The Universe Has a Dark Sense of Humor

My computer is broken and I was waiting for when it was fixed to post so I could include pictures, but something is apparently wrong with something on the motherboard (as a robot I really should know my technology better) so here are posts without pictures. You’ll just have to use your imaginations.
I’ve really been enjoying the new gym, only…there are days when I go and work out and run and sauna and then come home and eat an entire plate of bacon for dinner because I’m too exhausted to do anything else. I think I’m doing it wrong.

Things I learned this week: my 3-year old student, Peach, can differentiate luxury brand cars. Her mom rented out the business center of this super swanky hotel in CBD for her lesson on Monday. Afterward, they offered me a ride home, so I was waiting with Peach in the lobby while she pulled me around by the hand to show me everything, and then in the parking lot she stared chirping “That’s a BMW and that’s an Audi and that’s a Mercedes and that’s a Ferarri and my daddy has a BMW and an Audi.” Wow, kid. I can barely recognize Fords and Toyotas, and I’m twenty years older than you.

Tuesday, I had one last dinner out with my friend-of-a-friend and his coworker. I took them to Crescent Moon, which has apparently been rated one of the top Xinjiang restaurants in Beijing (and the price reflects that rating). Our normal hole-in-the-wall Xinjiang place has great food and for the family, only costs about 60 total (and the boys eat a lot!). For 9 lamb chuanr, a noodle dish, a lamb dish, and veggies, plus tea, coke and yogurt, it came to 180 yuan. A price that I was willing to let their company pay for but I probably won’t go back. The food was great, however. The chaopianr, square flat rice noodles in a tomato based sauce with vegetables, was amazing. The lamb and fried naan pieces, my standby Xinjiang favorite, was almost better than our usual haunt. The homemade yogurt was great, especially as a sauce on the spicy lamb. I didn’t like the lamb chuanr very much–the pieces were too big, and so they dried out, were chewy, not enough flavor. My guests were slightly less discerning and loved them.

Wednesday was a long day, with lots of work to be done, and two other interns and I simply went down to the supermarket in the basement for cucumber rolls for a quick lunch at our desks. I had lessons after work, and not 30 seconds after leaving to get to the train station, thunder pealed and big fat raindrops started coming down and I got completely soaked. Eh, a little rain wasn’t going to bother me. I dried off on subway ride and was glad to see that further south, the rain hadn’t started. And then, not 30 seconds after I left the entrancce of the subway, thunder rumbled again and another downpour started. What a day to forget an umbrella! Still, I’ve been relentlessly cheerful and smiling all week, everything just going really well, so walking around in muddy wet pants? Not a problem.
After that lesson I had a new student in a nearby neighborhood. I had drawn myself a map and tried to walk there, but got hopelessly lost in the dark. I flagged a cab, explained that I was lost and showed him where I was going. He took me, shook his head, told me a pretty girl shouldn’t be out walking because of “lao pao” which I can only assume is something bad, but then didn’t start the meter (further inquiries have informed me that ‘pao’ means cannon and ‘pao you’ or cannon-friend, means friends with benefits. So…old cannon? Um, ew?). When I got to where I think I was supposed to be, I asked him how much. He gave me a weird sort of smile, so I just handed him 10 kuai and ran out. Creepy cabbie. My new student never answered the phone and I wasn’t sure if I was in the right apartment complex, so I wandered around for about 20 minutes, then gave up and cabbed to Cera’s house for dinner. I made a comment about how this past week or so had just been going really well, and I’ve just been so happy and smiling incessantly and seriously, if I was someone else, I would vomit on me just to ruin my day.

Robot, you really need to stop tempting the universe. It hears what you say and has a sense of humor.

I got home and Ginny had cooked something in the kitchen–I opened the door, smelled food, and instantly felt nauseous. I tucked myself up on the couch with a cup of herbaltea, but then Bambi had ordered a pizza and it arrived, and he brought it into the living room and the smell made me run for the bathroom.

Spent all of Thursday in bed dry heaving at the smell or sight of food. I woke up, took a shower, tried to get dressed, and couldn’t stand. Trying to send an email in to work, I discovered my computer was broken. How was I going to watch zombies to make myself feel better? Luckily I have an iPad so I managed to entertain myself and read some books, and discover that the two other interns who ate the same thing I did were both vilely ill.

Cracker and juice diet for a day and a half. The universe doesn’t like it when I’m overly cheerful, point noted. Totally made me sick just to make a statement about me being too happy.

