Tuesday, October 30, 2012

China Act Two....is mostly about food

 Broccoli and Winter Melon, NOT cheese sauce on top
 Pickled radishes, Lotus root and sticky sweet rice, pickled walnuts
 Chocolate covered Purple Yams and fruit loops!
Shrimp, celery and peanuts
  Now Act Two opens. We are still on the work part of our trip, but we've switched companions from Mary and Johnny to Paul and Tom. In Act Two we will still be visiting with factories. I didn't take many pictures of the factory visits because the machines and things were not that interesting to me...and I didn't want to seem too touristy!
     For me Act Two was about the people that I met who work with David. Paul Higgs and Tom Zhue were our contact points now. It could be that because both Paul and Tom are a younger team than Mary and Johnny that I felt less hurried during Act Two. Or, I suppose it could have been that because I'd been in China for a few days and was now used to this other side of the world. I'm not sure really. Oh, maybe it was because we didn't eat any KFC during Act Two! Let me begin Act Two, Thursday  the 27th of September with the story of our arrival in Han Dan City.
     Act Two, Scene One: Our flight from Shanghai to Han Dan City was an hour delayed in leaving, so an hour delayed in arriving in Han Dan City. There is only one flight per day, so you take what you can get when traveling in country. While we sat in the airport, David, Stephanie and I, we chatted about nothing in particular. And, in our chatting, lots of people watched us. I think some of them were trying to understand what we were saying...some of them did understand! And, some of them just thought it was strange to see Anglos in a Chinese airport going to a very Chinese city away from touristy places. 
     As we waited we met a young Chinese boy who said to us, "Have you got any money so I can get something to eat? I'm really hungry. I'm an exchange student home from Canada. I can trade you my Canadian money." I thought this was pretty strange. But, we were in a very safe airport, so I knew he wasn't trying to panhandle us. David gave him a few dollars and asked him where he was going. Now, mind you the boy was speaking English, but when he answered David it sounded like he said, "I'm muffin top." He really said, "I'm going back home." But David did not hear it that way. For some reason, I think because we were pretty tired from a very long day, this "muffin top" comment made us laugh. We did wait until the boy was gone to get some food before we laughed. Poor guy, he became known to us as Muffin Top!
     We began to watch the crowd grow bigger at the gate of our flight, and the frenzy of lining up to get on.  In China there really is no such thing as a nice orderly line. You know how Southwest Airlines has their sign markers for lining up by number and how crazy and rude that can get? Well, this is a million times worse than that! The gate agents were even yelling at people to get back. At least, we think that's what they were saying in Chinese. They would make an announcement about the flight delay, in Chinese of course, and then repeat it in English. It's a good thing I was on the trip because both David and Stephanie never could understand the English bits. I had to translate the English for them! It was pretty funny.
     Finally we arrived in Han Dan City an hour and 1/2 later than we were supposed to be. It was about 9pm. All we were thinking about was where we would be sleeping tonight. However, we were whisked from the airport straight to a HUGE traditional Chinese dinner....at 9 pm!! Everyone from Max Health, along with Paul and Tom, had been waiting for us at the dinner place. We found out that they had asked the chef to stay late just for us! For this dinner there were eleven people; Dixon and his wife Wendy--the owners of the factory that we would tour the next day--a cute couple whose names I do not know who work for Dixon making rollator seats, Tom and Paul, Jenny and Vivian, Stephanie, David and me.  This dinner would be our first traditional Chinese dinner.
     Act Two Scene Two: The restaurant was actually in a hotel in a sort of banquet room with VIP on the door. There were lots of these rooms where other dinners were in progress, but mostly finishing up since it was so late!
     There are a lot of interesting traditions involved in this type of dinner. The first one is about the table. It is round and very big. In the middle of the table is a lazy susan that is about the size of a normal round dining room table. All the food is set on the lazy susan and passed by turning. The food kept coming and coming in no apparent order. We started with some cold veggies, miso soup, hot tea, a very interesting warm beverage made from a kind of nut that I didn't catch the name of, cold chicken with bones, and Mao Tai--also known as Chinese wine.
     Another tradition is to make special toasts with this Chinese wine. It is really strong and served in tiny shot glasses. The idea is that you drink the entire portion with the toast to show respect and appreciation for the toast or the person to whom you are toasting. The portion was about an ounce. Mao Tia is really strong, so it's not a good idea to drink too much of it. I had read all about the toasting in on of the China travel books before we left, so I was prepared to pretend drink. I sipped mine unless there was a challenge issued by the toaster to drink together the entire drink. There were lots of toasts, "to our gracious and generous hosts" , "to our American friends",  "to good business", etc. I did offer a toast to the cute couple after I found out they had only been married for seven years. Everyone we had been meeting kept saying that David and I were such a "cute couple". So, in my toast I said something like, "To the real cute couple, long years, happy children, and a good life." They giggled at me and responded to my toast by smiling and toasting me back. It was kind of fun to engage in the tradition of Mao Tai.
