Sunday, February 26, 2017

Big Pictures of the Food

Alright, less than twenty-four hours, more like sixteen and I’m pretty clearly addicted.   Last we had dinner with friends.  We waited in the lower level of the northern Tai Koo Li plaza, outside of the restaurant, and after a not insignificant amount of time standing about, we were seated. I hadn’t thought to do this before, but once they suggested it was quite sensible:  “Order appetizers first.  Then, later we’ll order entrees.  Otherwise they’ll bring them all at once.”  How many times have I implored that all the dishes not be piled on to the table in one mad dash?  Take back control of the pacing. 

The food at “Let’s Seafood” was, as my friend suggested, “good, but with big pictures of the food.”  An attempt, it seemed to make ‘surf n’ turf’ accessible to Chinese, I was pleasantly surprised by the tastes which were an upgrade on the photos. Most of the dishes, while rich, were well prepared.   Our friends are peers but without children.  Accordingly they are infinitely more in tune with places to eat and venues for music.  “Do you remember the old ‘City Hotel’?  It’s now called “Chao.”

Chao had on some jazz.  It was a warm night for February.  I knew my wife wouldn’t want to walk far, but if the friends suggested it, she’d probably acquiesce.  Chao, like Let’s Seafood are both apparently the work of individuals from Hong Kong.  I thought about this, soaking in atmosphere, considering what was Hong Kong, and what was Beijing.   Is this what happened in New York in the 1880s when the people with “real” style from Europe, flooded the city with all its money, opening one top place after another?

We talked our way into good seats before a convincing band of swing style jazzmen.  Nothing like that full bodied stand-up bass to vibrate your chest cavity.  The rhythm guitar player sang English with a foreign accent, which I tried to pick out and the lead guitarist was quick and convincing moving from Wes Montgomery to Django Reinhardt with enviable ease.  They all looked dapper but I must say I wouldn’t want to have suit up like that to perform.  Alas, the band’s name is not listed anywhere I can find on line.   Y’all played well.  Thanks.

Ah, and it was sitting there, digging the tunes that my friend introduced me to Word Feud.  “Do you like Scrabble?” he asked, innocently enough.  “Sure.  I suppose.”  I downloaded the app and linked with him and got into a game.  Soon I was plotting tiles down and quickly noticed he was kicking my ass.  I added a word on the ride home.  He got a better on in shortly thereafter.  When I woke up this morning I noted he’d scored big with “bunty.”  Bunty?  I shared it with my younger one on the way over to the gym this morning.  She has now downloaded it as well and I am playing two games at once.  When I finish a paragraph, writing, I check my phone.  Has either of them made a move?  I’m considering inviting other people to play.  I really do have many other things to do.  It’s literary at least.  Sort of.  I suppose I could be shooting zombies. 

Sunday 02/26/17

Stayed Longer, Worked Harder

My younger daughter and I finished with the gym.  Its Saturday, so we stayed longer, worked harder than we are there early on weekday mornings.  On the way out we both felt good and sore.  Quietly I vowed to get up earlier in the morning, just ten minutes earlier would allow us to do so much more while we were there. 

On the way out I was on autopilot.  I turned left as we would any other morning and then we both realized we were not going in the direction we ought to, if we were hoping to get our jianbing.   I did a U-turn at the light and a left back at the next light.  My daughter took the ten renminbi note and went over to the jianbing carts.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, a Beijing breakfast staple is the jianbing guozi.  Woman usually, but not exclusively, roll up a three-wheeled cart with a skittle and buckets of toppings and wait at likely roadside corners for someone to come by.  First the batter is laid out on the hot skittle and a flat wooden stick is twirled around until a thin pancake solidifies, at which point they add an egg which is similarly spread thin to cook before a light, crunchy, fried layer is added, with scallions, sesame seeds and hot sauce.  

My daughter got the lady at the nearest cart going on her order and then a queue formed.  I looked back and she had moved on to the second car.  The lady was now serving someone else.  Had the lady ignored her?  I could see she that my daughter had one bing and that she was now talking to another lady.  I considered getting out of the car and inserting myself in to things.  But my daughter looked content and she was being served.  After twenty-five years I sometimes now have the self-discipline to resist assuming. 

In a moment my daughter was back in the car.  I asked her what had happened and she said the second lady, who was further back from the corner had complained that no one was visiting her cart.  My daughter had graciously spread the wealth and given the second lady a try for her second bing.  I asked her which one she wanted and she opted for the first lady’s effort.  I took the second, bit into it and and immediately praised mine as delicious.  We swapped and mine was, in fact a lot better, well wrapped, well presented.  My daughters’ looked sloppy as if the lady was in a rush to get on to the next delivery.   “I like yours better too.”    

Next time, we know.

