“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.


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