Dinner on Friday with my boss, her visiting son, and several coworkers. We got into a rickshaw accident on the way over. Nothing serious, but the rickshaw driver behind us crashed into the back of ours, and an intern was rocketed out onto the middle of the street. He was up and walking it off before I even realized what happened. Dinner was really quite good, at the Bellagio, a Taiwanese chain. Dragon beans, lightly fried tofu in sauce, crispy chicken, etc, but the desserts and juices were the highlight. I had a carafe of cranberry and mango juice with jelly. Fresh and icy delicious, and the table shared peanut ice cream, oreo ice, and mango custard.


A Well Fed Robot is a Happy Robot

This has been one of those weeks where the universe feels like giving you a high-five instead of laughing at you, and everything kind of lines up perfectly. A really good week. Finally got a raise at the teaching center, some interesting stuff is going down at my internship, and I have been eating extraordinarily well. I am all smiles this week.

A friend of a friend landed in Beijing a few days ago for a business trip. My friend asked if I’d mind showing him around a bit since he didn’t speak any Chinese. I don’t mind playing tour guide, and new visitors to Beijing are a great excuse to go to some good restaurants.

Monday my class cancelled early, so I took him to JingZun duck on Chunxiu Lu, our standard duck spot. We had to wait 45 minutes for the duck to be cooked, so we ordered a few other dishes. Ganbian si xiang dou, the fried green beans with pork. The flavor was good, but the beans were a little dry/old. Sauteed spinach and peanuts, in a spicy vinegar dressing. And mu-xu chicken. I just sort of realized how completely wrong what Americans think of “mushu” is. the Mu part refers to the black wood ear, or frilly fungus. I have never seen it actually in mushu dishes in America. The duck finally came. Mmm duck meat in warm floury pancakes, cucumber and sweet-fermented rice paste. Delicious. We even had leftovers that I brought to lunch the next day.

Tuesday had some of the most beautiful weather I’ve seen all year. Sunny, warm, a little breeze, no humidity. Thanks Joe Biden! (clearly, because of his trip to meet the VP here, China decreed that we have excellent weather). For dinner I went to a Yunnan style restaurant north of Sanlitun, called In and Out, or yi zuo yi wang. I arrived a little early so I walked around the street. There are quite a few foreign restaurants and many embassies in the area. Unfortunately due to the nice weather the bugs were out and I got a mosquito bite on my shoulder.

Dinner was great. Food and company were both lovely. The food : grilled goat cheese blocks served with grounds spices on the side (hands down the best dish). Steamed sticky rice with yellow and purple jewel tone grains to go with black mushrooms and strips of red and green bell peppers, and a very spicy beef and mint dish. Dinner turned into another opportunity for me to ride on the back of a moped on the way home. At least this time, I knew the driver, and he drove very slowly just for me (maybe I should get over my fear, but motorcycles are dangerous! and Beijing drivers are ruthless!)

I got home and shortly after the boys returned from a night out at teppanyaki and KTV. They started “serenading” me with Lonely Island songs. And by serenade I mean they started shouting Lonely Island lyrics at me. And then Ginny and Bambi decided to have a water fight in our living room. I got caught as collateral damage when I went to save our various electronics–Ginny decided it would be a good idea to dump half a jug of water over my head. I live with 12 year old boys, clearly. They made up for the water fight with a half hour top-of-the-lung Disney song sing along. I can’t hate on Disney, so I may have joined in, and I may have secretly hoped it was loud enough to disturb the amateur construction neighbors, in return for all of my obscenely early morning headaches.

More delicious food this week: Xiao Wang Fu and Bahn 365 for lunches. We ordered the usual at both places: a bamboo basket of deep fried chicken hidden in the depths of fiery dried red chilies, a basket of spicy lotus root, fried vegetable-carrot-zucchini-tomato balls, disanxian, gongbao chicken, etc. A big stone bowl of beef and octopus bibimbap from Bahn.

Wednesday night my out-of-town visitor arranged for a dinner at the Kitchen based on my recommendation. It still remains one of my favorite places in Beijing. I have missed the Chairman very much. We started with fried shitake and coriander salad-succulent, meaty mushrooms and crisp carrot and cucumber, doused with vinegar. Then pork and pumpkin pan-fried dumplings. Red braised eggplant, the eggplant twice cooked to give it a steamy fragrant melting inside with crispy skin. Snow peas and cured pork and ginger asparagus rounded out the vegetables. Then the old favorite, sweet red-braised pork belly. I could eat a whole pot of that by myself. Lastly, the nuclear hot gong bao chicken. All accompanied by a crisp light sauvignon blanc. For dessert, we had the amazing homemade black sesame vanilla bourbon ice cream and candied battered bananas. With just five of us, even eating so much, there were leftovers, and the Chairman insisted I pack them up for lunch the next day.

