16 April 2019

Telefonata al Comune di Roma

Oggi ho chiamato il numero 060606, Comune di Roma, per avere alcune informazioni.

-Buongiorno qui il comune di Roma sono Daniela come posso aiutarla?

-Salve, sono proprietario di un appartamento a Roma ma risiedo all'estero, vorrei verificare la situazione dei miei pagamenti per la Tarsu [tassa per raccolta rifiuti].

-Non spetta a noi, posso passare la pratica al collega dell'AMA [azienda nettezza urbana capitolina] che la richiamerà entro dieci giorni lavorativi.

-OK il mio numero è 0044....

-Ah però non possiamo chiamare l'estero. Non ha un numero italiano?

-No, anche perché siamo in Europa e non c'è più roaming. OK allora chiamo io, mi dica chi chiamare, anche perché vorrei avere le informazioni più rapidamente di dieci giorni lavorativi.

-No non si può, dobbiamo chiamare noi anzi devono chiamare loro dell'AMA, ma non un numero all'estero, altrimenti deve venire allo sportello.

-Posso contattare l'addetto per email?

-No non si può, non siamo abilitati alla corrispondenza email dall'estero.

-Ma io ho un indirizzo Gmail, che differenza fa estero o no?

-No guardi se lei è all'estero le consiglio di andare allo sportello oppure mandare una persona di cui si fida.

-Ah dunque quelli che vivono a Roma li contattate per telefono o email, quelli che vivono all'estero devono prendere l'aereo e venire di persona. Va bene mi arrendo.

-Buona giornata, grazie per avere chiamato il comune di Roma siamo sempre a sua disposizione se ha bisogno di ulteriori informazioni ci chiami pure.

27 February 2019

Back to Hong Kong

Breakfast with dumplings by Ouyang's wife, he brought them to us yesterday when he visited. Very thin envelope, more like northern China style than the thicker southern Chinese kind.

He is a very traditional Chinese man even though he is only in his forties. He said he got her daughter a job in Chenzhou as a kindergarten teacher but does not want her to go and live far away or have a career. He gives her some extra money each year to compensate for what she's missing. Despite his young age, he has already planned to bequeath some money to his two daughters but all real estate properties to his only son.

Ready to go back to Europe, but first one last espresso in China. Mi three=year-old niece learned how to operate my Nespresso machine a few days ago and now every time I say out loud I want a cup of coffee she wants to do it!

My niece makes me coffee!
We leave at 7.30 with a Didi car my wife booked night before. It is rush hour so it takes a bit of time to get out of the town. On the way, we meet a funeral procession on the road. Four people are carrying the coffin on shoulders. A long line of mourners follows them and they all wear white cloth on their head. Musicians play trumpets and cymbals. I am curious and interested in the ceremony, though we do not have time to stop and look. Lifang, however, is not amused, she does not like to talk about anything that has to do with death or accidents in the morning, especially early morning, at the start of the day.

On the road to the airport, lots of little street hawkers sell hot dumplings to cars on their way to work in Chenzhou. Maybe commuters or just people going for shopping or business to the big town. Big pots and steam coming out are quite inviting but we just had a substantial breakfast and decide not to stop.

Another fast train to Hong Kong. Lots of people at the station, but fairly disciplined this time, no one is cutting the line, or almost no one.

On the train, I can't help chuckling every time I see, over and over again, this promotional tourist video with a chubby doll in a red dress showing her enthusiasm for the major Chinese tourist sites.

26 February 2019

Carbonara in China

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Easy day at home, packing and playing with my niece. She loves to play hide and seek and can do it nonstop for as long as it takes to exhaust me!

Dinner with family, mostly food from my in-laws' farm, pickles, bamboo shoots, dried fish. Mother-in-law has set aside two large bags of the addictive peanuts they grow to take back to Europe.

Tonight I used what was left of my guanciale to make some carbonara, thus taking my culinary proselytism one step forward from the gricia of the other day! My first time eating carbonara with chopsticks!

Again they loved it beyond expectations, much to my satisfaction. We even rang the bell at the neighbors and gave them some. Ayi (the auntie) later came over to thank and to say they had eaten it and appreciated it a lot! She looked sincere!

At night we go out for a little walk and my wife has a facial massage from a little shop inside the supermarket from which she bought some aloe vera cream. I found a massage machine: a large and supremely comfortable armchair with all kinds of moving parts inside which massage my whole body, from the neck down. However, it was necessary to have a special store card to use it and we did not have one. So my wife's masseuse kindly agreed to use hers for a 25-minute session, I think it was 15 Rmb and we had to insist to reimburse her!

Later at home chat with the neighbors, as well as catching my niece who continues to hide behind the curtains until I catch her! While we are doing this, the tv is always on in the background. Quite often my father-in-law put on serials about the war with Japan. There are quite surreal features. All the actors are very beautiful, without exception, also the hated Japanese. They all wear lots of makeup, and all the men sport perfect shaves. I doubt anyone was so presentable in the heat of war.

