To Wuhan!

7 Jun

It’s just after 5 AM and Rachelle and I are getting ready to catch an early train to Wuhan for a poetry conference she’s attending.

I’m not bringing the laptop, but I have a sick little notebook and a camera, and I’ll tell you all about it when we get back after Sunday night.

I know that whenever I need some material for a post, I can always turn to something I’ve recently eaten.  As any regular reader should know by now, there are all sorts of culinary adventures available for a foreigner in China.  Recently, a friend of Rachelle’s and mine invited us out for an authentic Cantonese dinner at 炳胜(bing3 sheng4) restaurant across the street from the TaiKoo Hui shopping center.

We were going to take the B9 bus there, which uses Guangzhou’s BRT system–basically a highway for buses that cuts through the city and carries up to a million passengers a day.  But apparently they had changed their plans and the one bus that stopped by was only going as far as Zhujiang New Town, so we gave up before the rain started falling too hard and took the metro, because hey, why not get packed in a rolling tin can like sardines.

We found the place rather easily, and our friend arrived shortly after.  We let him make most of the choices, since we’re still not exactly experts on Cantonese cuisine, and in fact we can’t even speak Cantonese.  Oh well.

In true Cantonese fashion, the dishes arrived as they were ready.  We started out with some Pu’er tea, and marinated lotus root slices.


This tea comes from a particular part of Yunnan province and is fermented extensively, sometimes for decades.  I don’t think our tea was quite that old, though.  It is supposed to help digestion, especially of fatty or oily foods, and it had a delightful earthy taste.  The lotus root marinade complemented it nicely, actually.  For those who haven’t had lotus root before, it’s crispy and a little slippery and reminds me at least of a mix between water chestnut and raw potato.  It’s also full of little holes, as you can see.  Water plants love being hollow.

Next, the soup course.


So this soup had starfruit and papaya and pork.  It was sweet and savory and quite good, although I didn’t end up finishing it before the next dish came out…


THE GOOSE.  Rachelle and I love Cantonese goose.  It took me a little while to be able to bite through the crispy skin, the layer of fat, and the meat all at once while still working around the bones (of course there’s bone, silly) and I still can’t not use my fingers a little to maneuver it around in my mouth, but still.  Yum.  You know, after that I could go for something lighter, maybe a vegetable or someth–



This veggie is called 通菜(tong1cai4), and in English has a few names, most commonly called water spinach. Here is is sauteed with garlic.  I will keep an eye out for this one in the market.


This is three flavors of tofu, in sauce, and topped with beef and shrimp and whatnot.  I didn’t notice a very strong difference in the flavors, although they all were good.  Rachelle noted some differences, and said the dark one in the middle was kind of earthy and tea-like.  This tofu was a lot creamier than the kind I usually get in the market, almost custard-like.


In Cantonese cuisine, chicken is done a little differently from how you might know it.  First off, the head is often staring at you.  It’s also very lightly seasoned, if at all.  Cantonese cuisine is all about the natural flavors of components, and so on.  Sometimes this leads to terribly bland foods, but the natural taste of a chicken that isn’t stuck in a battery cage and fattened with corn and chemicals is actually quite delicious.  This actually came with a little bowl of garlic dipping sauce, which was also great, but I mostly ate it plain.  By this point, I was pretty sure that was all there was to the meal.


But then the pork arrived.  And wow.  It had a lot of fat, which is a feature it took me a while to get used to in food around here, but once you get used to it, you can enjoy food like this.  The glaze on it was sticky, and slightly sweet, and just…well it made me happy to eat it.  Okay.  That was the meal.

Wait, dessert.


This is a pumpkin soup.  There’s some stuff we think is tapioca on top.  It was a perfect end to the meal.

Fuck yeah.  Also, that’s another person we’re gonna make enchiladas for.


Shortly after we arrived in Guangzhou, we met a doctor friend of Rachelle’s friend we replaced.  He introduced us to the wonders of vegetarian Buddhist Chinese food at a restaurant called Yixin, near the rail station.  It was a refreshing change from our previous experiences with Chinese and especially Cantonese cuisine up to that point, which usually involved our food staring back at us, or playing a rousing game of “Guess Which Organ This Is.”  In addition to various veggies and bean curd, as would be expected, there were also quite a few textured vegetable protein fake-meat dishes, most of which were surprisingly convincing, and all of them super-delicious.

Fast forward.  One of Rachelle’s colleagues’ friends owns another Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, right next to Rachelle’s gym and the campus.  And, we got a cookbook, each with two weeks’ worth of recipes for each season.  It’s in Chinese.  I think I can figure it out.

This is going to be great.

Or terrible, I’m not sure yet.

Rachelle assures me it will be great. She’s the best.

Photo on 2013-03-17 at 22.48

Cookbook cover!

Photo on 2013-03-17 at 22.48 #2

Sample page! It appears to indicate which colors you get from which dishes.


THIS WAS A GOOD FRIDAY.  So good, in fact, that it is Wednesday evening and I am just now posting.  Actually I was just lazy.  But enough of that.

