Sunday, August 11, 2013

Good Eggs, Bad Eggs

This is another installment of my Cooking Adventures in China series. It can also fall into the subset called I Didn't Poison My Guests.

To explain: I decided to have a kids-are-gone-so-keep-myself-distracted dinner party. And then, I decided that Beijing's hot and humid weather inspired me to do a party with summer foods: deviled eggs, guacamole and chips, salmon fillet, potato salad, ratatouille, and a peach tarte tatin for dessert. Inspired, as I said.

So the first thing I needed to do was boil some eggs for the deviled eggs and the potato salad. I did that and then Bob and I went out to buy the rest of the ingredients for the dinner party. It's a laborious process that involves a cab ride to the market at Sanyuanli because I'm a little uncertain about the fish at a local wet market, and then a stop at Jenny Lou's for things like whipping cream, a baguette, ice.

The first egg-related tactical error came about when, in an effort to prevent a mesh bags of eggs to be crushed, I put them in my purse. After we finished shopping, we hailed a cab because the weather was about 95, humid and dangerously polluted. I hopped into the car.

Crunch, went my purse.
I decided to wait until I got home to view the carnage.
As I exited the cab, I heard another crunch. Luckily, I had put the eggs inside a second plastic bag, so that the instant omelet was contained. Two eggs lost. It could have been worse.

Then we walked into our apartment.
"What is that SMELL?" I asked Bob accusingly. (31 years of marriage allows me to say these sorts of things accusingly with little or no evidence to support the accusing tone.)

"I don't smell anything," said Bob, who never smells anything.

In China, an unusual smell could come from all sorts of places: a pipe in the bathroom where the septic gases seem to back up every now and then, the neighbor's decision to fry up some rank fish, the air, the great unwashed in the unventilated elevators.

But this was a smell almost like.....rotten eggs. So many people compare bad smells to the smell of rotten eggs that I just didn't make the connection. (And yes, it's possible that I've dropped a few brain cells in my China sojourn.)

I proceeded to start preparing the deviled eggs. This was where it all got very interesting. As I peeled the eggs, I realized that some of the whites were more of a gray than white. Hmmmmm. And when I sliced the eggs, I discovered that in some, the yolk wasn't a round spot in the center of the egg, but more of an odd yellow squiggle at one end. Hmmmmm again.

Then my remaining brain cells kicked in and I remembered that not too long ago, there had been a rash of stories about fake eggs in the markets. Someone figured out that it was actually cheaper to use gelatin and who knows what to make fake eggs to save money. How this is possible is beyond my limited mental capacity. But you can look it up.

When I revealed my suspicions to Bob, he said, helpfully, "Maybe we shouldn't use these eggs for our dinner party." And then he sat down on the couch and said, "Let me know if you need me to do anything!"

I remembered I had the purse eggs, so I boiled up the ones that had survived the journey in the purse. These smelled like eggs, good eggs.

But before I could add the mayonnaise that we had just bought, I opened the jar. Mold. I think Bob was somewhat surprised to find himself marching back to Jenny Lou's to replace the mayo, since I rarely take him up on his offer of "help." But this time it came in handy. And it gave me a second opportunity not to poison my guests. Win-win.

I write this on the day after the dinner party, where I think I can safely assume I would have had news if I had caused any problems. And if you happen to be reading this and happen to have been one of those guests, um, hey.

I was too much in a state of shock and horror to photograph the bad eggs, but I do have evidence of the successful deviled eggs. Whether the first batch was fake or just rotten is still uncertain to me. Whether I'm brave enough to venture deviled eggs again in this country is also uncertain.

But I think I can safely say a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Fraudulent Life, Revealed

Dear readers, I am a fraud. I’ve been going on for quite some time now in this role, but I have to come clean.

Here’s my truth: I keep winning trophies at bowling. But my name is Debbie and I’m a mediocre bowler. My approach is a totally clumsy stride up to the line where I seem to consistently manage to add an odd twist to the ball just as it leaves my hands, sending my body into an odd contortion and sending the ball invariably off to the side or into the gutter. I stand there leaning like an idiot, hoping the force of my powerful thinking will help the ball get back on course.

And yet, the organizers of the International Friendship Bowling League insist on handing me these classy awards. I’m like that kid who shows up to the Saturday morning soccer games just because everybody does that on Saturdays and you sometimes get jelly donuts afterwards.

I don’t deserve these trophies. Look at them.




I’m not sure why Claes, our esteemed captain, gave me the third-place trophy to take home. It might be because he has a little kid at home who might impale himself on it. In any event, I have this shameful collection.