25 February 2019

Pasta alla gricia and espresso

The highlight of this day is dinner with relatives who came over to visit.

I cooked "pasta alla gricia" with guanciale from Lubriano kindly gifted to us by friends Jacopo and Luciana who came to China with us.

I only cooked 300 grams of spaghetti even though there are eight of us because lots of food was already cooked, and che Chinese like to have a little bit of many dishes at every meal.

I was slightly concerned at first. Despite the fact that pork fat is a familiar taste in China, its combination with Italian spaghetti is new for them and my friends and family are not always very curious to try new foods and flavors they are not familiar with. I slightly over-cooked the pasta, a couple of minutes over my usual al dente texture to make it easier for them, as Chinese noodles are always on the soft side compared to their Italian counterparts. I also avoided adding cheese, though the recipe would call for pecorino romano.

Amazingly, the gricia went down well, it was all finished in 5 minutes! And we used the traditional Chinese chopsticks of course, no forks or table knives in this home!

I then decided to push my luck and offered everyone coffee. I have a Nespresso machine here which I took with me from Europe. I actually tried this before, but my in-laws never liked my nespresso, they said it smelled and tasted like something burnt.

The other relatives and friends loved it though it may be in part because I offered to add a little bit of sugar. Even the little kids wanted it, and I gave them some decaf with brown sugar!








24 February 2019

Guiyang dining tables

As I walk to run some errands I notice several shops selling a unique piece of furnishing I have seen nowhere else. Heated coffee/dining tables which my family tells me are typical for Chenzhou/Guiyang, with whole shops devoted entirely to different models of the same: a sturdy table, higher than a coffee table but lower than a normal dining table, with a large central support and a thick flat base that hosts an electric heating unit.

People gather around on their sofas or stools and eat while keeping warm. An oversize table cloth/blanket is placed on top and falls on the diners' laps all around, trapping the heat inside and keeping everyone warm. ot at least the lower half of everyone. Prices range from less than 900 to over 5000 Rmb.

Today dinner at aunty's, they just bought a sparkling new apartment in a large complex just opposite ours. It is a building we visit often, as it hosts both the best supermarket in the neighborhood and our massage parlor.

The building is relatively new but for some reason the elevators were never properly finished so they look a bit like cargo lifts. Nonetheless the one we take is on the outer side of the building and has glass walls, so it's pleasant to have a view of the urban setting as we make our way up. I am always puzzled at how all the windows of all floors are heavily protected with metal bars. Usually I have seen that, in many countries, at the top floors, where thieves could get in from the terrace or roof, or at the bottom floors, more accessible to ill-intentioned strangers from the street. But here it is almost universal practice.

Some teenage kids smoke in the elevator as we walk inside, although it is obviously not allowed to do so. They calmly kill their cigarettes when they are done and leave the stub on the floor of the lift. When I look at them with obvious disapproval they tell my wife... he looks like a foreigner!

We sit around her heated table and chat about life in Guiyang, she says there is no theatre in Guiyang no concert hall, no entertainment really. We are not there yet. But I am sure we will get there: the money is flowing and the curiosity for new things is already palpable.

22 February 2019

back to Guiyang's market n.2

Back to my favorite town market, simply called Market n.2. Except I can't really go "back" to it, because since the last time I was here last September they moved it! Even my wife does not know where it is so we need mother-in-law's guidance to lead us there, though it is only a few hundred meters away. But it is inside a large building complex, it takes a whole block and it would not be easy to find.

The new market is much better than the old one, for one thing, it is a proper building with a tiled floor and a rainproof roof, unlike the messy jumble of stands on mud floor like the old one. The old one was more fun to watch though!

Shops for live animals are clustered together, along the same street. On one side of the market they sell fish (alive from styrofoam boxes, as usual here) and on the opposite side of the block, it is poultry, also alive.

I buy some pig ears. I like the texture of the cartilage and enveloping skin, especially as my mother-in-law cooks it with her signature home make chili-garlic-ginger spicy sauce.

In the afternoon it is massage and herbal bath time. My wife and I take our two friends who are visiting from Italy to try the Chinese technique. One hour is filled with three sessions of massage, body, legs, and arms, alternating with sessions in a wooden tub for a hot bath of herbal infusions. The massage takes place in a warm room with gentle music in the background. Single or double rooms depending on clients’ needs.

For our two friends, they only had two single rooms and only one of the rooms had a shower. The masseuses did not speak any English, so with the help of a phone translator my lady friend's masseuse, at the end of the session, wanted to tell her if she wanted to rinse in her husband's shower. Except she said: "I want to take a shower with your husband!" Haha.

