Lanzhou, 2012

One more sleepless night, 450 miles, and 10+ hours later, and our train strolled its way into the Lanzhou Station. Lanzhou “兰州” is the largest city and the capital of Gansu province. The Yellow River cuts straight through the heart of this city, which is also a key transportation hub that connects the eastern and western parts of China together. It also has some of the worst pollution; Lanzhou is sandwiched between the Lanshan mountains, which literally stand side-by-side with the city, and probably 60% of the time the smog is so heavy and dense you can’t see the Lanshan mountains. Yay for lung cancer!

Our itinerary included visiting the Mother River of China, aka the Yellow River, the Lanzhou Waterwheel Garden, the Gansu Provincial Museum, Zhongshan Bridge, and go on a river cruise.

The Mother River statue is kind of a big deal there. I think because of the ambiguous sex of the baby. Is it a boy? Is it a girl? No one knows! We headed afterwards to the Water Wheel Gardens, which was actually only a 10-15 minute walk away. The pig or lamb-skin balloon-things used as floating devices for boats were a little disturbing to look at, but more interesting than watching the wheels turn round and round. Watching fruit vendors carry their 70-pound baskets of fruit on one shoulder was admirable.

Then it was off to lunch! We were taken to one of the hottest restaurants in Lanzhou for some famous Lanzhou la mian “拉麵”, or hand-pulled noodles. The entire street was lined with cars of noodle patrons, so the most our bus driver could do was park in the street to let us all out before going off on an impossible search for parking. Thankfully we had reservations, because who knows how long we would’ve had to wait! Every table was already filled with hungry people bright and early at 11:30am. Coolest thing that happened in Lanzhou was watching the chef make noodles in our banquet room. Straight from floured hands to our noodle bowls. Awesome.

There are 7 main types of hand-pulled noodles (not that I remember them all, but I’ll do my best). Thin, flat ones–the ones we ate. Super thin, cylindrical ones. Thick, flat ones. Thick, cylindrical ones. Medium, flat ones. Medium, thick ones. Triangular noodles. In some ways, making noodles is like making taffy because you have to stretch it, slap it, and stretch it some more. 

On the left was our “配料” [pei liao], or the dishes to go with our noodles. Back to basics: eggplant, tofu, woodear, celery, eggs, and tomato. Yep. On the right is a glimpse of all the delicious sauces that you can choose to go with your noodles: sesame, Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil, soy and vinegar, beef broth…etc. I think I actually enjoyed the other dishes more than the hand-pulled noodles themselves, which just didn’t live up to my expectations. 😦

Bellies full, we shipped off to the Gansu Provincial Museum, which had a ton of beautiful ancient Chinese pottery. The exhibition pieces so fine and delicate! One of the most renowned pieces is the bronze-fired horse, but the only thing I remember about it is that there’s a very special red dot on the left buttock of the horse.

The full name for the horse is “Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow“, which is quite a mouthful. Its Chinese name is far more elegant: “马踏飞燕” [ma ta fei yian]. “” is horse. “” is to step. “” is to fly. “” is swallow. My favorite piece, though, is the blue lotus porcelain bowl. So hard to believe that was made a few thousand years ago–and that it’s in near perfect condition, considering how fragile it is!

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