The family has finally found an acceptable (if a wee bit expensive) gym. There’s a pool, a sauna, a place to do yoga, actual equipment, a locker room, everything, quite close by. The boys and I signed up on Thursday night and Ive been throwing myself headlong into working out. Although, this has resulted in me coming home from a 5K run, being too tired to cook and too hungry to care, and eating a plate of bacon. I think I’m doing it wrong.

Friday night I took my out of town guest and his coworker to another favorite, Baoyuan Jiaoziwu. I decided not to bother with any other side dishes because I wanted them to experience some variety, and ordered 5 different types, a total of 60 dumplings. We got, of course, the purple crack crispy rice dumplings; green spicy peanut, corn and cucumber; egg and chive and glass noodle, and pork and tomato. My guests were very happy and we ate every last one. I may eaten more than my share of 20 dumplings because I got home, waddled up the stairs, and crawled into my bed like a full, hibernating bear. Even with the boys loudly watching X-Men in the living room, I was oblivious by 10:30.

Saturday bright and early I woke up and met my out of town guest, plus Cera and one of her friends, for a foray to the Dirt Market otherwise known as Panjiayuan. They sell antiquey-trinkety type things, like Tibetan jewelry and old mirrors and calligraphy sets and beads and jade, plus there’s a great book section. Touristy, but less so than Yashou or Silk Market, and so you don’t bargain as much, but you aren’t ripped off as much and no one yells at you or grabs you. After a morning perusing the stalls, we decided we needed dimsum, and went to a place on the back side of Tuanjiehu park.

I haven’t had dimsum in 8 months, so I was quite excited. We ordered most of my favorites; turnip cakes, shrimp dumplings, shrimp long noodles, pork spare ribs, and Singapore curry noodles. Then we decided to go to the old Summer Palace up north. The Russian, Cera’s friend, also was headed there with his friends, so we took the subway to Wudaokou, met up with some more Russians, and the five of us cabbed to the park.

Shumai, paigu, changfen and luobogao in clockwork order

Beautiful weather–sunny, warm, not too polluted. The ruins were pretty interesting. Then we went to the lake and the boys wanted to get a boat. We tried to get a motor boat but it only sat 4 people and the boat people were adamant that even though I’m small, I needed my own seat. So they rented a pedal boat. Luckily for me, there were only 4 seats with pedals. I sat in the bow and lounged and fanned myself while the boys rowed me around the lake. I was quite living the life. We pretended to be pirates, ran aground in the reeds by a little island, boarded the little island, and finally left.

Everyone gathered at my apartment at 8. Allie, her friend, my new Russian friends and Cera, the boys, my friend Britta, and we headed over to get lamb leg. Finally. About a month or two ago I went for the first time and fell madly in love and it has taken this long to get enough people to make it enjoyable to all want to go at the same time. For the nine of us, we ordered three legs, plus a few vegetable sides and naan bread.

Lamb leg cooking on coals

It was just as good as last time. We gathered around the long table, smelling the air with anticipation. Smoke drifts up from the big fire pit where the short, stocky man tends the inferno and heaves haunches of lamb around. Bottles of yanjing on the table, beads of condensation, icily refreshing. In a short time the fire-tender walks over, carefully depositing the coal filled braziers and spitted lamb legs one by one into the tables. The summer night is already hot, but gathered around the glowing coals, cheeks redden, eyes glisten, sticky perspiration builds on the back of my neck. The flames are too high, the fire tender grabs my beer, pours it liberally over the flames, the fire sizzles and abates. Lamb fat drips and hisses and flames lick at the exposed bones, we reach and stab into the flesh, hacking and sawing away bites of juicy, tender meat.This is why serial killers do what they do. Sprinkling red pepper and powdered cumin and salt on our plates, some eat with the 18 inch long cutlery, others with our fingers, sucking lamb grease from our fingertips, sandwiches bite size morsels between wedges of naan toasted above the dying coals. We eat and we eat and we drink and it’s a merry gathering. We make short work of the first two legs, then pick more slowly over the third leg. An obscene amount of meat. As we rise to leave, the waitress beckons the last stragglers, insist we walk off drinking the half-full bottles of yanjing we had left on the table, admonishing that we don’t want to waste. Also, there was a woman walking by down the street wearing an entire suit of denim, and giant stuffed pandas on her shoes. I want her life.

