What do you eat?

What do you eat?

What kinds of food do you eat?  I was thinking about making dinner tonight and what I should make.  When I was thinking about that, I realized that the scenarios I went through were all “foreign” foods.  But really, what is American food?  Isn’t most of the foods we eat these days an amalgamation of many countries?

When I was in junior high, I was tutored for a whole summer in Hong Kong Chinese cooking.  When I lived in China in 2001 and 2002, I learned northern Chinese cooking and Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.  Hong Kong is more Cantonese or Southern and the dishes are sweeter.  Most of the early Chinese restaurants in the U.S. served southern style.  I also learned to make Dim Sum.

When I was in Mexico, I prepared Mexican dishes almost exclusively.  I have taught myself many other cuisines as well, French, German, Swedish and more.

I used to teach Greek cooking classes and prepared such things as domas (stuffed grape leaves), baklava (phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey), spanakopita (phyllo filled with spinach and feta cheese).  Later I taught Mexican, Italian, and foods from India.

When I think about what to eat, I usually think of something from another country.  Maybe it is because I am getting old and I crave strong, flavorful food.  Somehow a plain hamburger just doesn’t meet that need.  Cajun food does with its hot and spicy flavors, but it is really a combination of many cultures including French, African and American.  Their cornbread is not original to the U.S.  I ate corncakes for breakfast in China and they have been serving it since long before America existed as we know it today.  Cornbread (corncakes) is a staple in many countries around the world.

So what’s for dinner?  Chili Verde (pork in green chili sauce) with rice and black beans with fresh tortillas.  It is really cold, so this dish should warm our hearts and our taste buds. Since it takes a little while to cook, it will help warm the house too.  Sounds perfect for a twenty-five degree day.  Even better with eggs for breakfast burritos tomorrow morning.

Pedicab travel in Beijing

https://i1.wp.com/www.tour-beijing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Rickshaw-31.jpg

(typical pedicabs, though the ones we used (twice) had now awning and the man who pedaled was much older)

LiuLiChong was a beautiful old street on the edge of a hutong, a village within the city, walled all around and possessing its own zip code.  Most of the water related facilities in hutongs were used in common, wells, restrooms, showers and such. Some had as many as 10,000 residents. Anyway, it was a picturesque area with large, mature trees lining the streets and many stores with the old fashioned facades that sold to artists.  There were also galleries and “antique” stores.  I needed a couple of paint brushes and nearby there was a Korean BBQ area where we liked to eat.

It was a really hot day and rather than walking from the subway station (loop line) we opted to use a rickshaw or more accurately, a pedicab.  This one had two seats mounted on the back of a bicycle.  We only used these twice in China because I felt them to be somewhat demeaning to the drivers, though it was the way they earned their living.

We are moving along at quite a clip through traffic, the driver was older with mostly white hair and beanpole thin.  He wore a wife beater and tan shorts with flip flops. The breeze felt good in the heat.  Bob had on Bermuda shorts and I had on a skirt.  One thing you may not realize is that most Chinese men lack any body hair, even on their faces.  My husband is very fair having been a red head in his younger days.

We had seen the driver look back at us a couple of times and I was trying to keep my skirt decently in place as we traveled. Suddenly Bob feels something moving up his leg.  He looked down and the driver was reaching back and running his hand up and down Bob’s calf feeling the bristly reddish hairs on his leg!  We both laughed and the driver laughed and then he looked at mine.  I shave mine and he must have thought that I was more “normal” like the Chinese with no leg hair.

Trains in China

(The writing group I belong to assigned the topic “trains” and I decided to share it with you. The photo is a nicer train than the one we slept in where the shelves were wood and it was very dark.)

Hard Sleeper Carriage

When I lived in China, I had the opportunity to travel almost the full length of the country by various forms of transportation, plane, train, bus, rickshaw, but never on a boat.  In January, February, and March of that year’s spring break, we would travel by train for the first time in China.

I had a foreign affairs officer who became good friend, and whose primary job was to answer questions and make our transition of living in China an easier one.  So who did I turn to for lessons on how to travel? Zhou Wei.  Help, how do we make a train reservation?  What are the options?  How can I tell them the destination? And a hundred others.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to keep to a schedule on the trip, so if we missed a conveyance or took one to the wrong place, we could just continue on anywhere we wanted.  We did, however, have a bit of a plan.

