This morning, after going to the police station to get my ID card, we traveled to Zhuhai city, about a 40-minute drive from campus, most of it along the South China Sea. Twenty years ago Zhuhai was a small farming town, but after it was named a Special Economic Zone it quickly grew into a prosperous center of commerce. However, its newness, as well as its status as a seaside resort, make it a lot cleaner and greener than any city I've visited in China. We drove along a stretch of Lovers Road, which hugs the sea for 40 km (the name was suggested by premier Li Peng after he observed the many amorous couples there on a nighttime stroll with his wife), stopping frequently to take photos (which, if I can't manage to post them on this blog, will eventually turn up on Picasa).
We were treated to a sumptuous lunch (is there any other kind in China?) by Mr. Jeung, a classmate of Ling's who's done very well for himself as the owner of a hotel and several restaurants in Zhuhai. (He and his family visited us in Chicago last summer.) When Ling's sister C***o arrives here later in the semester, he promised to take us on a more extensive tour of the city.
The meal consisted of, oh, maybe two-dozen items, most of them Cantonese specialties like steamed fish, delicate little shrimp, dumplings, and congee. I impressed my host by identifying one dish as Chiu Chow noodles, a regional specialty; even the people from the university, who are all transplanted northerners, didn't know the name. There was also plenty of of beer, of course, far too much of it consumed in "gambei" (dry glass or bottom-up) toasts. It's hard enough to save face by complying faithfully to such demands at dinnertime; in the middle of the day it takes a resolute spirit, which I've somehow managed to develop over my repeated visits to China
After lunch we did a bit of shopping. (Before the nearby town of San Zao developed, faculty and staff took weekly trips to Zhuhi by bus for their shopping needs.) Although we were in the Gongbei area, which is known for its markets and street food, we confined ourselves to a single department store, one floor of which consisted of what seemed to me like the largest supermarket I've ever seen anywhere, further fueling my belief that China has leapfrogged over not just the U.S. but the entire world as the leading bastion of capitalism.
Tonight I was honored (along with another "foreign expert" foreign-language teacher from South Korea) with another banquet, at what I was told was San Zao's foremost restaurant, hosted by the vice-president of the Zhuhai campus. The other special guest was Liu Shieng, yet another classmate of Ling's, who expressed his disappointment that Ling's original plan to accompany me to Zhuhai didn't pan out.
The dinner was every bit as outstanding as today's lunch. It takes effort to avoid taking the wonderful food here for granted when you have two such amazing meals in a single day, either of which would qualify as a high point of a year's dining in Chicago. But tomorrow I'll be confined to the campus dining hall, which, as I found out last night (and as I'll detail in a later posting) will bring me back down to Earth.