It has long been one of my favorite foods. I mean, as a tiny human I would run around clamoring for my dad to throw on a couple pieces of lamb when he went on one of his grilling evenings, lamb filled shepherd’s pie is one of my winter specialties (and I can eat a whole casserole dish of it) and a perfectly cooked, tender lamb chop seasoned with just the right amount of salt, pepper, mint and garlic? Excuse me, I think I’m having a crisis.

The lamb in China seems very wasteful to me. They chop it up in such a horrible way, serving chunks of ribs, tiny pieces of meat overwhelmed by thick, chewy, glistening fat, and unedible tendons, and half the time it’s boiled. I rarely order lamb here.

But I’ve found a new favorite top 5 restaurant in China. Lamb leg. How have I not discovered this before? How have the boys been hiding this from me? Way back in March, when I went to Korea, apparently they had dinner with some friends and discovered this yangtui ingeniousness.

We sit outside, it’s hot and humid, like most days in Beijing. We are surrounded by raucous, heavenly drinking folk, one old man walks back and forth chest bared, a withered skinny thing. We order. We want some vegetables, but there’s no real menu, so Bambi braves the back kitchen to pick out what we want (remember, please, rule #1, don’t ever look into a Chinese kitchen). A small, short man, with preposterously ripped arms and a large scorpion tattoo comes over, wielding a lamb leg in each hand, asking us to choose. It goes on the fire, which is only about a yard away from our table. I try not to look up at the lanterns that were once red, but now covered in a grimy layer of soot and dust that sometimes drops spiderwebs down to the table.

Our lamb leg being delivered

After a short time our lamb leg, skewered and still roasting on a transportable bed of coals, is deposited on our table. We’re issued knives and small, two-pronged forks that are easily 18 inches long. Allie and I share a little laugh when I say “i’m stabbing it with my steely knives but we just can’t kill the beast” the reference is lost on the boys.

Long cutlery for attacking the beast

Om Nom Nom lamb

Stabbity stab hacking off little bits of juicy, soft melting meat. The first mouthful is hot, a little greasy, absolutely amazing. To make it better, three steel pots of seasoning–a little salt, red chili powder, and some powder that looks like a mix of cumin and something else. We sprinkle it on the edge of our plates and dab each bite size morsel we hew off. We wash it and the spicy cold vegetable accompaniments-julienne carrots, spicy cabbage, peanuts, edamame, celery and tofu skin-down with swigs of icy yanjing. Coals crackle and shift in the brazier. They bring out a dish of nan, and we toast that over the embers, and make the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Lamb and grilled nan. Heavenly.

Between the four of us, we decimated the leg. If there had been five of us, or we had ordered less sides, we should have gotten 2. Before the leg could fall apart completely from our combined efforts, the waitress took it and cut the rest for us, and we tore bits from the bones with our fingers. I felt like a hungry Mongol, tearing into such a primal meal and loved it. A smudge of soot on my cheek, hands coated with grease and red chili powder. Pleasantly full, almost too warm. It was an amazing evening. The hutong was lively with the restaurant patrons and neighbors wandering around. One woman was walking her dog, and the master of the fire asked us if we were done with our bones, and tossed them to fat little Fido. I think he was stunned with his good fortune–he looked at one bone and then the other and tried to eat one and then the other, his tail wagging furiously enough to wiggle the fat rolls at his hips.

We finished up the evening watching a friend’s band at a bar. What more can a girl want besides good food, good music and good company?


Robot Goes on an Almost Date. Someone Gets Engaged on 酒吧街.

Curses upon curses, my camera is broken. So any people who actually read this will have to deal with wordiness until I decide to do something about it.

It’s been an interesting week. A weekend full of seeing people, a girls’ night out at Enoterra for some tapas and free champagne, and I guess you could say I went on sort of a date. Maybe. If dates end up with me paying for dinner and an awkward side hug goodbye. We met at the China World Tower, and had a drink at Atmosphere, the bar on the 80th floor. Walking in, we realized how very incredibly swanky this place was and that we were probably not the more common clientele. A small bottle of qingdao was RMB 50, which is enough to buy like, 10 big bottles at a normal store. I nursed an Erdinger and at least appreciated the view of the city (slightly foggy, which was disappointing) and eventually we kind of agreed that this was neither of our scene…and went for a mini adventure into the side alleys of guomao and found a little hole in the wall chuanr restaurant. we sat outside in the alley at a wobbly table next to a a loud group of old chinese men in their ruched up wife beaters playing chinese drinking card games, eating a massive pile of lamb chuanr and shredded pork and spicy green pepper sandwiches, washing it down with almost icy cold yanjing, under the shadow of the massive building where we had so little ago been perched on leather couches with a live band crooning and a lit up dance floor and colored glass chandeliers. It’s one of those dichotomous experiences that are so common to China that I never really experience anywhere else. Sitting in the humid night, a fine sheen of sweat on the back of my neck, wearing an adorable polka dress and pearls, my finger tips greasy with cumin and seasoning, hoping I didn’t have and meat shreds stuck in my teeth. It started to drizzle and the laoban unearthed out a big tent to open over the patrons eating outside.

