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.


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