Joe’s parents picked me up last night in shiny black Audi with black tinted windows and leather seats.  They work parents work in the government and enjoy the fat pay check that comes with the job title.  As a way to thank me for teaching their son they offered to take Serena and me out for dinner.  It was apparent early on that this would be one of those how-the-hell-did-I-get-here experiences.

The Gang: Tony, Joe, Me, "Cool Brother," Serena, "Cool Sister"

Millenary Dragon is famous for it's seafood. 鲁菜 (lu cai) is one of the 8 culinary traditions of China. Originating in nearby Jinan, it usually involves seafood.

We drove across town to pick up Serena at her apartment, and along the way I informed them that it was her birthday.  We stopped at a bakery to buy her a cake, the most expensive one in the shop, and then headed over to Millenary Dragon, the most expensive restaurant in Liaocheng.  They presented Serena with a bottle of red wine, the most expensive red wine you could buy, and me with a bottle of baiju, you guessed it, the most expensive one you could buy.  We hadn’t even ordered and already Joe’s parents had spent twice as much money than I spend in a week, and they weren’t quiet about it.  It’s pretty rude to talk about money in Western culture, but it’s common, even expected in some cases.

Is coral an endangered species? Well, it tastes good anyways...

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression here…you might assume that communist party members are stuffy, arrogant, hard to get a long with, but in most cases its just the opposite.  I’ve actually found most Chinese politicians quite chummy.  They like to drink and smoke and sing karaoke just as much as the next guy.  Joe’s dad was impressed with my ability to toss back the baiju, and kept filling my cup and laughing hardily with each shot.  He liked my mohawk and beard and decided to call me 帅哥, (handsome brother).  He slapped his knee when Joe said “fuck” and I explained the meaning.  我们走朋友了。We were buddies.


Serena picks up the mic, despite telling us all she can't sing...

We dined on steamed octopus, deepfried shrimp and eggplant bites, and vinegar soaked coral (which I didn’t know was edible.)  After dinner we made our way to KTV, the nicest one in Liaocheng.  Serena and I sang Micheal Jackson and Joe’s parents rocked out to Chinese pop tunes.  At one point the lights went out and a couple of dancers came in performed a hair-whipping evocative dance for our entertainment, and then left as quickly as they had appeared.  Like I said, how the hell did I get here?



Open air food markets are about as common, if not more so, than regular grocery stores in Liaocheng.  The vendors are usually local farmers and fisherman that truck their products into the city every day.  Though not as sanitary as the food you would buy in a grocery store, it’s always much fresher and most likely more nutritious.  Cheaper too.  Shopping at a grocery store in China is somewhat of a status symbol.

I took this photo at a demolition site in Liaocheng, and afterwards one of the workers there asked me why I wasn’t out taking pictures of Dong Chang Lake or the flower fields just south of the city.  I tried to explain that pictures of derelict scapes and scenes were more interesting to me because they conveyed the other-worldliness of this place better than any bucolic scene could.  He thought I was crazy.

Karaoke is a national obsession in China, where they call it KTV.  Every city has its fair share of KTV joints, usually brightly lit in popping neon lights that could probably be seen from space.  I haven’t had a chance to go into one of these places yet, but it’s one of my goals before leaving China.

It’s common for older gentlemen of leisure to have a song bird that they bring with them to the park to mingle with the other caged birds.  They just drape a cover over the cage, hook them to their bicycles, and head off to the park.