We stopped at a bar belonging to another friend of a friend (funny how Beijing works like that, everything is who you know) before making our way to Chocolate, this opulent, ridiculous crazy Russian club (I think because at that point we were over 50% Russian as a collective), sat, enjoyed some more drinks and a hookah, watched a show, then decided we need a more lively dance scene, and headed to Gongti, where we went to a place called Latte. It was a great evening, we ran into several more friends, and a good time was had by all. Then I remembered that I work at 9:00 on Sunday mornings, so I went home for some much needed sleep.

Robot Pretends to Be A Grown Up and Hosts a Dinner Party

Need. More. Brains. And Caffeine.
In addition to spending a few hours Thursday night making food for Friday night, I stayed up ’til 3 working on edits for my boss, who kept emailing me new and different numbers. This robot is running down and seriously in need of a recharge. On tired days my brain feels like it’s in a box of fog. I very seriously considered hiding in the bathroom and taking a nap.

I hosted a little potluck dinner on Friday, partly because I like cooking for people and encouraging non-slap-cup-and-Yanjing-beer-centric activities, partly because my student cancelled, and partly because it’s been a year and I like celebrating good decisions. Also, partly because bacon. Last time I organized a get-together like this I was scolded. How things change.

So I made a few things Thursday night to cut down on the me feeling like an insane person, namely, little meatballs in sauce, cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates, and an almond-nectarine tart (a variation on the pear-almond tart I make for birthdays back home).

First, I put about 2/3 cup of whole almonds in a bowl to soak. Then I started on the meatballs.
1 pound of ground beef (or what have you)
1/2 onion finely diced
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
Salt, pepper, splash of Maggi, soy sauce and cooking wine, a good dash of herbs
Mix these together thoroughly, then form little balls, and line them up in a baking dish. Bake at 375F (190C) for half an hour, then pop into a pot with some tomato sauce or pureed tomato or whatever you have on hand. I tried a few over pasta for dinner, (verdict: very tasty) and put away the rest.

Next, I replicated Leia’s highly addictive cheese-stuffed bacon wrapped dates that she brought to our tapas afternoon. I had to bike to 2 Jenny Lou’s and a BHG to find the dates, but it was totally worth it. These are incredibly easy, if a little messy because of the sticky dates. Two bags of dates, one pound of bacon cut in half, and about one package of soft spreadable Laughing Cow or funny looking Asian rip off cheese. Blue, brie, goat, could also work. Hopefully the dates are pitted. Cut them almost all the way in half, stuff the pit cavity with cheese, close them up, and wrap with the half bacon slices, then skewer shut with toothpicks. Either broil for 5 minutes or bake at 190C for 30-40 minutes, turning halfway through, until crispity and delicious.

I took out some duck breast to thaw and marinate, putting them in a Ziploc bag with cooking wine, light and dark soy sauce, Maggi, salt, and honey. Then I started with the almonds. After soaking for about an hour and a half, the skins come off like a prom dress. I put the almonds in a blender with 1/4 sugar and flour, and three Tbs of margarine. Also, two eggs, and vanilla extract. That’s the custardy almond filling. I made the pie crust with margarine instead of butter as well, to accommodate some dairy-allergic guests. About one cup of flour, a dash of sugar and salt, 6 Tbs margarine, a dash of ice cold water with two egg yolks and some almond flavoring, all pastry-forked together to make a crust. Bake at 190C for 8 minutes, then fill with the almond batter. I thinly sliced several nectarines and laid them down on the filling, then baked for 45 minutes.

Work was long and mostly I was figuring out last minute cooking prep, but I did stop at the Bainaohui and buy a new camera battery. Success. After far too many cups of tea and some Reeses Pieces to keep me going in the afternoon, I hurried home to finish getting ready.

Pan seared the duck as usual, ten minutes on the skin then 4 minutes on the other side, then into the oven for 15 minutes, a short rest, and thin slices. Sliced bread to go with the warming up meatballs.

Lastly, I assembled some shrimp spring rolls.
Peel, de-vein, and boil a package of frozen shrimp(imported, for our heavy-metal-toxin-wary friends), then set aside in the fridge
Give a quick boil to two bundles of bean thread (also known as mung bean vermicelli), drain, cut into smaller lengths.
Finely julienne a carrot and cucumbers, and rinse and dry basil and mint.
Soak each rice-skin individually in warm water, for maybe 10 seconds. It doesn’t have to completely soften in the water, it will continue to soften when you lay it carefully flat on a clean plate. Careful with these guys, they tear easily and are quite sticky.
Layer: Basil and mint leaves, rice thread, vegetables, and 2-3 shrimp. If you have it on hand, Hoisin sauce goes very well in these. Wrap tightly like a mini burrito. Serve chilled with chili dipping sauce and lime wedges.

