Saturday, November 22, 2008

Terry breaks down and cooks

I grabbed a bite to eat and had a short nap, all that traveling with James had made me simultaneously hungry and tired. I decided to head back out for my evening walk around 4PM with two objectives in mind – walk over to the light rail station and understand it, and find a couple of bottles of Coke at the grocery store.

The path to the train from the hotel runs through 5 Colour Town and it’s even worse in the daytime than it is at night when the lack of lighting effectively hides all the rough edges. I passed a guy walking with what might have been a working girl and he said something unintelligible to me. I smiled and kept walking on, only to hear him yelling something at my back. I turned to see her pulling him down the street as he continued to stare and gesture at me.

The center part of the district is a big square with statues of the Chinese Zodiac characters on pillars. I stopped to take a picture of the horse, framed against the evening sky. Loud techno was blasting from something in the center that turned out to be an outdoor roller skating rink. The Chinese version of Emo kids were gliding around in circles to the deafening music. I thought this probably merits a return for a video. In fact it’s too bad all of the urban photos I post deserve sound – still pictures just don’t do the scenes the justice that they deserve.

Emo is interesting in China, both the boys and the girls have these ratted beehive hairdos, are exceedingly skinny and pretty much mope all over the place arm in arm or holding hands. And they don’t convey a sense of warmth and amity, rather if they weren’t stick figures, they would be a bit menacing. 5 Colour must be the center of their Saturday universe, because there were hundreds of them wandering to and fro.

I crossed on the diagonal choosing my path carefully to avoid any contact with the roving bands and made my way to the train station. On my side were escalators that appeared to go up the tracks for the direction I did not want so I passed under them and walked around the front of the building. The ground floor held a long line of offices, all dark and empty except for one where a girl in a uniform was busy working over a sheet of numbers with a yellow highlighter. Continuing on, I found the doors – all secured with chains and padlocks. So I continued around the corner completing 90% of the circle I had started. Figuring the escalators were “it”, I climbed up. No, they were not working and the treads were so clogged with embedded trash that it was clear that they had not worked in a long time, if ever. Reaching the platform at the top, I passed a dark room with men seated around tables playing cards, drinking and smoking. Some sort of gambling parlor. I reached the doors which were all secured, with chains and padlocks.

Okay, I know there’s a train station here somewhere so I headed back down the broken escalators and retraced my steps a bit past more locked doors to an entrance that appeared to be open. This led to a cell phone store and then a computer store and then across an alley which I had seen on my circuit but assumed was too dark and dingy to hold a train station entrance. Never assume anything in China.

I went in and had a look around, found the ticket window and made a plan to return tomorrow.

The techno music was still blaring and the Emos were still milling as I headed back across the square. A small group of boys on BMX bikes were using the stairs and platforms to do tricks – there was one western kid among them.

Continuing on I walked past a couple of restaurants that I had been to, one store with a nearly irresistible sign over the door and a massage parlor where a young woman motioned me to come on in. I smiled and kept going, passing restaurants where you could see the staff lined up in the lobby, in neat rows and columns to receive the evening’s instructions from their leaders. A well dressed man in a business suit staggered by, clearly drunk and completely oblivious that he was about to walk straight into me.

This time I a long path around the back of the mall figuring I would stop in for an Americano (but no muffin, Rudi) passing by fruit and vegetable vendors and one guy selling the kid of fancy glass objet d’ arte that we buy in galleries back home. Today was An Sheng Mall’s 5th anniversary and there were giant inflatable red arches and blaring Chinese pop music to entice shoppers in for the discounts.

I ordered and waited for my coffee and picked up the wrong one when the barista mumbled the call out so bad that it sounded like “Americano” when it was a ½ skinny, ½ fat, half double decaf latter with sprinkles and cinnamon. I walked back and grabbed mine and went back outside.

Using the tunnels I crossed under Jin Ma Lu and came out by the grocery store. The streets were mobbed and so I decided to wander around a bit before braving grocery shopping. I found the restaurant that was the scene of the famous deer meat dumpling lunch described back in September. Stopping on a street corner, I watched a woman walking her fat white Pomeranian without a leash pick the dog up and holding it like a baby, carry it across the street. The dog looked up at her serenely.

Back towards the stores and across the street and down the escalator, I grabbed a hand basket and began to wander around picking up things here and there. Taking stock of my inventory, I realized I wasn’t doing a particularly well balanced job – two liters of Coke, a tube of Pringles and a tub of miniature Dove bars. Heading over to the vegetable section I continued my search for string beans. I watched a young woman picking through a giant pile of beans not yet ripe, carefully examining and taking the few that were close to green. I gathered up some yogurt and scanned the frozen food section which was filled from rim to rim with dozens of brands of frozen dumplings and nothing else. Moving on I grabbed a jar of Chinese blueberry jam and coming around a corner I found that elusive prey that all westerners seek – Oatmeal. I can’t describe how much this lifted my spirits seeing William Penn there on the label smiling in a sea of Hanji. I grabbed the bag and headed to check out. They might be instant, but they were oats and I was consolidating my gains while I could.

The young woman in line in front of me couldn’t decide whether she wanted to watch the check out girl or look back at me in horror, doing far more of the latter. I was glad when she was gone so I could bag up and pay.

Last night was the night I decided to cook for the first time. I had finished the last of the Chuan Ren Bai Wei leftovers for lunch, so I was thinking I would fire up my newly purchased pan and cook up a grilled cheese with Canadian bacon.

I prepared the fixings, got my little skillet, reviewed the controls on the stove and started pushing buttons. The stove began beeping, loudly and with some urgency. I was stymied – it seemed very straightforward with buttons for temperature, power level, on/off and a timer for God knows what reason. But the little “heating” light refused to come on. The stove sounded so angry that I figured it must have been talking to the washing machine which clearly thinks I’m and idiot. And so began the experimentation. I turned on the burner next to the one I was attempting to use, and the heating lamp came on. So I swapped the pans sitting on the working burner with the one I couldn’t get to come on and put my pan on the working one. It stopped. So I did the switch again and finally, through a series of successive approximations realized that only certain, magic pans could coax the stove to work.

Suddenly I snapped to it – this is an induction stove and only certain pans will work with it. So much for my trip to Metro, I was now the proud owner of a useless aluminum frying pan. Perhaps some luck girl will find it in their stocking come Christmas time.

Dinner was great by the way.

Closing out today’s tale, I’ll tell you about my oatmeal experience in short bursts – Chinese instant oatmeal ends up being a bit like oat flavored peanut butter once cooked, Chinese blueberry jam is a lot like spreadable Gummy Bears and the size of hotel dishes required you to use two bowls to have a reasonable meal. It was a nice treat and somewhat evoking of home.

Off to the train station now.






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