Monday, February 11, 2008

Back to Addis for Chinese New Year

Waiting for the flight, I chat with a bunch of people who are tallying up how many countries they’ve visited. One works for the UN, another an architect. Anyway, counting up, by my reckoning I’ve been to 59 countries!! Jordan will be number 60!!!! Woohoo!

On the plane I have Huang Si sitting next to me, a Chinese guy who is temporarily running a Chinese restaurant in Addis whilst his friend is back in China for Chinese New Year! He’s also the first Chinese guy I’ve ever met who finds black girls attractive, so well done! He invites me to the restaurant when I’m in Addis. In general it’s quite difficult communicating with him, as he has an incredibly thick Chinese accent when speaking English – he frequently ends up spelling words, or I go off an answer a totally different question to that which he asked! At Addis Airport, there’s no crowd waiting like there was when I first arrived. I try to change my flight in the Emirates office, but they send me to their office in town. First though I share a cab with the other faranji for 60 birr to the Itegue Taitu Hotel.

The taxi driver complains about the African Union conference which has now finished – no business for the taxis apparently, everyone drives round in limos. Also Chinese people never take taxis, they always walk.

Itegue Taitu Hotel was built by Empress Taitu in 1907. That is to say she built the lovely main building, which has rooms and looks like a Nepali palace out of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.

Unfortunately, these rooms, in addition to being priced according to their desirability, were all full. We headed to those in the back, in blocks given Prison style letters – I stayed in F Block. The rooms in these blocks, which I suspect may have been the Imperial stables, are very grotty and of a low standard. That’s why they’re priced between 63 and 88 birr, just near the Piazza in central Addis. You gets what yous pays for..

It’s not the sort of place to leave valuables in your room, so I head out with daypack and camera, intending to find the Emirates office. The chap in reception told me it would be shut, but I had hope, and so a short walk away I was in a combi buses, or taxi bus as they seem to be called here. 1 birr took me right down to in front of the shopping complex with a big Emirates sign outside. This was somewhat deceptive, as after 10 minutes of panicked running about the centre (it was just before 5pm), I found out the office was outside and behind the centre.

Inside, I’m pleased to find that Emirates will change my ticket without charge… I was bracing myself for the dilemma – how much do I pay to skip out early – at what point on the dollar scale do I decide to stay and head out to Harar for more churches? I’ve pencilled in 30-40$ as the threshold, but it wasn’t to be tested.. I’m leaving Africa on 10th February 2008! I should point out that I’m not skipping out of Ethiopia because I’ve had enough of the place, it’s more just a combination of monetary concerns plus to do anything more here means heading South, which is more than a couple of days sojourn. Incidentally Amman airport supposedly has a Starbucks. First ‘Bucks since HK Airport on October last year! Green Tea Frapp here we come, we’ve got lots of missed frapps to make up for!

Coming out on to the main road, I bump into Karina, the Argentine girl from Gonder, an amazing coincidence really – she’s flying off tomorrow. I’m looking for the Chinese restaurant that Huang Si invited me to. It’s near Global Hotel, a well-known landmark for which I get four different directions in as many minutes. Makes my usual policy of taking the average difficult. I hop in another minibus taxi to speed things up, as very nasty looking clouds with heavy rains are approaching fast. And before long, I’ve found it!

China-town Chinese Restaurant, near Global Hotel, on the 1st Floor of Beyokaraba Building, opposite Ministry of Revenue, to the left of Dashen Bank HQ as you come out, is not especially easy to find. Perhaps if I’d just taken a taxi it would have been less of a mission.

Anyway, inside, I say hello to everyone, and a minute later Huang Si pops up and greets me. We sit down and look over the menu as I nibble at salted peanuts with my chopsticks. Wow, you can use chopsticks! Yes, Chinese people are the same the world over in some ways!

I get to meet the chef, and after telling them how much I love Sichuan and spicy food, they agree a dinner plan for me. When they’re working out the fourth dish, I suggest that this might be too much food, but Huang Si explains that here I should forget my funny European concept of finishing all the food in front of you – the Chinese idea is there should always be some left. I start to wonder if I’ve overdone the “I love spicy thing” as I am presented with:

Devil Soup (hot and sour)
Bean Curd Sichuan Style (hot and tender)
Chicken Cubelets (stir-fried with chilli)
Fish Stylishly Served (sea fish from SA)

The soup comes first.

Goodness me, my eyes are watering and I have difficult clearing my throat. Janet, the waitress, asks me if the food is too spicy: Oh no, no (cough cough), it’s (cough) fine. I haven’t had anything like this since leaving Asia four months ago! Despite the pain, it’s delicious, and I hoover it up.

The Ma Po Tofu is the best dish, so tasty,

shortly followed by the fish, in aluminium foil and a delicious sauce. The chicken is nothing special, which is amusing as the chef explained to me beforehand that this was his speciality!

All washed down with copious quantities of jasmine tea, also nice to have after so long a break. By the end, I’m stuffed and there’s plenty left. The waitress asks me if I want to take out, but what would I do with it? No fridge to put it in. I decline. It’s not a cheap meal for Ethiopia – I think it comes to about 10 UK pounds, and by a stroke of fortune, I have just about this amount left over in Chinese money, which Huang Si accepts as payment!

Home with a minibus taxi, costing 1 birr 80, though I never get the 20 cents back from my 2 birr, and I’m sitting next to two chaps, one of whom has been chewing too much chat or started on the beers already, as we talk about the African Cup matches happening tonight, and he repeatedly asks me where I’m from. Each time I drop in a different nationality, which confuses him but he doesn’t object. We talk about the former colonial powers for the respective competitors tonight, and I point out that the whole world has been British at some point or another. Not here, the drunk chap proudly states!

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