Summer End

Oh why look at that, it’s already middle of September and the weather is sunny and cool and perfect and it’s definitely autumn. I’ve neglected this thing horribly. To be fair, I’ve been busy and traveling and applying to jobs and managed to stumble upon that Beijing rarity-an attractive single guy who isn’t a raging tool or suffering from yellow fever. Things have been going well (if the more astute of you have picked up on it, you can blame him for all my incessant cheerfulness) and until I find out that it’s been too good to be true and he’s really a secret serial hobo killer who drowns kittens for fun, we’re going to go ahead and call him my boyfriend.

So, the Con Party was a raging success. Or just raging. Something. I got lazy and went as a concubine because I had a trashy qipao shirt, a 10 kuai fan from the dirt market, and could put my hair up with chopsticks. We made it to Dongzhimen when the boys realized they had forgotten their five hour energies and the speakers for music. Unfortunately, I lost the rocks-paper-scissors game and was sent back to fetch the things. You know what sucks? Walking by a row of Chinese construction workers tearing up your sidewalk while dressed like a 1950s Chinese mistress. Didn’t help that when I met up with the boys they started yelling things like “how much” at me. Lets be clear, people. A concubine is a kept woman, not a hooker. There’s a difference.

Other costumes included Ginny as Conoco Phillips (my black liquid eye liner spilled all over a shirt, yelling about there not being a spill), Contrast, Contact lens, Silicone, and Chili con Carne. The boys made some sickeningly sweet punch concoction with their Trivia Night winnings. All in all, it was a fun evening. I ended up in Sanlitun with Bambi and some of the others, with him wearing a blonde wig, unbuttoned dress shirt and bright neon shorts. Well, someone had to make sure he didn’t get stabbed by the sketchy dudes in Sanli.

Sunday. I woke up very early in the morning. Very, very early. Lay in bed for about an hour trying to convince myself I could stand up. Eventually made it to the shower. It may have taken me three times as long and I may have had to focus to not fall over, but I made it to my office building in time to catch our bus to the retreat. Sidenote, if you are hung over, walking around China on a hot afternoon is possibly the worst thing ever. Everything smells like sewage and evil.

We rode the bus for about two hours and ended up at one of the most opulent, ridiculous hotels I’ve ever seen in China (and that’s saying something). We started with team bowling. Mike and I took the edge off our hunger by ordering an appetizer tray to share. Calamari, fried chicken, lamb skewer and baozi. Not bad, for hotel food, although a bit on the pricey side. Everyone bowled, I watched and cheered from the sidelines.

Then, dinner. Oh my lord. I am a filthy, fat American. Full buffet. Mike and I filled our first plates with just proteins. Omnomnom. We ate well and ate plenty, and sort of made sure to leave room for dessert. The Desserts: more fat horrible overindulgence. We worked as a team to try a little bit of everything. There was a chocolate fountain. Obviously, I was in charge of getting a plate full of fruit and marshmallows skewered and covered in chocolate. There was also apple crumble, cheesecake, dark chocolate cake with ganache frosting, apple, strawberry and chocolate ice cream, pineapple filled donuts, and dark chocolate truffles. I gave myself a little time to rest, then struggled into a bathing suit and floated very slowly around the pool for a little bit, and the hot tub and the sauna. We attempted to go to KTV but it turns out there was no KTV in the area, so we watched some TV in bathrobes and I fell asleep early.

Woke up early and enjoyed another fat ridiculous meal with the breakfast buffet. We bussed for an hour or two and perused Du Le Temple, which was refreshingly not restored and painted, but otherwise exactly like every other temple I’ve visited in China. We bussed for another 2 hours to go to the Qing Tombs. I’ve been to the Ming Tombs all the Qing stuff up in Shenyang, so it was all very familiar, but a rare beautiful day with clear blue skies, so I enjoyed my time out of the office.

Tuesday evening after work I met up with my ayi to introduce her to some people who needed an ayi but didn’t speak any Chinese. I think I managed to arrange matters for them, although today ayi informed me that “their mop bucket is not good enough, so I’ll clean their house this weekend when I get a superior bucket.” I wasn’t aware buckets had levels of superiority. After that I went out to dinner at Susu, a Vietnamese restaurant hidden in the hutongs. We grabbed a cab and had the restaurant explain how to get there. We made it into the hutong, nearly bowling over some of the diners seated outside, and then apparently passed the even smaller alley the restaurant is in. What is it with nice restaurants in China that like to hide in hutongs and xiangs and not put any signs out and stay secret?

