Cooking Lesson

Today we had our long anticipated trip to the home of one of Jie-jie’s classmates. What an adventure! I am sure that I will be recounting bits and pieces, and posting pictures of the evening for some time but I will try to give the highlights here to begin working those memory synapses.

Our friend, Huang Xiu Li, met us at our place at 3 p.m. This morning, in addition to a grocery run we stopped for a tremendous basket of fruit. Jason asked the sales clerks to pick the best fruit for us. Naturally, they headed straight for the more expensive import section, and loaded the basket with Washington apples, Florida oranges, star fruit, dragon fruit, and one huge palmelo in the center. The tied it up in cellophane with a pink and gold ribbon. The basket was quite a production and cost more than 2 dinners out at our local restaurant. Fortunately, Huang Xiu Li has a bike seat on her bicycle because the gargantuan fruit basket needed a seat of its own.

Jason and I were understandably nervous about riding our bikes to her place since we usually only leave campus with bikes if we are going to ride on the car-less riverfront promenade. However, we decided we were all in and set off. We left the west gate of campus and headed east on Xingang Road – a very busy street (4 lanes in each direction) loaded with buses, motorized rickshaws, pedestrians (because the sidewalk is all torn up), etc. I breathed a sigh of relief when we turned off Xingang after only a block, expecting a more relaxing ride the rest of the way. I was sorely mistaken, not 1/2 a block after our turn off, we found ourselves in the midst of an old Chinese neighborhood – winding streets teeming with pedestrians, roaming dogs, children playing, honking cars, ringing bicycle bells, food carts, and music blasting from the stores on the first floors of all the buildings lining the street. I loved it and can’t wait to go again – it was a bit treacherous but really not that much since no one could move quickly enough to cause any real damage. We rarely exceeded the pace of the average pedestrian. First we wound around to the left, and then to the right, and then to the left again, and then I lost the rest of the group because I got caught in a bit of a scrum between a truck, some pedestrians, and a moped all trying to squeeze past a parked van on a street barely wide enough for one car let alone two. Instead of pushing through like everyone else I recognized my inferior traffic negotiating ability and waited the whole thing out. Once it all cleared, I began riding again but I missed the turn so we had to go around the block (a u-turn is really out of the question). Then we arrived at their apartment building. We parked the bikes in the basement where you pay someone to make sure they are not stolen, and climbed the 7 flights of stairs up to their apartment.

The apartment was very nicely furnished – dark ornately carved wooden furniture, lots of altars with statues of Buddhas and pictures of deceased loved ones. They had incense holders in each room – even above the gas burners in the kitchen. The TV was in a place of honor and on the entire evening. At first there was a cheesy Chinese comedy flick that I would date to the mid-90s. After that it was a re-telling of a traditional story set during the Qing dynasty. All the inhabitants were present – Grandma (mother of husband), husband, Huang Xiu Li, and Hai. At one point husband’s big sister put in an appearance to use the phone but then dissapeared, so we suspect that she lives in the near vicinity. At first, Jason and I were asked to sit and were served tea and radish cake (a Guangdong speciality I very much enjoy). Shortly thereafter, I received my lesson in preparing Hong Dou Gao. It is very easy. I will post the recipe soon. After that, I was banished back to the sofa while Huang Xiu Li cleaned the kitchen. She soon invited me back to help prepare the dinner (she and I both love to cook, and I feel lucky to have a friend who is willing to depart with ceremony so that I may be in the kitchen). I learned how to make a variety of dishes that I can not currently remember how to say – hot peppers stuffed with a mixture of leeks, pork, and shrimp; tofu stuffed with the same meat;
Guangdong-style fried chicken; ginger beef Chinese brocolli; eggplant in the stone pot; and these scary-looking translucent shrimp/water bug-type things that I didn’t realize were animals until she held one out to me and I noticed it moving – a little unsettling. In addition, Huang Xiu Li made some mushrooms while I was tending the kids. It was quite a feast and I dutifully tried everything except the shrimp-type-critters although Huang Xiu Li is very observant and has picked up on the fact that I do not like meat. They served some sweet local alcoholic beverage made from a berry – I think. Jason and I only sipped at our glasses, fully aware that we were going to have to repeat the bike ride, and in the dark this time.

Meanwhile, the kids were having fun playing with their friend and watching the television. They ate pretty well (and continuously) for the entire space of our visit.

We were not done cooking and eating until at least 8 p.m. Then we sat for a while, Huang Xiu Li joined us to chat while husband cleaned up a bit. I think Jason are I do pretty well communicating in Chinese when we work in tandem. I think my passive Chinese may be better (I think I pick up contextual meaning a little more quickly), while he is better able to speak and be understood. Huang Xiu Li wanted us to help her acquire some cortizone cream for her mother. We said we would see what we could do (ah, guanxi, gotta love it!). Then we made our departure. Jason said he hoped that there would be less traffic – it being already 9 p.m. He was wrong. Everyone was still out – I even saw the same dogs. The return trip would have been uneventful had not my right pedal snapped, and, then, just as we were entering the East Gate of campus, Jason put his front tire into a crack between the paving stones covering a gully – the wheel fell in all the way to the fork, but fortunately neither Jason nor Jie-jie was hurt. We parted ways with our host at the East Gate.

I will reciprocate with a dinner invitation soon. The trouble is that we have friends in town from Tuesday through the 25th of January. I wonder if it would be best for me to invite her tomorrow to come over this weekend and then reschedule a bit later in the week for a much later date?

Also, I couldn’t figure out the toilet. It was one of those all in one deals where the shower, sink, and (Asian) toilet are all in the same space with nothing to separate them. I assume the toilet acts as the drain for the shower. There was a red bucket with a red cup in it alongside the toilet, and there was no obvious pedal or button for flushing. I assumed that I needed to flush it manually with the water. There was also no trash receptacle for toilet paper so I flushed that down as well. I hope that I handled it correctly.

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This entry was posted in Culture Shock, Food, Friends, Interculturalism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cooking Lesson

  1. Meghan Conleu says:

    Andrea (and Jason, and family!),
    This is not particular to this post, but I want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog in general. I’ve always known you to be a thoughtful and intelligent bunch, but the introspection, insight, and humor here is off the charts. I’m traveling to India myself soon and hope that I can approach the experience with half the grace you reflect here.
    Cheers,
    Meghan

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