I had tried to think of all the things I might need to ask someone while we travelled, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat, where is a hotel and more. I wrote all the questions on flash cards and had one of my students write the phrase in Chinese characters on the other side, that way I could ask and hopefully understand and get the right answer.

Zhou Wei took us to the train ticket office near the university where we taught and showed us how to purchase a ticket, something that cannot happen more than three days ahead of your travel date. Spring break, millions and millions travel in China.  Students have more time off, but business people and workers only have a short window of a week for vacation, thus transportation would be packed and overloaded during that time.  We would try to stay in one place when this was the most difficult.

When it came time to leave for Xi’an, our fist stop, Zhou Wei went with us to the train station to show us how to find our train.  All the schedules have the names of the destinations in Chinese characters.  This meant I would have to memorize all the city names on our route in Chinese.  Fortunately the times were written in western numbers.

When we were getting on the train, we had to surrender our ticket.  I was a little worried that I didn’t have proof of the stop where I was supposed to exit and might be asked to leave earlier, but I was given a metal, dog tag type device to keep until my time to get off.

We had reserved a soft sleeper for the first leg of our journey.  This was even more comfortable than the bed in our apartment with four bunks.  Our roommates were two men who did not speak any English.  They immediately stripped to their long johns so as to not wrinkle their suits.  Luckily there was no smoking in the room so they needed to go between cars to do that.  Toilets were at each end of the car, one western and one Chinese. There was a washroom adjacent to the conductor’s cubbyhole.

Everyone was wandering around the train partially dressed.  They would sleep in their long johns.

A large thermos of boiling water was provided and the conductor kept it full for us. I had brought teabags and our dinner.  We sat at a small pop-up table below the window and watched the world go by through lace curtains until dark.  This train was the most luxurious of all in our travels.

People were polite and tried to engage us in conversation.  On another leg of the journey, they watched us play canasta and tried to figure out the game as they are big card players who always want to gamble on them.

On one leg of the journey, I made a serious mistake while reserving our accommodations. I chose beds #3 and 4, wrongly making the assumption that they would be above and below each other in the same compartment. Wrong.  They were in two different compartments.  I went to mine and with charades, asked the man above my bunk would trade with my husband who had a lower bunk.  He agreed in a minute as the lower are the more desirable.

On one leg of the journey we could only get hard sleeper.  Hard sleeper is a little fancier than a cattle car.  Wooden bunks are stacked four high.  I didn’t see any chickens, but some livestock are allowed to be carried in this compartment.  We slept on a board with the ¼” thick pad like we originally had for a mattress in Beijing.  We didn’t sleep much due to discomfort and the general hubbub in the car.  The people were very kind and gracious to us but someone was up the whole night talking or eating or calming crying infants.  I could have throttled the two young me in the two top bunks playing video games with companion sounds (read noise), the whole night long. One man wanted to talk with us, but he didn’t speak English.  He left for about two hours and came back with someone he found in soft seat who spoke English and could act as a translator.  We spent quite a while answering his questions.  It was fun and he was sooooo happy.

When you are nearing a town and it seems like about the time that you should arrive at your destination, start watching for the signs for the name of the station, only a few had their names in pinyin (western characters).  Here is where I really had to read fast and had needed memorize the name in characters.  I wouldn’t have much of a glimpse and I needed to see if it was our stop.  We travelled for two and a half months and we didn’t get off wrong anywhere.  We carried our baggage with us so there was no need to locate it when we arrived at our destination. I suspect that there was no baggage check as everyone carried their piles of bags, luggage, animals and more and dumped them in aisles, under seats on the foot of beds.

Now China has high speed trains that can travel from one end of the country to the other in just a couple of days.  It used to take five.  The trains from Beijing to Xi’an, Shanghai, TianJin are more luxurious than the ones that deal with other Provinces.  A professor friend of mine said he slept on a board stretched between two seats for his bed on the train. He kept falling off.  We traveled in comfort, even in the hard sleeper section.

Though some were crowded, it was very festive and the people were kind and helpful.  The conductors/conductresses were attentive, maybe more so to us as we were foreigners.  All in all, trains in China are the way to go and my preferred means of travel.