Seriously, we’re in a small alley–just barely big enough for a car to pass through, and you have to turn left down a smaller alley with absolutely no lighting, and the directions was “we’re at the end of that alley” so you’re confronted with a red door that looks like every other door on the street and you open it really hoping you’re not about to barge into some poor Chinese family’s living room. We found the right place, and it’s beautiful. All glass and clean lines, very well modeled outdoor patio and rooftops. We sat outside and ordered a chicken curry with bread (not the most authentic Vietnamese, but good), spring rolls, a Vietnamese salad. I’ll definitely try to go back there for a special-occasion kind of dinner, plus their drink menu looked pretty amazing.

I had teaching after work again on Wednesday, pretty uneventful except that my new three year old student informed me that I am bad at coloring, and she doesn’t like me. But then she started crying when I left. I told this to the boys and they shrugged and said of course, she’s a girl, she’s just learning to send mixed messages early. Wonderful. They waited for me to get home (not til 9! Had to walk quite a ways to find a taxi) and we went exploring the hutongs for dinner. We went to Taste, a Yunnan place that Bambi had discovered a few weeks ago on Dongsiwutiao. It’s more expensive than most of the hutong places, so it’s not an everyday kind of meal, but the food was amazing and freshly made. The decor was pretty, much cleaner than the normal hutong hole-in-the-wall, with plush, comfortable chairs, high tables so your knees dont knock, scenes of Yunnan on the walls, and nothing was sticky. We ordered vegetarian fried spring rolls, fried mint lamb chops, spicy diced miniature eggplants, and braised beef in broth. The spring rolls came with an addictive spicy sauce that was mostly just lemon juice and red bird chilies. The eggplant was done well, and the braised beef was good and the broth was even better–reminiscent of pho noodle broth with lots of mint, but the lamb chops were by far the best. Tender, juicy, well marinated and pan seared perfectly to medium rare. The staff is very friendly and I’m definitely going back.

My computer is still broken. Only now it’s going to cost me between 800 RMB to fix it. The guy at the computer repair store speaks a little bit of English and I can understand most of his Chinese but he insists on getting his “English speaking friend” to call me and explain things to me, only his friend’s English is really bad and I can’t understand him at all, and I don’t know why the first guy insists the second guy talks to me when I can communicate perfectly well with the first guy.

Here’s an excerpt from my thought process, because I’m sure you’re all dying to know what goes on in the crazy mess of wires that is my brain.

So I was going out but a little bit on the tired side so a friend made me coffee in a French press, and then went off to do something pressing like pay his electricity bill before we went out. I thought I’d be a nice person and refill the press after mine had brewed. Only, the filter was stuck at the bottom and pulling the handle didn’t do anything and the glass was too hot to get a good grip on it, so I accidentally unscrewed the top and then tried to screw it back but it wouldn’t because there was some sort of spring that didn’t let the screw go down far enough to get back into the hole, and I panicked that he might get mad at me for breaking it which is silly because it’s easily fixable if you’re not a moron and then I panicked that he’d come back and see that I ruined the French press and think that I was too dumb to figure out how to use one which totally isn’t true because I have a French press at home which I use all the time so I started desperately trying to pull out the strainer piece at the bottom with a spoon and ended up accidentally dumping all the coffee grounds in in the sink but I managed to fix it before he came back, thankfully, and have coffee brewing like nothing ever went wrong.
And then I realized I have issues.

Had a really great weekend. I decided that I just don’t have the time, energy, or finances to keep on playing Frisbee, mostly because I can’t go to any of the tournaments and then what’s the point? So I had a nice long free Saturday and no plans. Glorious. Met a friend for brunch at Blue Frog in Sanlitun, enjoyed their Western style breakfast and rocket-fuel strong coffee. Not a bad way to start a leisurely day.

After brunch we went to the Flower Market by Lady Street. Helped him pick out plants for his apartment and was a great translator.

Me: She’s showing you that the bush will be covered in pretty flowers, see, here’s proof, all the green buds will bloom
Friend: Yeah, I got that from the fact that she’s pointing to all the buds and saying “flower”
Me: It’s going to be 120 kuai.
Friend: Yeah, I got that, she just said 120.
Me in my head: I’m the best translator ever. The UN or someone should totally hire me.
Me: Oh, she just said something about watering it or something. I have absolutely no idea.

