Monday, 13 October: Let the meetings begin
Monday morning, the meetings began in earnest. I walked up to the venue with David, pulling behind me my rolling computer case with computer and bottles of water, and parked in the lobby outside the meeting rooms to write. We weren't sure what the lunch-time arrangements were and whether guests (like me) were invited. Lunch turned out to be served in the fancier of the hotel's two restaurants, which was closed to other diners for the occasion, and admission was by little dated chits that came with David's registration packet, which they were collecting at the door. David reported later that the lunch was an elaborate buffet, but on that occasion, I waved cheerfully goodbye and headed back to our hotel to try something from their menu that David wouldn't consider.
I had planned to try the sweet-and-sour whole fried fish, but I was seduced away from that idea by the prospect of roasted eel. They actually had the live eel in a tank (which he shared with a six-inch-diameter turtle) just inside the front door. I was warned that the dish involved a half-hour wait, but I had time, and in fact the finished dish, garnished (as were most things) with an orchid, was on the table in under 20 minutes.
The slices of eel were coated with a sticky salty glaze, and I was a little disappointed in them. I'm usually very fond of eel, but the flesh of this one was strangely mushy and soft (and I noticed that no one from the kitchen came out to visit the fish tanks after I ordered). I was offered a fork, but I resolutely tackled it with chopsticks and managed to eat about two-thirds—it was a very large eel. The flesh came away from the bone easily, so that wasn't a problem, but the tough leathery skin was difficult to deal with, especially on the slices where it formed a complete ring (I admit I had to do a little work with a chopstick in each hand; I hope nobody was watching). I ate some of the skin—it was quite chewy but tasty— but as it became clear I wasn't going to be able to finish the whole thing, I concentrated on the meat.
As I suspected, when I left the restaurant, the sole live eel was still present and accounted for in the tank with the turtle, so clearly some of the live seafood is only there for show. When people ordered invertebrates, though, you often saw the chef come out of the kitchen with a bucket and collect them from the trays one display.
After spending some time in my room watching the beach through binoculars—something interesting was always going on—I went back up to the Huang Hai to wait for the day's sessions to be over so that David and I could decide what to do about dinner. As I sat outside the meeting room with my Kindle, in an alcove equipped with two overstuffed chairs, a nervous grad student from Hobart, Tasmania, sat down in the other chair and asked whether I would mind listening and making suggestions while she ran through her paper (to be presented the next day). I was happy to do so, and she was delighted to hear that I was a professional editor! We spent a productive hour over her computer, while she told me about her research and I interrupted periodically with ways to make the presentation clearer or to make her slides easier to read. She was pleased with the changes, and I was glad to find that she knew her English grammar and could tell what I meant right away when I suggested structural changes to her sentences. I gave her my free-lance business card, and she promised to be in touch. She plans to publish six papers in the foreseeable future and thinks that her advisor would be willing to hire me to edit them. You never know when potential business is going to fall from the sky!
While we were engrossed the meeting broke up and David got past me. The big question was whether we would attend the welcome dinner (held at our hotel, the Huiquan Dynasty) or go find dinner on our own. I reasoned that if he couldn't find me, he would head back to our hotel anyway, so I walked over with a group of the grad-student volunteers, who were on duty to guide participants the few blocks to the dinner. In addition, at each turn along the way, a volunteer was posted with a clever self-illuminated sign. Each sign seemed to consist of two sheets of glass or plex and a built-in black light. One wrote directions and an arrow on a sheet of paper in fluorescent pen, then sandwiched the paper between the the sheets of glass, where the black light made the writing glow in the dark! Sure enough, back at the hotel, on my way to drop my computer and coat in the room, I ran into David in the hallway. He decided against the dinner, so we went back to the Qingdao restaurant.
This time, we ordered deep-fried shrimp with scallions (left, after we'd eaten a bunch of them) and "beef with green peppers. The former was just what the title said: perfectly good shrimp coated with a batter laced with chopped scallions and fried. No sauce. Good but not exciting.
The beef, on the other hand, was outstanding! The "green peppers" turned out to be one- to two-inch cross sections of long, skinny hot chiles, deep fried before being added to the dish, and the beef was coated with an excellent sauce. The peppers were just on the edge of being too hot for us, but they had a wonderful flavor, and we ate most of them (after scraping the seeds out of the seedier ones, to make them milder). Excellent!
We finished up with another round of the fried yams in syrup.
David ordered the same local red wine he'd had two nights before and that he wishes he could find in Tallahassee.
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