Sunday, October 17, 2010


The temperature yesterday was chilly enough to keep most dragonboat paddlers away from practice, even though the air quality was not bad. A few of us did show up for practice though, followed by a lazy end of season dinner at a local noodle house we started visiting this year.

Instead of our usual routine on the water we hung out on dry land at the boat house and kicked a shuttlecock around. We were perfectly happy doing that until a news crew for CNC, a Chinese-owned news channel that broadcasts overseas, showed up and asked to get footage of us on the water. After a few looks at one another we decided to oblige. The British reporter asked me a few questions on camera then we untied a boat, got our small (seven-person) crew loaded and helped the reporter get comfortable in sitting at the front of the boat. We did a few circles around the lake with her before dropping her back on dry land. She was surprised at how fast we move and was curious about our team when I explained how many of our expat members previously paddled on teams in their home countries.

There were only a couple of other small boats on the lake so we had a clear practice ground and took the boat down under the bridge to Qianhai, the smaller lake just south of Houhai, the southernmost of the three lakes that make up the Shichahai area. I stopped paddling for a few moments out of shock - the water was the cleanest I'd ever seen it, we could see the bottom of the lake in some places. Under the bridge the water is fairly shallow. There's lots of seagrass, which I expected, but there were also bottles, credit cards, plastic bags and even a few children's toys partially buried in the mud. After we paddled around the island once we headed back up to Houhai and the boathouse in the dark.

Many of the trees in the area are willow trees, but the Gold Sailing Boathouse also has a pomegranate tree on their grounds. While relaxing and warming up for a few minutes inside a few of us shared one of the freshest pomegranates I've ever eaten. The seeds were bright red and tasted amazing.

Paddling and the cold temperature piqued our appetite for a good dinner, which last night mean Zhajiangmian, or Old Beijing style noodles, tossed with a soybean paste sauce and vegetables. We also ordered several of our other favorite dishes: textured tofu in a sweet sauce with peanuts, radish salad, shredded cabbage with jellyfish, small fried fish that are lightly battered and served with a cumin powder dip and one of my favorites: green beans fried with garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers. Yum!

While we waited for our meal we enjoyed a snack the one of the guys bought from a street vendor: roasted chestnuts. The only time I'd eaten chestnuts before last night was in Paris in 1993, and I hadn't like them: they'd tasted bitter. Everyone was digging in last night though so I tried one. They were much sweeter than the ones I ate in Paris, and meatier. Totally worth the effort to peel.

A good practice on and off the water with teammates. Great food. Perfect afternoon.

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