People brought banana bread and brownies and ice cream and pita and vegetables with hummus. And wine.

Cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped date deliciousness.

Sliced pan-seared, soy sauce and honey marinated duck breast

Shrimp, Basil and Mint Spring Rolls

Nectarine and Almond Tart

Dinner went swimmingly, everyone enjoyed themselves and nearly all the food is gone-a few bacon dates and some pie left, but everything else was devoured! And we went through an egregious amount of wine. Bambi, who had gone out to dinner with some out of town friends, brought them back for drinks. Things may have gotten a little rowdy at this point, all the food gone, most of the wine gone, and someone broke out baijiu.

My body shudders at the thought of that foul demon liquid passing itself off as a beverage. Someone convinced me to drink a little. No, Robot, we know we don’t like this evil demon drink. Stop tasting it, it’s always going to be bad.

Someone put on dance music, so a few of us motivated to go out, since my crowded living room is not nearly as fun a place to dance. We first went to Fubar at Gongti Dong Menr, which is a little fake speakeasy hidden behind a hotdog restaurant. Really, the draw of the place is pressing a secret button to open the wall. After a drink there, weighing our options and trying to figure out where other people were, we headed to a club called Spark. It’s apparently in the basement of the Place, which is close to my work and somewhere I often go to lunch, so discovering a hidden nightclub there was very strange. It was fun though. had to coax Ginny to actually enter it since the front room was filled with lasers and he wanted to play in them.

Saturday I woke up far too early to Skype with my family, and then we headed over to Dongzhimen for the bus to Summer League Finals. It was a long day of playing Frisbee and being outside in the muggy colorless sky and no food. We had a team dinner at Kro’s afterwards in which I ate the most pizza yet again. Most people went out after, and I wished I had joined but I barely had energy to make it to my apartment and fall asleep in my own bed. A really great weekend.

“Also, He Never Hits Me.”

The sky darkened ominously while I was still sitting at my desk at work, sneaking occasional glances at my watch and the window. I hurried outside amid the 5:30 rush. The air wasn’t quite as humid as it had been at noon, it now seemed turbulent, a breeze picking up, clouds billowing above the buildings. I walked quickly, but the first drops started to fall before I made it to my bike. I decided to leave it and and take the bus. With no poncho, a white dress shirt, and no way to shield my glasses from the rain, it seemed like the safer option. Beijing’s streets came alive in the first few minutes before the storm. Fat raindrops fell haphazardly and a strong wind began to gust. The streets grew busier, drivers making even worse decisions, bikers frantic, pedestrians running and shouting, umbrella blooming open and obscuring vision. I had my umbrella out and my dress pants rolled up to avoid a soaking, and managed to squeeze onto a bus right as the lightning started, and with it, the deluge. The bus was packed, people shoving away damp umbrellas, fighting for a place to stand, an inch to breathe. The bodies steamed, windows fogging, the air fetid and stale already. I breathed shallowly, lips twisting in discomfort, wishing someone would crack open a window. By the time I got off the bus, my shirt was damp with perspiration, my cheeks red, and wisps and curls of hair escaping from the tight ponytail. I hop-skipped along the pavement, avoiding the worst puddles, the streets already filling with water. Beijing sewers have so much room for improvement. I walked along the cracked and broken sidewalk, and lightning broke directly overhead, accompanied by a peal of thunder loud and sudden enough to shake me. Home, I changed to docksiders and shorts, and ventured back out again for groceries.

Taking my time, no rush, no fear of ruining a work outfit, my purple umbrella held firmly slanted to prevent it from blowing inside out. This is much better than the bus. The wet streets glow blue and red and yellow, sidewalks empty. The sky is gloomy, store fronts abandoned. Bodies huddle inside small restaurant rooms, white tile under flickering fluorescent lights, small red plastic stools and sticky tabletops, no air. The smell of grilled meat and steamed rice hit the streets in little pockets as I walk by. The rain drums against the umbrella and my toes curl, damp in my shoes. Once home, I kick off my soaked shoes and shrug out of the damp clothes. Threads of lightning silently light up the sky for the rest of the night, thunder lost in distance and the relentless rain. I bend over the stove in my little kitchen, leaning my head against cool tile, a fan in the corner whirring and rocking on its stand as it rotates. The gas flickers into life under a pot, onions hit hot oil and sizzle. The rest of the apartment is dark, silent, empty; might as well be part of the rainy night, but my little enclave is safe and dry and smells like home.