Saturday, 02/25/27

A Bit Livid

I caught my younger one’s presentation this morning.   Though I’d put the request in for the family vehicle earlier in the day, coordination being what it was, I arrived about ten minutes late and missed the formal power point presentation of her photography.  But she whisked me into the other room and we had a look, regardless.  I particularly liked her tree.  And the picture of her older sister with her hair woven in heart shapes. 

The Mrs., who was kind enough to drop us off, was now summoned to pick the two of us up.  This had been discussed.  She suggested she was on the way.  We went outside and waited.  A good friend drove by.  “Would you like me to take you over to her place?” “No worries.  The Mrs. is on her way.”  We stood for a while longer.  “See.  This is what its like when you’re late.  You guys are always late.”  I called my wife back and it turns out she hadn’t yet departed.  Centered. Centered.  Breathing.

With that I told my younger one we were going for a walk down the road.  “Think of all the photo opportunities.”  Indeed there were.   Broken down walls, power station towers, newly erected project rows, queues for busses.  We snapped one thing and then another as we plodded long.  After a few photos I decided to try the wife another try.  No luck this time.  I’ll just wait till she gets to the school and then she’ll call me. 

Indeed, she did.  But just as I finished the last photo of buildings across the way, my battery drain had taken it all.  No power.  My daughter was a bit livid about this insisting we walk home right way.  This was clearly the most sensible thing and we did this, she eagerly, me reluctantly. 

Later when I was looking over our photos I noticed that the last photo I took, was actually of my wife speeding over in her telltale yellow jacket, behind the wheel.  Fortunately none of this mattered.  We had a nice meal and fell asleep watching Sherlock. 

Friday, 02/24/17

Just Know, I Never Did

Older friend.  Haven’t seen her in years.  I think the last time we were having lamb in Yinchun.  She looked great.  She has a stern confidence, earned through hardship and it feels well burnished, and appropriate, talking with her. 

She has a friend who is apparently a singer who also works with the police.  I am inclined to imagine the first lady.  Not Melania, but Liyuan.  Ms. Peng was a soldier and a singer though she hasn’t in years since she’s been a public figure.  This person also looked rather strong for her years.  Their friendship was an old one going back to a time in Lanzhou when they grew up together. 

And the topic, moved swiftly and I focused and followed along fairly well into what became a story, suddenly about the Cultural Revolution.  “The red guards came to our compound and shouted my father’s name:  down with Zhang, down with Zhang. I was sixteen.  I had to take care of myself.  He warned me if they said I committed suicide, just know, I never did.”

And I recalled how common such stories were and how close at hand that insanity felt in 1993 and how very far away it feels now, that everyone who has memories of that time is necessarily now at least fifty or so, rather than when it merely required an age of thirty to be cognizant of that dark time’s specter. 

Certainly these ladies spun the horror into a something, which made them stronger.  This can only be preferred to being overwhelmed by grief and doubt.  But why aren’t more contemporary young people fascinated with that time and what it really meant?  Something tells me it is still pending.

Thursday, 2/23/17

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Road Conditions Haven’t Improved

We got a few inches last night.  Up early to head to the gym I couldn’t tell just how much had fell, staring out the window, into the dark.  I turned on the car, turned up the heat and considered the covering.   What I needed was an ice scraper.  Any car in New York back home would necessarily have one.  But not here.  The wipers disperse the snow but not the ice.  I roll down both windows but frozen ice beads remain, obscuring any sight.  The heat will catch up with this covering but I need something quicker than that.  A magazine in the back seat gets me most of the way to clarity. 

Our compound roads have been cleared but at six-fifteen nothing whatsoever has been done to the roads outside.  It’s only a few inches of cover but it’s a slick pack now on the road and it is very slippery.  We have a perfectly reasonable Honda Odyssey, which does what its supposed most of the time.  But its useless in conditions like this.  The brakes lock easily.  I proceed at about twenty miles per hour. 

An hour later we leave the gym.  Road conditions haven’t improved.  I note to my younger one that when we were in Vermont over Christmas it snowed quite a bit more than this one night and the roads in a little country town were all plowed by morning.  A big bus speeds past me to the left, on the main road and I consider what would happen if he had to stop suddenly.   Signal right.  I approach the turn as a nonagenarian might at about seven miles per hour, allowing the three-wheeled cart to pass first.

Now, a few hours later I’ve just driven my wife along the same streets.  They’re all clear now.  It warmed up.  Everything’s melted.   Perhaps the city or the county here in Shunyi saved money by not hitting the streets early with a plow and a salter this morning.  Thirty years ago China would certainly have disregarded such things as bourgeoisie luxuries.  But how many accidents were there this morning, in this city of twenty million?  I hope there weren’t any deaths.  Where does “plowed roads” reside on the list of weile renmin fuwu – serve the people-services that the government wants to get to?  Certainly car owners are now a vast majority. 

Wednesday, 2/22/17