Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A regular day

A word or two about food.

In China, dinner is a completely different event than what we are used to in the west. First of all, large quantities and a vast selection of food is brought to the table. Secondly, you don’t take your “share”; you eat a little, spin the Lazy Susan and rest a lot between mouthfuls. It’s all about turning dinner into an event for visiting. And you order so much that you leave some behind, as a gesture to the host indicating that you have been served plenty.

The last two meals for me have been grand repasts. Last night the IT team went out for a traditional Shanghaiese meal in a 1930s converted row house. The trip in to our private room was down a multitude of halls and up continuous little staircases that evoked the passage into Gryffindor Tower in the Harry Potter books. The room we had was more than likely a bedroom in the home of a prosperous, pre-war family.

As always, the food was delicious and interesting. A mixture of hot and cold dishes comprising the full range of food groups. Spicy cubed lamb with mint, Shanghai river fish boiled in yellow wine and vinegar, chopped up chicken and a whole duck, rendered to jerky on the bone. A bowl of bok choi, soy beans, bamboo shoots and a tureen of fish soup spiced with those little pods we find on lantern trees. Brazed mutton and shrimp in the shell with the heads still on. Bean soup and an unset custard for desert followed by fresh melon. On and on it went, each dish more exotic than the last. Green tea, Qing Dao beer and an interesting warm drink made of pulverized corn. Best of all was the leisurely pace punctuated by great conversation. I think we could learn a thing or two about setting up our meals in a way that brings us together.

In the same vein, lunch today was panoply of textures and taste. The bunch of us went downstairs in the office building to a Japanese restaurant. My dish took a long time to appear, but it was worth the wait. My main course was stir fried pork with ginger, the pork itself being essentially uncured bacon. The side dishes were what set this light lunch apart – egg custard with mushrooms, clam soup, winter melon, pineapple, rice, tofu and a side salad. More food than can be reasonably expected to be eaten, once again.

The notion of food seems to permeate the culture here. Restaurants are everywhere and in a short haul down a main street it ranges from Bubba’s Texas Barbeque to Korean noodle bowl and Kim chi. The variety is staggering and each meal is topped by the next.

With unbridled consumption being the plan for every day we’re here, it’s a good thing that walking is a fun and easy means of burning off some of these meals.

Jet lag in this direction manifests itself in a not terribly undesirable manner – you wake up early, ready to go. This morning I was bright-eyed at 5AM so I headed up to the penthouse at 6, figuring I’d catch the opening of the breakfast line. Which I did, but just a bit before they were ready for me. The chef handed the chopsticks to one of the young women who normally hover about filling coffee cups and told her to scramble my eggs. I added bacon and melon, a cup of tea and a glass of juice and had a nice slow breakfast while reading USA Today. After that, down the lift and out on the street.

My plan for today was to hit the big three parks along Ya’an Xi Lu. At one time or another, I’ve described all of them to you, my faithful readers. For the sake of ease, I’ve named them according to their distinguishing features. First is Wings of Victory Park for the giant stainless steel statue in the center. Second is Rotting Hulk of a PT Boat Park after the ship scuttled in the back lake. And finally we have Feeding the Cats Park by way of the pensioners who call the feral felines out of the bushes for a morning snack. A snack for the cats, not the pensioners.

The walk to the furthest park is about a mile and if you include the spin around the internal loops the whole journey is about 3 miles and takes a good hour. As always, the places were crowded with exercising elderly doing Tai Chi, ballroom dancing and all those other oddball back-slaps, yells, foot waves and full body bends. Every morning it’s a feast for the senses with competing boom boxes playing classical Chinese music, a veritable spectrum of colorful dress and the redolence of unleaded gas exhaust replacing the breathable oxygen.

Today I saw a few of interesting things like the old man in the see through turquoise pants who did three laps in the park while I did one. A couple in burgundy satin pajamas were getting ready for some sort of traditional dance. A calico cat bounding through the underbrush. Several women dancing with swords. And a woman walking and balancing on a dozen or so foot long 4” pipes sticking straight up out of the ground. No cats were being fed and the Chinese Wisteria was in full bloom. A hawk, the first I’ve seen in China was making its way inland. A man carrying two bird cages being followed by his Crested Myna that was hopping along on the ground, his friend the Common Myna singing in one of the cages. Between the traffic, the people, the scooters and the music, it’s a feast.

























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