‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’
I have been here since the second of December. I left on the thirtieth of November. Somewhere a day was lost, and it really does not matter. The days just keep rolling by. I was plagued by jet lag; we are thirteen hours ahead of New York City. It is a strange jet lag, almost easier than the three hours to CA, or the various hours to Europe. Everything is just flip-flopped. What makes it weird is the rhythm of the household. Dinner is at 5:45 or 6:00 pm and it is dark and cold. The houses south of Yangtze River have no heat or insulation so the cold wraps around you and penetrates into the bones; thank you oh great and wise Communist powers that be. I am wearing a hat and three or four layers inside which are keeping me just warm enough. At 8:00 pm it is hard to stay awake. I crawl into bed with the intention of reading one of the 100 or so books I downloaded on my new little tablet (all of which are in the public domain), and last about five minutes. My little brain thought it would like to reread the classics, and I have gotten through the two Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I had forgotten how delightful they are. I have an electric mattress pad that creates a toasty base, although some coils are hotter than others and weird dreams ensue. Universes collide and people come and go. Of course I am awake at 2:45 am. Like Linus, I have brought a Mexican blanket woven for me by the family in Teotitlán del Valle for whom I put together a little website (see www.arteseda.com). It is a reminder of home and keeps me warm. I force myself to fall asleep again with varying degrees of success. Last night was okay and I awoke at 5:45 am and made breakfast for the house. Breakfast here is JO pronounced JOE with some sort of tone/inflection I cannot get my head around; patience grasshopper, patience. It has only been a short while, and you are not young anymore. It means leftover things. JO consists of a gruel substance with last night’s proteins and veggies mixed in. Put a poached egg on top and voila! Breakfast is served. It can be rice or anything at all. Today was millet. I enhanced the leftovers with carrot, cabbage, garlic, ginger, and some salt pork. I made breakfast today because the Ai or nanny/caretaker left for her village for some time off. She has a husband and a six year old daughter. She will see them for a week and prepare for my arrival and the killing of the pig and two goats.
The food in general is fantastic. My brother and the family love food and the Ai (Chinese Nanny) is a marvelous cook. It is simple home food. Yesterday for lunch she made fat soup noodles by hand, cooked with winter squash, bamboo shoot and green pickled vegetable soup/stew with little bits of pork in it. The broth was a salt pork base which made it whitish, cloudy and rich. The Ai seems to think I need fattening up, so my portions are immense: fat happy Buddha in the making.
Today for lunch we had sticky rice wrapped in some sort of palm/banana/bamboo (no one seems to know) leaf with peanuts, soy sauce pork belly, and whole chestnuts; it is a traditional southern Chinese food called Zong Zi [zɒŋ zʌ]. It is what they eat for New Year festivities instead of the Northern staple of dumplings. She spent hours making the packages; each one perfect little pyramids. They are boiled in water with a green leaf herb that turns the water and rice purple. The rice is special round rice. They are crazy good. Certainly stuffing and good for traveling; I ate four. (https://www.vimeo.com/58420588)
We have persimmons, mangosteens, and pomelos and so many other exotic fruits. All of Asia is at my fingertips. The persimmons are so fragile that you cannot handle them too much or they tear open and fall apart into your hands. You eat them with a spoon. I made marmalade from persimmons, pomelo, lemons and oranges. It is liquid and will glaze ham and ducks beautifully. The mangosteens are rich, juicy and tart yet sweet. I am working on my hand skills in splitting them. Everything that must be opened has a hand skill technique. I mastered the hazelnut opening technique when I was five. Soon the mangosteens like the four tones of Mandarin will be mastered, or at least not butchered. I killed and cleaned two chickens today; they are chilling for tomorrow. It is a good feeling to get back to where one’s food comes from and respect the life given. Letting meat rest for a day is always a good idea, unless it is freshly killed organ meat.
I think the idea of this whole China File is to meander through food and traditions of food in China and wherever else I end up. I think many of the traditions will disappear soon as the great globalizing homognefication (my word thank you very much – like nounification. I take credit for both) expands its plastic and processed tentacles deeper into the globe. I am reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, where Calvin is talking to Hobbes or vice-versa. He is reading out loud: “It says that religion is the opiate of the masses. I wonder what that means.” The TV next to him has a thought bubble “Marx ain’t seen nothing yet.” As it spreads and tells us to buy and consume we are changed by the images we see. I am trying to be very careful what goes in nowadays. There is a commercial here that drives me crazy; it aired constantly in my time in Beijing. It is for some god-awful bottled sugared tea in two liter jugs. The gist: modern and successful young parents, attired in western garb, go visit their elderly parents who are more traditionally dressed. They bring along the grandson who is decked out like the “little emperor.” They explain to the parents through the yapping mouth of grandson that this new tea is the best thing since, well, old tea? I don’t understand the language, but the imagery is clear. Come into the modern processed world and forget about the 4,000 years of tea you have been making. Even little kiddo here knows. The grandparents ooh and ah. Last shot: little emperor talking to the camera. Blah Blah Tea Blah Blah Best! It infuriates me. I continue the sequel in my mind after the modern kids go home, with little whatever his name might be. The grandparents look at the bottle and grandpa says “Get that shit out of the house, and where did they get that ridiculous costume? This is progress?
Can China be able to leap forward and avoid poisoning itself and us? Maybe, but I don’t believe it. Meanwhile, I will eat my way to oblivion…as it slides continues to slide into the decadence of the west. Dear Santa: please give me an editor for Christmas…