We perused most of the aisles, admired the fresh cut flowers, bought basil and mint plants that I am really quite excited about, and played with fuzzy adorable hamsters (because where else would it make sense to sell reptiles and hamsters and bunnies than at the flower market?) before getting all our purchases into a cab. The cabbie was pissed with us because we put one of the big houseplants in the front seat and it may have been a little muddy but we covered the bottom with a plastic bag but the guy kept glaring at the plant like it was deliberately throwing mud on the seats the entire ride.

I worked at the Kitchen on Saturday night teaching some Turkish women how to make dumplings. They drank a fair amount of wine and in genereal made dumpling wrapping into something much more complicated than it had to be. C-Dice, Benben and I lounged on the very comfortable couch afterward, eating dumplings and braised pork and Benben and I shared the most of a bottle of wine. Then I tried to get a cab but it took me twenty minutes and a long walk to find an empty one.

Sunday I decided to make dinner because I hadn’t eaten homecooked food in quite some time and I felt like making something impressive. I had menu ideas in my head but the store didn’t have the right cuts of meat so I ended up buying pork chops even though I’ve never made them before because someone suggested that pork goes really well with sweet things and I was making sweet potato gnocchi.

The same sweet potato gnocchi recipe that I’ve mentioned before: boiled, mashed sweet potato (about a pound), an egg, half-three quarters of a cup of ricotta, a third cup of parmesan, a little bit of brown sugar and nutmeg if you have any kicking around. Also, some salt and pepper. Mix that up very well, then slowly incorporate about 2 cups of flour until a soft, sticky dough has formed. Roll dough into snakes, cut inch long pieces, and roll along the tines of a fork. Freeze, not touching, on a tray and then store in a bag, or boil until they float and serve pan fried in butter and herbs or in some sort of sauce. I made my mom’s lemon bechamel sauce.

Heat two table spoons of olive oil with mashed garlic, until the garlic browns, remove them form the pan and add in two tablespoons of butter. when that is melted, thoroughly whisk a spoonful of flour, not allowing for any clumps. whisk whisk whisk, then a third cup of milk, keep whisking, add pepper, dried basil, and 1/2 cup chicken stock, more if you want to thin it out some more. Let reduce a little bit, turn off heat, then add tablespoon of lemon zest and some parmesan. Toss with pasta, gnocchi, what have you. Peas and chopped up ham or salmon give this sauce a little extra something.

I marinated the pork chops in lemon juice, salt, and rosemary for a few hours. Then pan seared them 3 minutes per side in a little oil, then baked at 325F, with liberal basting of butter and sweet white wine, and turning them over halfway through, for 25 minutes. Sauted some zucchini very quickly, and chopped up a tomato with basil, the garlic from the bechamel, and tossed with olive oil to go on top of sliced baguette.

I took on a new student. Another 3 year old. She is adorable and I’ve been hired, not even to teach her, but to play with her and speak English at her. We played with dolls and balloons and drew pictures and danced. I still can’t believe I’m getting paid for this.

The boys have procured themselves an Xbox and now even when we’re all home I barely talk to them, they’re too busy killing aliens. It’s kind of frustrating, especially because I don’t have my computer and can’t watch any of my DVDs when they’re using the TV to play. It looks like we might be getting an addition to our little family in the form of a fellow Frisbee player who needs a place to crash for a few months while he settles himself in Beijing. I might have to start actually wearing pants around the house (who am I kidding, I probably won’t, pants are so much effort. I did surprise an alien-killing guest by simulataneously having on pants and a shirt for the first time that he’s seen. Whatever, people should always feel comfortable to sit around in their underwear in their own home).

Tonight I am going to a play with a fellow intern, tickets given to me by a very nice woman who I helped at work. I had no idea what kind of event the tickets were for, but accepted them because I want to talk to the woman about possible future employment. Some investigation on the internet brought about wonderful results. Here are a few excerpts from the description.
“A competition between evil and justice….Magnificent environment of God, flowers bloom, flourish, flower of God’s hands thrown a riot of color. Peony and Poppy the call of God in the beauty of flowers debut, the noble and elegant Peony, Poppy is the Sexy Charm Monster…Peony gave her last hug and love to the god of flowers who she was deeply attached to and still deeply in love with and lighted herself with smile in her face”

I. Cannot. Wait.