Work’s been very busy. Why am I so busy, you may ask. Robot, what did you do for work on Friday? well let me see…I spent twenty minutes individually stamping every third sheet in a receipt book for the tickets sales I’m in charge of. and yes, each one has to be officially stamped with a big red seal–the stamp is this heavy brass thing. first of all makes me feel like I work in a Chinese bank. second of all, reaffirms how ridiculous the whole official-red-stamp thing is for me, and the ridiculous of all the required paperwork in the Chinese system. We have to fill out a ticket form, stamp it as paid. Fill out a triplicate small receipt–give them one copy, give the accountant one copy, keep the third in the book, and do the same thing again if they pay with a credit card. In a week they have to bring back the stamped copy, which we take in return for the actual physical tickets, and the official invoice if they require it.

After a really awesome dinner at a colleague’s house with my roommates and some other random foreigner, we headed into Sanlitun. We found a table outside in the bar street and opted to sit and people watch for a little bit. And that is when I witnessed something that made my soul die a little bit.

We’re sitting there, and the whole street is crowded with laowai and their beers. It’s a hot night, not quite as humid as last Wednesday, not sit-there-sweating-hot, but it’s summer in Beijing. The alley smells like stale beer and piss and there’s an ill-concealed pile of broken glass behind us. This is where poor foreigners, international high school kids, and tourists who don’t know any better come to drink 10 kuai beers and fake alcohol, and beggars take their four and five year old children to guilt trip drunk people at 2 in the morning. And this skinny little man who’s been chain smoking his cigarette all night stands up on his table and starts to demand attention from everyone all around us. He started a little bit of a speech, and then proposed to his girlfriend, and she said yes.

Girl, there is nothing about your life that I envy if your man thinks proposing in a dirty alley surrounded by drunk white people is a good idea, if you think that accepting that is a good idea, and then to celebrate your engagement you go party at Smuggler’s.

I’m getting used to having free Saturdays. It’s just…relaxing. No frisbee to work around, just a whole day I can plan out. I thought vaguely about getting up early and getting a whole lot of errands done, but I caught up on some missing sleep instead. The boys and I headed over to Yashou around 1 to get new my glasses fixed (lenses needed to be replaced) and to pick up Bambi’s tailor made suit. The tailor shop made me ache for some custom made clothes of my own…I have a whole list of things I want, and I have to narrow down what I can afford and what I really need. I was productive enough to go to the dry cleaner and the vegetable market. And I realized I’ve been in China for a long time when I come away from a bargaining session thinking “wow, I could have held out and paid only $20 instead of $25 for my replacement prescription lenses, that’s too expensive” and “a kilogram of cherries is $2? That’s absurd!”

But my fridge is fully stocked now and after two weeks of being busy and going out to eat a lot and eating very unhealthily (did I eat mac’n’cheese and dry cereal for dinner one night? quite possibly) I’m ready for a cooking spree. On my list of things to make are the requisite bolognese and chicken stock as the reserves are empty, a whole big batch of pork and pumpkin dumplings to freeze, lasagna and beer braised pork belly in steam buns, and shredded beef tacos. But tonight…tonight we are going to eat 羊腿. Or lamb leg. Apparently, you are given a leg of lamb, and some steely knives and you get to carve it all up (or stabbity stab it) and eat it like Mongols. Om nom nom. I am excited.

The Mean Girl In Argyle Socks

China’s been blocking my internet connection since I came home last Tuesday, so a lot has happened.
First of all, there was a Frisbee tournament in Shanghai. Our A Team won (dominated) for the first time in 7 years and everyone is super thrilled and it was great to see people play some awesome games. Friday night we took a sleeper train down. It was so much better than the seater, although the cabins were a little small, so the boys ended putting these two giant bags of Frisbee gear on the end of my bed, since I’m so much shorter than them. I spent the night curled up not being able to straighten my legs.

Bambi’s dad was in town for business and sent a driver to pick us up. It was kind of delicious to be waiting in a whole big clump of Frisbee kids trying to flag down cabs, and then to have a shiny black BMW roll up and Bambi say “that’s our ride.” We explained to the driver that we were starving (it was 7 in the morning and no real dinner) so he tried to find us a McDonalds or something. I can only imagine this man’s thoughts, employed by a big fancy company, having to drive around 4 kids intent on finding fast food. The fields were in a far suburb in what seemed to be a poorer, less international/metropolitan part of Shanghai, so no American chains in sight. We eventually just told him to pull over at a noodle or jiaozi stand, we didn’t care, just needed food. People on the sidewalk were staring at this fancy car pulling up…and four tired eyed Frisbee-gear attired white kids roll out and hit the noodle shop.

