Settling In and Icy Showers

Moving in on Friday night was…well, ridiculous. I came home from my teaching interview (during which I gave a twenty minute teaching demo to one little girl as the entire Chinese staff of about 15 stood in the doorway watching. Apparently my teaching style is by the book and very patient, and they wanted me to start teaching that evening. I told them I was moving and couldn’t, they offered to send people over to help.) and started to pack up. We didn’t have any boxes, so Bambi and I decided to just make several trips with our suitcases. I also ran down to the nearest China Construction Bank so I could get the last bit of cash needed to pay the rent. Along the way I saw a man selling skinned frogs from a plastic bag on the sidewalk. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t balk at eating frog or other unusual meats, but why would you buy a pre-skinned frog from a man who doesn’t even have a cart, he just has a plastic bag on the Beijing street.

Bambi was out to dinner with some Frisbee players, and I received this text “hey there’s going to be a bearded guy sitting on the front steps drinking beer. that’s my friend, let him in he’s going to help pack.”
So I opened the door and let the bearded drinking boy into the apartment and we found ourselves completely puzzled as to how best to safely pack wineglasses and kitchen ware in suitcases with a minimal amount of cushioning. More Frisbee guys came over later, but they mostly sat around drinking with Bambi’s roommate and laughing at us trying to pack.

Saturday was a bit stressful as I had to give three back to back teaching demos that I hadn’t really prepared anything for, but I seemed to do alright, as I now have several one on one classes to teach.

I came home around noon after the demos and cleaned for seven hours. The tiles in the kitchen changed color-I was basically wiping mud off the walls. I scrubbed and soaked and sprayed and sanitized and mopped on my hands and knees, I went through three rolls of paper towels, half a bottle of Windex and a full bottle of kitchen cleaner spray, and that was only for my bedroom and the kitchen.
Just before eight, I got a call to tell me to come to Baoyuan Jiaoziwu, if I was interested. Dumplings and beer? After seven hours of inhaling kitchen fumes and not eating, I very enthusiastically tottered out the door in haste to find a cab. So many dishes-more crack dumplings, filled with that crispy rice, and something we accidentally ordered, three colored tie-dye dumplings. Very tasty. We also discovered a quite decent wine bar, Inoterra, in Sanlitun, with surprisingly good and more surprisingly affordable, red wines. The evening’s highlight may have been discussing whether the very young, fairly good looking girl with the very strange, unattractive, much older man with inappropriate PDA at the table next to us was a hooker or not.

"Crack" dumplings with crispy rice filling

Tie Dye Dumplings

Sunday I got up early only to have my class canceled, so more cleaning, and I bought all the bedding stuff I needed, with the help of one of the workers who made sure I had the right size and one that wasn’t expensive and had me use her membership card to get a discount. I couldn’t get a cab, so I took the subway home (picture a tiny little person fighting rush hour subway carrying two pillows, a box set of sheets and a big comforter), and then, all flustered and running late, grabbed a cab to Nanluoguxiang to work at this restaurant.

It’s more of a private kitchen than a restaurant, I should say, with two big tables right there, open for private parties. The owner wrote a book about her experiences learning to cook in China, and then opened this place with her mentor and another chef. Chairman, her mentor, is this adorable, little old Chinese lady who knows about five things in English. “Thank you, it was delicious, we loved it, come again soon!” But she’s an excellent chef and it was great to watch her cook and ask her questions in really bad Chinese and learn new words. Also, the eating. So amazing. Since I was technically working, I didn’t take any pictures, but the food was delicious. First of all, family meal before the patrons come, a simple chicken and potato stew over rice. Tender, hot and filling.
When the guests arrived, they were served an extensive set menu. Chairman and Dice, the girl through whom I found this opportunity, put a bite or two of each dish aside for me to try. First, fried wheat gluten with mushrooms and black flower fungus, then a spicy leek, mushroom and coriander stir fry, and pork and pumpkin 锅贴 pan fried dumplings. These were really amazing, crispy skin and juicy filling, not to oily with a great consistency. After that there was hong shao (soy sauce braised) eggplant, hongshao pork belly (I love 五花肉), black pepper beef, snow peas with cured pork (basically bacon), and wok fried bamboo shoots. Chairman explained to me that the bamboo she was using is called 冬笋, since it’s harvested in the winter, and even though its the same plant in the spring, it’s longer and called by a different name in other seasons. Dice made a gongbao chicken with so many chilies, she had to take the pan outside to throw them in the hot oil, and when she came back inside, we all started coughing from the spiciness in the air.
Dessert was really the best, caramelized deep fried sweet potato with toasted black sesame and bourbon vanilla ice cream. Good ice cream is really hard to find, and this was fresh, homemade. I could have eaten a whole tub. Dice and I ate a whole bunch of left over food and more ice cream before I went home.

