For those who asked: I am alive, but without the opportunity to do the internet-thing (or even the computer-thing, really) the vast majority of the time. So instead of having mail pile up like the dickens under the assumption (increasingly beginning to look delusionary) that I'll be able to keep up with it all, I'm declaring an electronic hiatus and putting up an autoresponder, which is a pretty big deal for me. I think this is the second time I've ever done it.
Keeping up with correspondence and technology stuff is one of those tiny things I wish I knew how to do better. How the hack (sic) do you keep up with large amounts of international email that actually demands your attention (e.g. not spam, but individual messages)? How do you set aside time to work on projects and code and explain to other people that doing this stuff is actually a form of productive private recreation for you? Yeah, I still have this problem. When I come up with a boilerplate that explains this to 9 out of 10 relatives at first reading, I need to print it on my laptop. On the other hand, it's also a great opportunity to teach them about "my (adopted) culture (of hacking)" and learn about theirs.
In the meantime, interesting things abound, and there'll be much to write about when I return. I'll try to type some real fast here before dead battery, dead internet, or something else sets in.
"Tastes like ass" is not necessarily a bad thing. I tried donkey. It was... a little tough and sort of gamey-tasting, but not altogether unpleasant. Could get used to it.
I am, however, glad we did not order the bull penis. Or the menu item that, as best as we could figure out, is dog buttock (with the little skinned tail still attached and everything). Or the whole braised turtle, which looked kind of sad and limp and green in its own little bowl of broth. (I'd probably try some if we had, though.)
It is freaking impossible to lipread Chinese. My best strategy so far has been attempting to repeat the most likely word and phrase combinations back at people until they tell me that I've hit upon the sentence they just said. ("Ji dian? No? Zhi dao? No? Chi tang? No?")
In English, if you speak of a time "in front" of you, you're talking about the future - we think of things as journeying from the past to the future, so naturally the past is at our back and the future in front. Chinese speak as if things before us (that is, in front of us) are the ones before us - the past is in front of us and the future behind us, because you can only look at the past, not the future. It's almost as if English speakers are peering out the front windshield of a car and Chinese speakers are peering out the back of the same car as it travels along a road.
Street food rocks. (Also, English has weird idioms. "Rocks?" You'd have to go through an explanation of 50 years' worth of popular music before the term would make sense.)
People in a subway car appeared at first glance to be a compressible, though non-ideal, gas during rush hour. Closer study reveals that they're really more like a thixotropic fluid. (Think non-Newtonian pseudoplastics, like cornstarch and water.) Headway through a mass of bodies depends on the shear force applied. With slow, gentle pressure and muttered apologies, you can thread through a dense crowd eventually. However, the same crowd will repel a torrent of passengers attempting to board with the force of a brick wall clad in dark flannel jackets.
I have a wok! My own wok! My mom got it for me one day when we were shopping in Shanghai. It makes me feel all grown-up. When my parents left for the US to establish their own house (separate from the home of their parents*), my grandma went out with them and got them a wok for their new place, so it's kind of a first-time housewarming tradition of sorts. (Okay, my mom's wok is older than I am and is super-seasoned steel by now, whereas my wok is... nonstick with a silicon handle, but hey, times change.)
End braindump! Hit post button! Not sure when I will post next.