Sometimes, teaching can be rewarding. For example, if the student is 4 year old Peach, energetic, precocious, smart, cheerful, and impossible cute. Sometimes, you teach a 25 year old woman for an hour and a half and she spends 20 minutes asking you why you’re single and trying to set you up with a Chinese man. Thanks, but no thanks. The chapter we were covering was about compliments. I asked her to describe her boyfriend. This was what she came up with. “Well, he’s not very handsome. But he respects his parents. And he gives me useful advice. Also, he never hits me.” Good, that’s wonderful. I’m so glad that you have to clarify that he doesn’t beat you. And that, you know, you can speak about your significant other in such glowing terms.

Maybe I’m a little on the judgmental and picky side, but if all your boyfriend has going on for him is that he’s nice to his parents, can give you a few useful tips about life, and doesn’t physically abuse you…well that just doesn’t give me much faith in your judgement so please stop trying to fix my life.

It’s been a week of quick meals and take out with our frozen stores depleted. Since I had no lessons after work Tuesday, I restocked with a big batch of chicken broth and pasta sauce. This broth was more of a vegetable stock, heavy on the potatoes and onions, although I gave it a nice flavor boost by softening the aromatics in duck fat, using the duck skins from last week’s curry that I had frozen. This time, I was feeling a little on the lazy side and didn’t feel like chopping the vegetables to tiny bits and using a cheese grater on the carrots like I normally do. Instead, I softened the onion for a long time, added in the pepper, carrots, and celery, then blended it with a cup of stock into a thick puree. Mixed that back in with more stock, browned meat, coarsely chopped tomatoes, red wine, and a can of tomato paste and let it all simmer for an hour. I think I like it better this way then with all the little veggie chunks.

Rum Weasley Comes to Beijing

It’s been quite the week. Bambi returned home from his month-long State-side visit and I made a little welcome back dinner. I may have been a little ambitious with our kitchen space, and I feel terrible for the mess I left the ayi to clean up (although the boys assured me that they have left her many more dishes to clean, which didn’t actually make me feel any better). I finally made the crack sauce, by simmering water, sugar and rice vinegar with julienne ginger, garlic, chiles with fish sauce and lime juice. I also made some green curry paste, with some minor tweaks, having run out of coriander and lemongrass. I blended fresh basil, several chilies, a shallot, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, cumin, paprika, lime juice and coconut milk together.

Steamed some sticky rice I had set to soak in the morning. Diced an eggplant and pepper and two duck breast that I removed the skins from. Browned the duck in oil, tossed in the vegetables, a cup of coconut milk, broth, fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, garlic and ginger and brought to a boil, then simmered. I made brownies as well, jazzing up the box mix with crumbled up dark chocolate and caramel. Then I threw together the batter, but I couldn’t find my measuring cup and eyeballed the amounts of flour and water. It came out a little of the watery side, so the fried chicken didn’t have the same crispiness as the first time I made it, but with the same oyster sauce and garlic heavy marinade overnight, it came out moist and delicious. Not only was there batter spills and pepper seeds everywhere and dirty dishes stacked up, but I think the amateur construction next door has damaged a water pipe somewhere because there’s a constant leak in out kitchen that doesn’t originate from our sink or any of our visible pipes, and the inexplicable leak in our window nook and Bambi’s room.

I managed to navigate a rather user unfriendly website to reserve tickets for Harry Potter, which has finally come out in China (a delayed opening to prevent it from hurting ticket sales of a CCP anniversary movie in July). Then teaching. I arrived early and the mother insisted that I eat dinner with the family. So I sat in the hot stifling kitchen and smiled and talked with her toothless, smiling parents who were visiting, and at his mother’s insistence, my ten year old student insisted that I accept a beer. I was a bit reluctant to start drinking with the family before I had even started teaching but they insisted and the father swapped the beer the son gave me for an ice cold one, bless his heart.

Summer League: hot, but not terrible, the centipedes had disappeared, Ninette got cleated and I got elbowed in the jaw. On the bus from Summer League, we thought it would be funny if Ginny, who has a passing resemblance to Rupert Grint due to their both having red hair, was mistaken for him by people at the theater. And then we wondered what would be necessary to make that happen…and a plan was hatched.

Ginny wore a Gryffindor shirt and scarf under a blazer, and Bambi and BG wore similar suits. We met Leia and BG at their apartment for whiskey and final additions–blue tooth ear pieces for Rupert’s “security” team, and nice printed pictures for him to sign. He practiced a few times, but everything he wrote kind of looked like “Rum Weasley”. Then we met friends at our boozy Chinese dinner restaurant, the Lucky Dragon. Small children were amazed by us and kept popping into the room and until Bambi and BG stood outside the door like body guards, when their mothers promptly grabbed them and dragged them away. Our waitress asked us if we knew Justin Bieber, and instantly all the boys started belting out “Baby, Baby”. Oh dear. we stopped for beverages and then made it to Sanlitun for the movie, only to be told that my reservation had been cancelled.