My whole body ached from standing for three hours, and all I wanted was a glass of wine, a long shower, and bed. I had my wine, but ended up helping move furniture and cleaning some more, and then, joy of joys, discovering how ridiculous our water heater is. There’s a little box in the kitchen and when you turn on the water, you can see little flames roaring to life, and you can try and fiddle with the dials, but whatever we did resulted in one thing and one thing only. The water would gradually warm up to a proper temperature, at which point I cautiously got into the shower, and then it would intermittently spike from scalding hot to icy cold with no happy medium. Unpleasant. The landlord has come to fix it so hopefully I’ll be able to not fear my next bathing experience. I was able to sleep well, however, despite a typically hard bed, now equipped with two pillows and a warm comforter, but the whole set is very, very pastel yellow. So much yellow.

Robot likes the bed but disapproves of how yellow everything is

I interviewed with another English school, right next door to the other one, which is very convenient. The rest of the afternoon was stressful and super annoying. School A had scheduled a lesson at 2 and a lesson at 3, and then canceled the lesson at 2. I asked, to be sure, if both of them were canceled or just the one at two. Yes, yes, no lessons today, both canceled. I got off the bus and went back inside and settled down for lunch. And then of course at three o’clock I get a phone call wondering where I am, so I run out the door, forgetting a sweater or scarf or even gloves, try in vain to flag down a cab, no buses in sight, run in down the road, holding my arm out for a cab, run far enough to hit the next bus stop, and get stuck in traffic. I was supposed to be back at home at 4 to wait for the internet maintenance man, but no luck. My lesson didn’t even start until 4, and then waiting for a bus at five o’clock right at rush hour? Ridiculous. What should be an 8-10 minute bus ride, 4 kilometers, takes 30-45 minutes, depending on how long you stand there waiting for a bus. It’s so frustrating, I’m giving serious consideration to getting a cheap bike. You can tell this is a bad commute for two reasons 1) biking in Beijing is dangerous and traffic is terrifying and 2) I don’t even bike at home in the nice quiet suburbs.

After this long afternoon of standing in buses sitting in traffic, I at least had a relaxing evening. I went out to dinner with Jersey, another Frisbee boy (I swear that team is like a cult). We went for Thai food at this place called Purple Haze on Dongsi Sitiao. We were the only table that night, and in a pretty big space that they have trouble heating, the waitress brought over a big, boxy, gas heater that looked fresh from the 1950’s and also looked as if an explosion might be imminent. Apparently the owner has another restaurant elsewhere that does very well, so he can run this place as he feels like it, and has live jazz on Wednesday nights. The food was pretty good, standard Thai, which I am a big fan of, we ordered shrimp spring rolls and Massaman curry, and a beef dish that was sub-par. Prices were cheap if you’re going by an American standard and high for Beijing scale (you can’t beat a meal for 10 kuai) with dishes ranging from 50s to 100s. I’ll go again, when i start craving Thai, but probably save it for more special occasions.

The Creepiest Heater

Today I started stocking my pantry. Went to the local Wumart and bought the requisite rice cooker-Bambi asked me why we couldn’t just cook rice in a pot. Excuse me? I had never even cooked rice in a pot until last year. My family and my house and wherever I live will always, always have a rice cooker. It’s just so convenient, and you can steam things in it, and here you can get one for US$12. Then I moved on to food products. I know I should be more familiar with my Asian sauces, but back at home there really isn’t a big variety of soy sauce. Light, Dark, and Low Sodium, even in some of the Asian supermarkets I haven’t seen much of a selection. Here, well, here there is Longfei and Beijing and Huangdou and Special Brew and Pure Brew and Old and Sweet and Preserved and Fermented and Noodle and Fish specific soy sauces. A whole supermarket aisle and a half dedicated just to soy sauce. I had no idea what to do! I spent ten minutes walking up and down the aisle, and then walked away to find other stuff, came back, made a few noises of frustration, and then asked a lady picking out her own bottle if she could tell me what kind was just regular, use every day to cook with soy sauce, what made all the bottles different. I’m not sure I said any of it correctly, since she told me not to go by price, because the higher price doesn’t mean its better, but use this kind this is what she uses. She was really nice, and seeing all the kitchen and cleaning stuff in my cart, also offered to let me use her discount membership card when I got in line. There must be some kind of deal with points or something, because why are so many strangers being so nice?


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