mall:

The dance of the young generation. Inside a Nanning shpping mall

The dance of the young generation. Inside a Nanning shopping mall

As usual, just like all the other places in Asia that I visited so far, online one can find scores of travellers writing about Nanning. Little surprise here – if you would be going from Vietnam to China or vice versa, this is the town you end up at. And little point of me repeating yet again what you can read here, here and here.  And my post was simply to tell about a pleasant evening in good company.


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