We were there half an hour before the movie started and they sold our tickets. What the hell! I made angry faces and swore a lot loudly by the counter and eventually they found us seats. While all of this was happening, BG and Bambi were making sure no one got to close to Ginny, who was smiling at people, handing out his pictures and speaking in a terrible British accent. They sold this mostly by clearing a radius of people away from him and making impassive, angry faces. People started taking pictures and asking for autographs. One group of people walked up to me and asked “Do you know who that is? Is that Harry Potter (i.e., Daniel Radcliffe)?” I almost felt bad about being a part of this deception, except they asked me if a bright redhead was Daniel Radcliffe. All compunctions disappeared. “No, no, he’s from the Harry Potter movie. The red-headed friend.” They oohed appropriately and snapped some pictures. Some girls asked if he was from Transformers. My favorite? An American girl walked past Leia and me in a huff, “Oh my god this is such bullshit! The real one is much chubbier, what a fucking scam!” She was quite angry it wasn’t actually Rupert.

After the movie he waited outside and started shaking people’s hands as they left. Then we decided to walk through Sanlitun. A group of girls saw Ginny with his “security detail.” They started asking themselves excitedly “shi ta? bu shi. yiding shi. zhende? shi ta!” Or in other words, “Is it him? No…it has to be really, yes its him!” and they started running after them until the boys turned into the stairs for a bar and they hesitated and wondered what to do next, then ran away. After convincing more people sitting near us that Ginny was famous for some reason (Ginny insisted I hold his hand and look interested while the people behind us looked at his picture and looked at him and checked their smartphones, and ultimately decided it was him and took pictures), we went to GT banana to meet up with Allie and her visiting friend. I actually didn’t enjoy myself that much–Chinese Valentine’s Day, lots of heart themed things, dancers on stage, and it was far too crowded. The dance floor was disgusting. I like to be able to dance when I go out, not just stand sort of moving while getting smooshed up against gross sweaty smelly strangers who leer at you and think that just because the masses around you are making it physically impossible to get away, that they can grind on you. Say hello to my sharp pointy elbow and a well placed knee. But Bambi loved it and ran up on stage and started dancing (oh good lord) and dance-taunting the bouncers trying to pull him down, much to the crowds amusement. The dancers loved him. The crowd loved him. The bouncers did not, getting up and pulling him off and dragging him out, and throwing him out by the neck. I had to fight my way through the maze of levels to find where he had left his jacket and meet him outside to go home.

Teaching and afternoon naps and reading a book on Sunday, plus watching several episodes of Game of Thrones (my new TV-binge guilty pleasure now that I’ve finished the Misfits series, which I highly recommend), so I’d say on the whole, the weekend was a success…


I’ve been trying to get through all these birds eye peppers that I have, making a lot of Thai and Vietnamese inspired dishes lately. One night was a quick basil chicken, stir fried broccoli and some cucumber. Except for all the chopping, this is a really easy meal and a one-pan kind of night (if you don’t count the rice cooker)

Cucumber was the most simple: diced one, threw it in a wok with some crushed up green chilies and garlic and a bit of soy sauce.

Broccoli was also pretty simple: toss the florets with garlic and chilies in hot oil in the wok, saute, add some fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar, and a little bit of stock.

The chicken comes together quickly. Slice ginger, chicken and onion in long thin strips. I velveted the chicken strips as well, beating in some water, salt and cornstarch to make it tender. Pluck basil leaves off the stems. Cut up and de-seed chiles (unless you’re all about heat). Soften garlic and ginger in the hot wok with oil, then add chicken and onions. Let this cook for a bit, and add fish sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, a little vinegar, and some water. Let it cook for a few minutes then toss in the chiles and basil leaves. Mix it up, cook for a few more minutes, then serve, garnished with fresh basil leaves.

All in all, a quick and simple delicious dinner made for a good end to a day, minus Ginny blaming me for making him fat, and me getting pepper on my nose. It burns, it really does burn.

Friday one of the girls at work treated the interns out to a happy hour in return for a stressful week. She bought us tequila shots and half price margarita pitchers. Not to be ungrateful, because I am a fan of free drinks, but I really despise tequila. We disbanded after several pitchers and rounds of chips and salsa, and I met up with Dina and Allie to play with a friend’s puppy and eat dinner. Another catastrophic rainstorm started, so we scrapped out plan to go out. My beautiful new shoes got soaked on the way home, and one taxi refused to go any further north than Shuangjing, and made me get out and I had to flag down another. What a piece of work.