21 February 2019

Supermarket and TV series

I am pleased to see Italian durum wheat pasta of an unknown (to me) brand called "Sicilia" in the supermarket but no other Italian products. Not many foreign products at all actually. There used to be a few last year. In fact, there was a whole stack of shelves with pasta, olive oil, vinegar, and also lots of wines.

Every time I come here I get a kick out of seeing the live fish in the aquarium waiting to be hauled out with a net and knocked dead with a wooden stick before being weighed by the fishmonger. Weighed but not cleaned as the Chinese like to eat the skin as well as the guts of the fish, which by the way are delicious, silly of us to throw it all away.

Ground floor kids space all kinds of games and entertainment. You buy a card and top it up, then tap every time you play a game until you run out of credit. Our niece Cindy is very fond of this and whenever we are here she can't wait to drag us to the games.

An evening watching TV at home. There is a singing contest on CCTV (China state TV) with many Taiwanese singers. I suppose that is a good way to improve relations across the Taiwan straits.

Later on, there is one of many war series with Chinese soldiers killing many Japanese during the war of the 1930s. The subject touches raw nerves in China even eighty years later. Many Chinese soldiers are very pretty and immaculately manicured girls, but no less brutal fighters!


27 December 2018

My latest book: Beyond the Wall, available on all Amazon sites.


My latest book:

Beyond the Wall:

Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle

Beyond the Iron Curtain



has just been published and is available on all Amazon sites.



Description:

1980: the Cold War between capitalist West and socialist East is in full swing. Tensions are high but, at the academic level, some channels of useful exchange remain open. The author and two classmates would join one such program linking a leading American university and its counterpart in Poland. They drive to Warsaw in a bright yellow VW Beetle and, in addition to attending classes, travel far and wide within the country as well as to several of the neighbors in the socialist bloc where the Soviet Union called all the shots. They drive across the USSR and visit the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the division of Europe. Throughout, Marco takes detailed notes of what they see and hear.

Almost four decades later, the East-West division of Europe is gone. Marco recently found his diary and decided to publish an expanded version of it. His written notes from 1980 have been enriched with descriptions and analyses of historical events that will help the reader see his personal experience in a more significant cultural, social, political and economic context.

The author hopes this real life story will help younger generations, who did not live through the Cold War, better appreciate the blessing of living in a European continent that is immensely more open, rich and free than it was then.

01 October 2018

National day in Guiyang

Today it's China national day, the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. It is the beginning of one week of celebrations in the whole country.

We take a walk in the Culture Park. Lots of families, and quite a few children, many waving Chinese flags.

We have dinner with family and friends. The main curiosity of the day is pig intestine, at least for me, they are used to it of course. Also duck and melt-in-your-mouth breaded pork cutlets. To finish off the meat dishes, some frogs! Everything delicious!

The men are drinking considerable amounts of distilled alcohol, 4 of them share a bottle. O. empties the bottle into their 4 glasses and then they make various toasts and challenges to each other until it's all gone! (It does not take very long!)

O. says he wants his son to marry a girl who has an older brother so he can protect her. But he wants his daughters to marry men with older sisters who would then help their younger brothers set up their families. It is a bit convoluted but his reasoning has its own logic from a traditional point of view. Good luck! These days Chinese kids find their partners online and I doubt the gender of their siblings is an important part in their decisions.

30 September 2018

Massage and herbal bath

They opened a new massage parlor near home. It is the second branch of a company we tried last year. They offer a broad series of treatments, they sell beauty products and they complement it all with a herbal bath in a hot water tub.

It is located on 12th floor of an apartment building that includes lots of modern shops and, at the ground floor, one of the biggest supermarkets in town.

I am surprised to see this kind of service in a town at Guiyang's stage of development. Is it a sign of gentrification in the area?

The masseuses are all ladies, no masseurs. There are several rooms, each with one or two massage beds and, in an en-suite bathroom, a wooden tub. The tub is lined with a thin transparent film and filled with hot water. A bag of herbs is sunk into the water an hour or so before the treatment so as to diffuse its scent through the water and the whole bathroom.

Before the treatment they offer tea. The masseuses are mostly little skinny girls but they are very strong. They massage especially hard massage at the base of my skull, which is a bit painful but I can feel the muscles and joints enjoying it.

At the end I feel great my joints are smooth, my muscles relaxed and a big red area on my back, along my upper back, demonstrates the energy the little girl has put in her hands as they pressed and slid along my spine.

More tea is provided at the end of a blissful hour and a half of treatment.

As I leave my masseuse and two others escort me to the elevator, I thanked them and asked if they were hungry for lunch now and they nodded in unison, and wave goodbye.

The subscription for this parlor is 3988 Rmb for 20 treatments no expiration date. It is not cheap, actually very expensive for local salaries (about two months' wages of a waiter) but they are in business and expanding, and there are no tourists in the city, so the only explanation is that there is a growing middle class who is eager to use this kind of services!