Friday, October 7th, Day 22
Got up at 6 a.m. to listen to Library of America’s first live-streaming interview. The guest speaker was a Yale University history professor and specialist on Alexander Hamilton. It was fun to watch, and interesting to try to imagine Hamilton, one of our founding fathers, as a contemporary human being. I wonder how much of history is based on the projection of the perspectives of a culture of today on to the past. