I entered my third decade this week. Woah. I’ve witnessed many before me cross the line that separates the annoying twenties, which involves figuring out what to do with your life and where to live and worrying about money and sometimes having to figure out what to do next with your life (as in my case) to the more supposedly settled thirties of knowing what you are doing and where you are living and hopefully worrying a little less about money. So, I’m looking forward to the upcoming decade. Who knows what life will bring, but starting it out in China isn’t too shabby.
So how do you celebrate a milestone birthday in China? Well, on my birthday eve, I cracked open our precious bottle of Hendricks that we happened upon at Seoul’s Incheon airport way back in April. There is nothing that says summer to me like gin and tonics and my birthday, which conveniently aligns with Memorial Day weekend. I used to hate this fact when I was a teenager since it meant having to wear a hideously disgusting, itchy, hot polyester uniform to march with the school band in our town’s parade. But the last few years it was a great coincidence since I got to celebrate over the long weekend in Rehoboth Beach with my family. This year, I settled for a video chat with them, which was more of a surprise party involving cake and strawberries (my favorite) with candles, hats, wine, bad singing, and a 30th birthday banner. Pretty nice family I have. I followed that up with a visit to one of the lunar markets that I had never been to where I purchased two new house plants as a present to myself. Then again, buying a pound of sweet potatoes for $.50 from a very elderly couple who had a handful of teeth between them but who both sported their Mao blue caps fashionably well was a present in itself. So was the breakfast treat my friend introduced me to. It was pretty much a Chinese version of flatbread: dough topped with scallions, spices, and a tangy-sweet barbecue type of sauce. Delicious though probably not nutritious. Oh well, happy birthday to me! Actually, come to think of it, minus the gorgeous flowers I got from Iggy, the best parts of my birthday involved food.
For example, I made chocolate frosted brownies for myself. No, not the homemade kind. The Betty Crocker kind, which back home cost about three to four bucks a box, but here go for about $8.50 (50RMB). Totally worth it. Before I dove into the gooey, chocolatey, walnutey, messy pan of heaven on earth, I first experienced the culinary heaven of Haiyang. Obviously for us expats, this means that Iggy took me to the Beijing Duck restaurant. Is that it’s real name? I don’t think so, but that is what all of us expats call it and it is pretty much every ones’ favorite restaurant because (1) the food is great, (2) the place is clean in comparison to our other options (as long as you can overlook the stains on the tablecloths and booths) and (3) because where else can you get half a duck, a whole fish, a huge salad, and a side of veggies for $30? Nowhere! That’s right — I broke my usual pescetarian lifestyle for a few delicious pancakes filled with plum sauce, scallions, cucumbers, and delicious duck meat. Hopefully, any strains of the bird flu virus that may have been lurking within the meat were killed by the prosecco I washed it down with. Prosecco, you ask? Why, yes, we had prosecco with the birthday dinner, but only because we brought our own that we had purchased in Qingdao.
The birthday celebration continued on Saturday afternoon with our first trip to Zhaohushan National Forest Park (aka Tiger Mountain), which is conveniently located about 10 kilometers from Haiyang. We got a little lost on our scooter ride there, which probably had something to do with the directions given to us: “turn right at the light just before you cross the bridge towards Haiyang, keep going until you see the gas station, then bear right.” We bore right which took us down a busy two lane country road full of walkers, bikers, dogs, scooters, mopeds, heavy-duty trucks, buses, and even a road that abruptly ended. We took the “detour” that took us down a dirt hill full of stones, bumps, and speedy vehicles and continued going until we decided that clearly we weren’t going in the right direction. Sigh. Oh well, we got to see more of the “real” China and it didn’t matter because we eventually made it to Tiger Mountain — a lush, beautiful, peaceful spot within Shandong province. We didn’t have time to hike through the majority of the park, but we got a good taste by walking through the paths that had been so carefully laid out for us. We plan on going back again. Probably multiple times since there’s a lot to explore, including a Buddhist temple, plus a bamboo forest on the other side of the mountain. Too bad there aren’t any pandas living within it.
For those of you dying to know, here’s the story behind the name Tiger Mountain, courtesy of the park’s welcoming billboard: “There was a folklore once. According to the ‘History of Haiyang County’: there is Zhaohu Mountain 35 Li to the north of the city, and probably because there once was a tiger hiding among the hill and a god later tamed it and the tiger became a huge stone. The stone is really like a tiger, so the mountain is called Tiger Mountain.”