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.

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