Monday, June 01, 2009

Dinner achieved!

When I returned from my bike outing and recovered from my strenuous ride up the elevator I decided to call My Lovely Wife. We were having a nice catch-up conversation when all hell broke loose – a wedding across the street at the Inn Fine. The event brought to mind a story that a friend told me about being on the phone with a help desk person when some Chinese New Year's fireworks kicked off – the help desk person was so shocked by the explosions that they asked if my friend was in a war zone. That anecdote pretty much sums it up – fireworks in China are the bane of a sane existence.

Wondering about the racket I got up and looked out the window - the bride and groom were in a white stretch Lincoln limousine, the videographer was leading in a red convertible and blocking the rest of Jin Ma Lu were the 10 or 15 black sedans forming the wedding party. Traffic was backed up for blocks while the procession sat and waited for the fireworks to scare off the evil spirits. My Lovely Wife told me to go and lock myself in the bathroom to lessen the din, but it's not an option - my building is 100% poured concrete and my Wi-Fi signal is only strong enough to maintain a Skype connection within 6 feet of my router. Since I couldn't hear I decided to take some pictures.

The fireworks ended after 30 seconds or so and the limo pulled in to allow the happy couple to get out of the car. They walked 25 feet as the cannons went off showering them with little bits of colored confetti and streamers. Cannons discharged, they walked another 10 feet where the bride was handed a cluster of balloons, probably 6 feet in diameter. Surprisingly she was able to release them before the combined lift carried her away. As they walked to the hotel entrance the balloons floated off against the background of Big Black Mountain on their way to choke a dolphin or to find their place in the North Pacific Trash Gyre. Or maybe both. The moment they were inside the red inflatable arch was a blob on the ground and workers were busy sweeping up the fireworks residue. In no time it was as though none of it had ever happened.









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Having successfully hunted and gathered my set of All the Basic Ingredients for Chinese Cooking, I decided that Sunday night was going to be my inaugural cooking evening. I had some pork, I had the goods, I had some leftover green beans courtesy of my gracious hostess and I was ready to whip up a masterpiece. I went off to the web and found a recipe for Sichuan stir-fried pork and figured it was a good place to start. I didn't have any chicken broth or peanuts, or a means to accurately measure the ingredients that I did have, but I figured I'd let the chiles and the peppercorns in the green beans carry the day. All I really needed to do was whip up a brown sauce with a little soy, cook the meat, add some vinegar, rice wine and cornstarch and re-heat the vegetables. How could that not turn out fit for a king? Worst case it was crunchy peanut butter and sour cherry jam on my last two pieces of bread.

My kitchen is a little on the small side and the counters are really low for a strapping brute such as me. In order to do the dishes I have to sort of stoop over and put my head under the cabinets to be looking down on the work. It's that or rest my forehead on a cabinet door. The sink levels off at about 5 inches below my belt buckle so I'm in a serious crunch when it comes time to do the dishes. Surprisingly, the upper cabinets are mounted high, so much so that I can barely reach the top shelf. Your average Chinese would need a fireman's ladder to use the upper two shelves. The d├ęcor is very modern, and the cabinets are opened and closed not with handles but with a metal channel that forms a sharp edge at just about top of the forehead level. I've told myself about sixteen times to not leave those doors open when I'm flitting around the kitchen putting things away.

There is a general dearth of cabinet space, certainly not enough for food, supplies and dishware. I got busy doing the prep work – laying out the ingredients, chopping the meat and lining up the bottles of vinegar, wine and soy. I realized about this time that my current storage spot for bottles and utensils, just off the right of the cooktop, was going to be a poor choice because everything was going to get oil splattered whenever I fried. So I set about opening and closing doors and moving things around. I found a home for the utensils that was convenient – upper cabinet just to the right of the burners. About this time the meat was finishing up and it was time to add the chicken broth substitute – water - and so I turned and went to the water dispenser inconveniently located in the dining room next to the refrigerator (a big improvement over having it in the living room where it was originally however.) I dumped the water in the wok and did a couple of spins to get it mixed, reducing the flame to get a roiling simmer going. That taken care of I turned to go back to stuffing things in the upper cabinet when I felt this sort of sickening thud – I'd walked straight into the edge of a cabinet door with the top of my head.

At first I wasn't sure how to react – it hurt so much that I was at a loss for words. My reaction was to grab a piece of paper towel and in applying it I realized I was bleeding like a stuck pig. It's never a good feeling to put a piece of paper on your head and have it come away blood-soaked. I decided to go and have a look in the mirror, already dreading my return visit to the First Affiliate Hospital of the Dalian Medical University for stitches. Heading off to the nearest bathroom I suddenly came to the realization that this bathroom doesn't have a light over the mirror, only the light in the center of the room ceiling which is useless for finding a bleeding wound in the center of a head with hair. Down the hall to the master bathroom and the same slap in the face – no wonder my makeup has been so poorly applied lately – the mirrors in this joint are dark. I stood there and thought about it for a minute or so, filling up my towel with more of the red stuff before it dawned on me to grab my flashlight and illuminate the stricken region while looking in one of the abysmal mirrors. Of course I really could have used three hands to do this – one to hold the light and two to move my hair around but I managed with two and found a pair of nice little gouges torn in my scalp. Bloody but not stitch worthy. I grabbed a blob of Neosporin and gave myself a stylishly nice moussey antibacterial hairdo.

The dinner turned out to be sublime and I enjoyed it sitting in my red Poang chair overlooking the buildings below illuminated by the golden light of the setting sun.

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