     The food at this dinner was very traditional. David would try to tell me what things were. I finally just said, "Don't tell me! I want to try everything, but if you tell me what it is, I might not want to."  I tried jellyfish because I thought it looked like ceviche, which I do like. I was surprised that it was very crunchy. After I tried it, David said, "That was jellyfish!" eeeeww!! We also had yummy fish with the head, tail and fins still on. You don't have to eat those parts, but some people do like them. There were no forks, knives or spoons...all chopsticks!! I did pretty well.  Actually there were big serving type spoons that most people used to eat their soups with. I used mine to serve myself from the dishes, otherwise you would use your chopsticks to grab what you want. Eventually I did that because it was getting too difficult not to do it that way.
     These are the things I remember eating:
     Yams...which were white and had donut sprinkles on top! They tasted like sugary Thanksgiving sweet potatoes.
     Sushi salmon with cucumbers...delish!
     Chinese tacos, little steamed dough things that you put a piece of beef, cucumber sprouts in the middle of and then ate with your fingers. I learned later that this is the traditional way to eat Peking Duck too.
     A thick fishcake which seemed like it was fried, not sure what type of fish it was. The base of the fishcake was something strange and crunchy, served warm. Later I would learn that it was lotus root at the base of the fishcake.
     Almond fishcakes which were skinny compared to the other ones. This one was made on a base of nori (seaweed paper) with chopped fish sprinkled with sliced almonds, also served warm.
     Watermelon....something I love and which was very easy to find at every meal!
     Noodles with a light sauce, broccoli and excellent shrimp.  This was hard to eat with chopsticks, I had to use the funky Chinese soup spoon to hold the noodles still so I could grab them with my chopsticks!
     Some kind of fried dough that Wendy really liked.
     Poppy Seed dumpling...a dumpling that was stuffed with poppy seeds....way interesting.
     Something that was called, "fruit soup". I believe that the true ingredients of this soup were lost in translation because there were no fruits in the soup! It was red beans, carrots and some other vegetable in a curry broth and served warm.
     I have to say that I really liked all the food I ate. I was pretty full when dinner was over!
     Things I did not eat:
     Duck--because it had bones in it and, I had eaten goose at an earlier meal and really, really did not like it.
     Silky tofu--mostly because it kept getting spun past me!
     Pork steamed buns--because I was getting too full.
     Plain steamed broccoli--again, too full!!
     This was all at ONE meal! We didn't finish until about 10:45pm. There was so much left over food. No one asked for a doggie bag, and no one offered one either! We slept very well that night. It was a lovely meal and I felt truly as though I had been the guest of honor at the home of dear friends for the evening.
     Act Two Scene Three: We went to Dixon's factory in the morning and toured all eleven buildings before meeting in the conference room to talk about current business. At about lunch time we learned that we were going to eat lunch as the special guests of the local Government Officials. This would be my second Chinese traditional meal, which would be less like eating a meal with friends and more like eating with Officials. We were told that the invitation to lunch was, "Because Stephanie and Sarah are here the Government Officials want to meet with us. So, we go there for lunch!" The last time David was in China he had the honor of meeting and eating with the Officials. We hopped in the car and drove a couple blocks to the Government building, kind of like a City Hall. We were greeted by the door by the secretary of the Official. She took us into the building and up the stairs to a room very much like the one we had eaten in the previous night. The food was much the same...as was the Mao Tai toasting...only these toast were more along the lines of, "thank you for coming and honoring us". Somehow I was served red wine instead of Mao Tai...which was fine with me. Once your glass was empty, someone was at your elbow immediately filling it up again! There was never a time when you could say, "oh, sorry, I can't drink the toast" because you always had something in your glass! Every time a new Official came in the room to meet us, more toasts! It got to be a little comical! It was Friday and we figured that the Officials were drinking their lunch more than they were eating it! Conversation got a little silly at one point when we started talking about Chinese signs and who was what. I was born in 1968, the year of the Monkey.  Any year with an eight at the end is a Monkey year. I learned that I was one of four other monkeys in the room, and the only girl monkey. So, I toasted all the Monkeys! It was pretty silly stuff which I really hope doesn't go on too much in US government lunches....but it probably does! It was very interesting to get to be a part of this very official and traditional lunch. On the way out we Americans were saying that we were glad that the only room in the very large Communist Government building that we got to be in was the lunchroom....none of us wanted to begin to imagine what goes on in the other rooms.
     Tomorrow I'll give you Act Two Scene Four: more about the people I met.

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