I decided against going to Summer League on Saturday and instead caught up on TV shows, read a book, and got some things done around the house. I wasn’t feeling any effort in terms of food, so I made braised chicken legs. This is one of the laziest good dinners (discounting anything that you just have to microwave or boil). Place two thawed chicken legs into a glass casserole dish and scatter one chopped up onion around them. Cover with braising liquid–in my case the liquid I had frozen and saved form the shredded beef tacos, along with a few more chilies–pop it in the oven at 375F or 190C with the timer set for an hour, and then take a nap. I ate it with pasta on Saturday and on toast Sunday.

On Saturday I got locked in. Yes, locked INSIDE my apartment. Again. For the third time in 6 months. When Ginny came home from the Frisbee dinner with a friend in tow, they discovered the key wasn’t working in the lock. He called me and I went to let them in-only to discover that I couldn’t open the door. Couldn’t unlock the door, nothing. And all the windows on our first level have cages on them. If there was a fire, I would have died. Well, in an emergency I could probably escape via one of the second level windows onto the roof and then break into some random Chinese neighbor’s apartment, but that’s not really something I want to consider unless I have a really good reason to think about it. Point of the story is, I was trapped. Ginny decided to wait it out at a friend’s house while I called the landlord for help. At first, he was useless. He didn’t understand what the problem was, couldn’t comprehend me being stuck inside. He said he couldn’t fix the door and was going to send me the number of our real estate agent. I fail to see how a real estate agent would help. I then considered trying to find a locksmith, but was informed that in China, if a door is going to be broken open the police have to be present, and well, I think calling the police would have been an overreaction. Eventually, my landlord called back and said he was on his way over. He was very surprised to get to the door and find me inside the apartment, and him unable to open the door. I had to explain it again. He tried and tried but could do nothing. Then his wife did something and the door magically opened. he landlord suggested that he would replace the lock, but couldn’t at night because the locksmith stores aren’t open. His wife suggested taking pencil shavings to grease the lock. No, seriously, pencil wood shavings.

I have no idea how that makes sense. She kept asking if I had a pencil, so I looked around, and found some colored pencils, but apparently colored pencils won’t do, only normal pencils. I still don’t really comprehend what they thought pencil shavings would accomplish, but the landlord went and bought some little bottle of oil (beijing version of WD-40, I suppose) and greased up the lock and said something about it being because of the weather and all the rain, and that if it happens agan, then he’ll change the lock. Well, at least it got fixed before I had to go to work in the morning, but if it locks me in again, I can see it being at a very inconvenient time rather than a Saturday evening.

Sunday I got up bright and early to teach. One of my girls went to Chengdu for a little holiday and saw pandas and brought me back a present–oh hey look at that I’m a legit teacher with teacher’s pets who bring me adorable litle gifts, that is so cute/weird. I guess Chengdu is the place in China famous for all the pandas, but what baffles me is why they sell little stuffed animal pandas dressed up as red-nosed reindeer.

After classes I met up with my friend Leia in Sanlitun and we lunched and picked up my clothes from the tailor (and can I just saw, the tailor did an amazing job? I look like a real live professional adult in these clothes!) and a little shopping.

Speaking of locks, after my last evening class I went to a hair salon by April Gourmet. I was a little nervous going to a Chinese salon, but it came recommended by a co-worker so I thought I’d give it a shot. Walked in from the humid-stand-still-and-break-a-sweat sauna air to the cool, well lit little room, sat in the chair with some trepidation, and mustered the best Chinese I could to explain what I wanted to get done.

I want to dye it blond.
I had visions of light blonde at first but looking at pictures of blonde hairstyles online and at the hair-swatch booklet, I got nervous and decided to go a darker honey-copper tone instead, just in case it looked horrible. First, the highlights. It took forever. They put me in a little chair and what looked like a little alien MRI machine spun around my head to “jia re” or add heat. they washed out and the highlights were actually really well done. I relaxed a little bit. Then the dye. I didn’t realize they could dye my very dark brown hair without bleaching it first, so I got a little anxious again, especially after the heat application, it looked like nothing had changed. My hair was still brown. And they washed it and it was still brown except for the highlights and I got a little more anxious thinking did I really spend this much money and 3 hours of my life for brown hair with blond highlights? But then they blow dried my hair and it lightened and I was immensely relieved. I don’t look quite like a different person but it still surprises me in the mirror, but it came out surprisingly well. I am pleased. And blonde. Blonde. Weird.