I played on the B team (obviously) which was suffering from a dangerously short roster and inexperience. The games were a lot of fun, but the boys had to play savage for two games and the girls got more playtime than usual. It took the first game for me to be dubbed the Mean Girl in Argyle Socks (and Pigtails) as I was wearing knee high (I had to make a fashion statement) and apparently I’m a little competitive. I went with it though, if you’re going to call me mean, I might as well earn it.

Blurry D. I just slapped the frisbee out of the air.

We had a prom themed party. I am amazed at the intensity to which some of my teammates threw themselves into the theme. Custom made ridiculous suits (honestly, purple with matching top hat, scarlet velour jacket, a suit that I can only assume was made out of flower patterned curtain material), corsages for all, a photo booth backdrop, even a coordinated dance. It was a very fun party although I was wrestling with a few emotional issues: let me just say that Ginny is my new personal hero and sometimes I wish I was a complete robot or a complete human, and not a hybrid cyborg with faulty wiring and a few of the wrong chips.

We make this look good. Also, smiling is for squids.

Sunday was an interesting day of pain and my body being really, very upset with me for the muscle abuse of playing four games the day before and possibly drinking a wee bit much. During the very first game, I played one point—immediately getting nailed in the stomach with the Frisbee. But by the end of the day we even won a few games and I recovered.

After everything wrapped up with swag awarded and beer freely passed around, Bambi and I took a cab back to the center of Shanghai where he was staying for a few days for work, and I met up with a friend. I met him in Taiwan five years ago, this boy who I have ever only seen smiling and laughing, and is really one of the most cheerful people I know. It was great to see him, we went to a restaurant and ordered far too much Shanghai food—braised pork, cold tofu, rice wine chicken, kong qing cai (I don’t know the English name, but it’s a hollow green vegetable that’s similar to young spinach or peapod stems), and more that I can’t remember. I was so tired that I couldn’t eat much, and gratefully passed out on his couch early, as I had to leave for the airport at 6 am.

Hong Kong. Possibly the least exciting trip I will write about. My three months was up, needed to exit and reenter China, and a quick day trip was all I had time for. I had done zero research about Hong Kong, but had a small list of touristy things I could have done. I arrived at 11, took a cab because I didn’t have the energy to figure out train or bus, checked into my hotel, and took a nap. And went to the gym for a easy jog and a long stretch to ease the soreness and pain. And went to the pool. And went to the sauna. And took a long bubble bath and read a book. I thought about leaving the hotel but I didn’t have the energy, and I kind of just wanted to wallow for a little (I find that the treadmill and bathtub are great places for wallowing. The endorphins will kick in and make you cheerful, and who can be unhappy for long when you’re sitting in a tub of bubbles?).
Feeling relaxed and healthy and muscles actually not hating me as much as the morning, I decided to venture out. Apparently I was on Wanchai’s Bar Street (staying at the Wharney, I’m not sure I would recommend it, the hotel itself was fine but the people working there were all very rude and not helpful) so I wandered around. I wasn’t prepared for how crowded Wanchai feels, the buildings looming over the highway, narrow one lane streets, flashing billboards for all these clubs and bars and what I can only assume were hookers. It felt like the city would spill off the island at any moment. I finally settled on a small Thai restaurant that looked decent—my original thought was to find seafood or dimsum, but I passed the Thai place and haven’t eaten Thai in a while. I had a really good chicken pad see ew, a frosty Thai iced coffee (the first sip brought me back to Pho Hua in Chinatown), and mixed seafood Phalang curry. Delicious. I ate my dinner and people watched the other patrons—a strange and awkward couple, a florid faced older man and a Thai woman who might have been pretty if she didn’t have such a calculating look on her face, across from me going through exaggerated motions of eating and not saying a word to each other, a jowly British businessman, a sweet Asian couple holding hands over the table.

Having nothing to do after dinner and not really feeling like going back to the hotel quite yet, I walked around for a little bit and looked at some of the pubs, and chose one with a nautical theme. For a Monday night it was pretty full and I walked around to the back of the bar where I’d feel slightly less inconspicuous, and ordered a Jameson.

Here’s what happens when you’re a girl and you go out on a Monday night and start drinking whiskey by yourself. The three Filipino bartenders will feel sorry for you, start chatting you up, and decide that you need to do shots. They will proceed to insist you do one or two Jaeger bombs with them. Then, when you haven’t made up your mind about getting a beer or not, they’ll give you a taste test of all the beers they have on tap, and then give you a pint of the one you like best. When you realize it’s a Monday night and all you want to do is go home and sleep in a soft hotel bed after sleeping on the ground in a tent and on a couch for the weekend, you’ll thank them and offer your hand for a handshake and instead the chattiest of them will kiss your hand and slip you his number.