But the other day Bob, in his ever-helpful way, suggested a new use for the trophies. He observed that all expats in China really deserve trophies for putting up with the various difficulties and challenges we face on a daily basis. So I’ve decided to repurpose my trophies, awarding them back to myself for reasons I truly deserve this time.

1.      INTERNET ZEN: 636 days of Internet mafan, including a VPN that shuts out dozens of times a day, creating a Facebook “page not available” sign, a wireless system that cuts out 8 times a day, and the occasional inexplicable denial of the ability to search for, say, peach cobbler online.

2.      TUMMY TROUBLE: Bravery in the face of ice cubes with as much bacteria as toilet water, New Zealand milk that may have botulism, pigs floating in rivers, chickens connected to bird flu, grilled meat that may or may not be rat, exploding watermelons, and bean paste ice cream. Not to mention appetizers that arrive 20 minutes after an entrĂ©e, waiters that expect you to order food within 10 seconds of sitting, and “napkins” thinner than the thinnest tissue.

3.      TRANSPORTATION VALOR: Ability to cross the street as cars, bikes, dogs, people, buses, trucks come from every direction to impede your passing. Ability to hail a taxi and insist that the driver take you where you want to go, or within approximate walking distance. Ability to fight your way off a subway car as clueless Beijing-ren stand and stare at their iphones and ignore the fact that they’re completely blocking exit and entry. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

To Everything There Is a Season

Bob and I are about to enter into a new phase of our living-abroad adventure: a totally kid-free period. Now, there are couples out there who enjoy the empty nest and feel it allows them a whole lot more freedom. We, however, enjoyed having our kids around, Daniel for brief periods when he would pop up from tropical Guangzhou and complain about Beijing’s weather, and Joanna for the whole time we’ve been in Beijing, half living with us, and half with friends.

Joanna and I had our weekly manicures, our “Mad Men” nights, many dinners out, plus Thanksgiving, birthdays, Hanukkah, Passover, and just-because dinners. We shopped together, we admired Chinese babies, we swam in the pool at Seasons Park.

In any event, I’m excited about the next stages for Daniel in Denver and Joanna in Chapel Hill, happy that they’re able to do grad school with scholarships and not be saddled with horrible debt in two years. I know that they’ve got a perspective on the world from all their travels that few twentysomethings have, and that they’ll bring a larger understanding to their studies.

But I’m looking at the next period with a certain amount of trepidation. I’ve never lived abroad without having my kids around to share it.

And Joanna’s departure yesterday was not without a certain level of mafan – trouble. First, the weather. I told her that China clearly didn’t want her to leave, as lightning lit up the night sky, and the heavens opened up. We went out to dinner in the neighborhood, but had to run home in the rain. That was a rookie mistake on my part. As we rounded into Seasons Park, Bob helpfully suggested that I cut past the locked gate and run in through the open car gate so as not to wait in the rain.

I scooted around the gate and wham, slipped and fell in a muddy puddle, twisting my knee badly and slicing my index finger with something on my umbrella. Good thing I was wearing white jeans.
But this was not about me.

We decided to hire a driver since we figured the traffic and the cab situation would be tough in bad weather. So we called Patrick, who supplied a very affable bald guy who clearly loved to chat with foreigners.

And so our trip to the airport was a full-on China moment, with the driver expressing shock at Bob’s age – “Wooooah,” he said – and remembering he took Joanna for her GRE tests in Beijing.

When he asked what Joanna was going to study in the U.S., we made an attempt at saying something to do with health.

“Yisheng?” he asked. (“Doctor?”)
“Chabudou,” we answered. (“More or less.”) We figured that going into detail about a master’s degree in public health was beyond our Chinese abilities.
“WOOOOAH,” he said.

I believe we also covered topics like: Ambassador Gary Locke’s trip to Tibet, a comparison of Chinese and American journalists, the state of Rupert Murdoch’s marriage, the high cost of visiting America, and, of course, whether we had another child. Every statement was met with a “Woooah” from our driver, who chuckled and swerved as he drove us to the airport.

It was a fitting end to Joanna’s China experience, and it was the perfect distraction from sadness. And fitting, too, that we found out at the airport that her delayed flight would probably cause her to miss connections in Canada. Mafan.

There’s certainly one good reason for her to leave: she seems to be a committed runner, going out on days when the PM 2.5 is around 160, a state that would cause a major freakout in America. And when she returned our fancy American air cleaner to us, a cleaner for which she hadn’t changed the filter in two years, this is what we found.
On the left, the gray dust from two years of sucking in Beijing air. On the right, a new carbon filter.

Last dinner at Lost Heaven.