Rachelle had just gotten back from Zhuhai, and I had taught a class in the morning, which my boss had sat in on.  It went better than expected.  After a quick nap, we met up with Sebastian and Jenny, and Sebastian suggested we take the Metro to Shamian Island.

Shamian Island used to be a sandbar in the river, but it was the only place foreign interests were allowed to set up shop in Guangzhou, back in the Qing Dynasty, and the British gradually built it up.  Currently it houses some interesting Western-influenced architecture, a great big hotel where the American embassy is/was/will be?  I don’t recall because the building is under renovation right now and it’s closed off.  We strolled around the island, Sebastian being an excellent tour guide, and we eventually stopped at Lucy’s for some munchies and drinks.  It was a quaint little American-themed establishment with an outdoor seating area.  By the time we finished, the sun was starting to set (but the smog kept it pretty light for a while).

We finished our tour of the island and headed to the riverside to catch a ride on a river boat.  After some momentary confusion as to which pier we needed to gaggle around, and some frustration and concern when we found that all the ATMs in the area seemed to be out of cash or were just not working for us, we climbed aboard, were ushered downstairs (upper deck was for the higher-paying passengers), received our water bottles and some kind of spaetzle-krispies treat with sesame (they took some getting used to, but man oh man was i horfing them down by the end of the trip), and AWAY WE GO!

I took a buttload of pictures.  Guangzhou is flashy as all hell at night.  Maybe not as much glitz per square meter as, say, Vegas, but there’s a hell of a lot more of it to go around.  After a few stops and a turnaround, we returned to our port of departure and we were rather hungry.

Sebastian knew of an excellent German restaurant just a few blocks down the road.  So we headed to 1920′s, as it was called, and it was in fact delicious. As a matter of fact, my wife and I returned for our anniversary dinner on Monday.  After dinner we rounded the corner, passed a place specializing in “gruel,” headed down entrance D of the Haizhu Square Metro terminal, and headed home to listen to construction vehicles outside our balcony until 1 in the morning.  THEN we slept.


Yesterday was my first day teaching.  It’s an all-morning class, wherein I attempt to teach adult students (mainly professors and researchers it seems) how to speak English clearly enough to pass a test and be understood wherever it is they’re going to do research.  The class had been pushed up a day, so I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I had hoped to be.  I had access to my predecessor’s lessons, which made it easier for me to derive one of my own, but when I arrived at the classroom I found that my slides and files would not open on the computer.  So yeah.  I ended up having to use someone else’s lesson after all.  My students came into the class.  There were about fifteen.  I asked if more were coming, and was met with an affirmative answer.  More did, in fact, arrive.  And more.  And more.  And I had more students in the class than seats, nearly fifty, actually.  It was not a particularly difficult class to teach once they started coming out of their shells, and I managed to go all the way until 12:25 without running out of lesson, hooray!

I returned to the apartment.  Rachelle had completely taken the place apart and was cleaning and organizing.  She enlisted my assistance in finishing up the work and showed me where everything was supposed to be.  We’ll see how long this system works, eh?

It was still early in the afternoon once we finished everything up and had some food, so we met up with Jenny and headed to the famous…YUEXIU PARK.

*skip generally pleasant metro ride across town*

Yuexiu Park is big, and like most of Guangzhou, it doesn’t always follow Euclidean geometric rules.  Furthermore, even though it’s mostly a great big green wooded green space, you can tell pretty easily that the entire place is professionally landscaped.  It’s definitely a natural area, and the fact that some of the more remote wooded trails have loud dance music emanating from …somewhere? ensures you don’t forget that you are, in fact, still in the middle of a megalopolis.  Pictures will have to suffice, because typing is tedious.

Rachelle saw a new bird, and there were people playing some kind of Chinese hacky-sack.  Also you could rent paddle boats with water cannons.  The water did not look very nice.

After this adventure, we wanted some drinks.  There was a Marriott across the road, but no obvious way to cross without dying.  Fortunately, the Metro station was still right there, and so we entered on one side and emerged on the other.  Hooray!  The hotel was fancy and shiny and we found the bar and it was expensive.  Well, it was about what you’d expect for a hotel bar in the States.  Martinis, mojitos, beers, and bowls of peanuts.  We found out that Guangzhou has an Oktoberfest.  We might have to go.  The service was terribly slow at the bar at first, but we’re all pretty sure that our drinks required the bartenders to find and open stuff that they don’t usually use.

Anyway.  Rachelle was starting to feel hungry, and we were all a little buzzed by this point, and we saw a McDonald’s around the corner.  We had originally planned to go to a Middle Eastern restaurant that had a “Vagetarian” menu, but honestly we weren’t in a mood to wait until after dark for food.  So Rachelle ended up eating a Big Mac.  In China.  It was funnier with the alcohol.  Did you know they deliver?

We decided to head home and Jenny wanted to use up some groceries in her fridge, so one metro trip later we were back on campus.  The Dig’n'Shop had large Zhujiang Draft cans for 6RMB apiece, so Rachelle and I went to get six of those and some playing cards and our German friend while Jenny prepared some food.  Honestly I don’t clearly remember much after that but I think I enjoyed myself.