I went back home and curled up in bed and went online. Ginny wanted to know why I was in bed and not taking advantage of more free shots, and Bambi wonder why the hell I went out drinking on a Monday night.

A leisurely morning—room service breakfast, another bubble bath, then an adventure finding the airport shuttle. I wish I had had more time and energy to explore Hong Kong because it looks so beautiful and the weather was sunny and fantastic, but home I went, gray Beijing pollution fog greeting me at the airport, and the moment I got to my apartment, the skies opened up and a fantastic lightning storm started.

I was judged so hard on Thursday. I went to Jenny Lou’s, bought two bottles of sauv blanc, a bottle of red and a bottle of Jameson for the boys, two boxes of cereal and mac n cheese (for the boys). The subway security lady did a double take of the alcohol, asked me how much I was carrying, and what kind could I possibly be drinking so much of, and made all her security friends look at my bag. Got to Allie’s and we had a lovely dinner that she cooked and watched a few episodes of this British show that I’m now obsessed with, Misfits.

Tairyo Teppanyaki and a Dragon Boat Picnic

A long, busy week and a half, I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone write anything. The end of last week was also a long, slow, miserable crawl back to feeling somewhat healthy.

On Friday, I met up with Cera after a blissfully cut short tutoring session (the mom was worried I’d get her son sick) and we headed to Yashou to buy a Longchamp purse for me (dark green, 40 kuai, I decided it was about time I stopped using my Korean cat-face bag at work, it’s not the most professional thing), a pair of earrings for Cera, and to find a curling iron for Bambi’s visiting mom. We made our way to Tairyo, a teppanyaki restaurant that the other interns have been talking up forever, for farewell dinner.

So the best thing to do is order a set menu, that is, you pay 178 RMB per person, and then get as much as you can eat and drink. And then you try and get your money’s worth.
It was a really great dinner. We started with warm sake and a grilled fish. It was flaky and moist and flavorful with miso and soy and butter. They brought platters of sushi as well. Icy, silk soft tuna and yellow tail and salmon. Grilled shrimp. Bundles of enoki mushrooms wrapped in beef. Salt and pepper crispy chicken wings. Chicken thighs sliced and diced. Large pieces of beef seasoned with some alcohol, a rush of fire, then cut into bite size morsels and seared medium rare. The beef was tender as tuna, melt in your mouth butter soft. An amazing lamb chop. More beef. More chicken. A beef short rib. Large slices of king oyster mushrooms. Everything was doused in soy and butter and absolutely amazing. We ate and ate and drank sake and eventually moved onto ice cold Asahi, and for dessert, lightly battered bananas set on fire and served with ice cream. They tasted like cake.

Sushi Platter

Chicken Wings and Meat Enoki Rolls Grilling

Massive Sake-Fueled Flames

Salt Sprinkling Onto Beef

Robots Like Sake.

Delectable Lambchop and King Oyster Mushroom

We left Tairyo’s in high spirits; you could have rolled me out. I ate so much and it was all so good. My friend AH is leaving for the summer and hosted a good bye party at Hotel G that night, so we all went to stop by for a little. The room…just amazing. The bathroom was almost the size of the rest of the room. It had a stand alone bathtub that made me ache with jealousy. The comforter felt like sleeping on a cloud.

The rest of the interns really wanted to go out clubbing but still in recovery mode, I went home to sleep. Missed another practice, but had a lovely breakfast with Bambi’s visiting parents at their hotel and a very productive weekend. A long week of work events, a lot of new responsibilities suddenly piling up, and very little free time. Tuesday Bambi’s parents were wonderful and took us and Allie and Dina back the Baoyuan Jiaoziguan, where we gorged on delicious, colorful dumplings and described what life was like to them. Thursday Cera and some of the other girls from the office went to Xiu Bar, they had been talking up this ladies’ night thing for a few weeks. It was fun to hang out with the girls, but in retrospect, I think I’ll stick to trivia, beer, and pizza on Thursdays. The main attraction about Xiu is their apparently awesome terrace, but it was closed. The bar was crowded, the drinks were either over priced or watery, and we stayed out too late. I had to hop the fence to get back home.

Saturday practice was long and the air was filled with all sorts of pollutants and something burning or smelling like turpentine, and I got a bit of sun (read; kinda red). Our normal post-practice restaurant was closed for repairs, so we found a small Sichuan place that was decent. Ginny went to place Settlers of Catan with some boys and I was all ready for bed with a book and no pants on in bed, when I got a call from Bambi “Hey a couple people are coming over for Disney power hour I just wanted to give you a heads up so you had time to put pants on.” They know me too well.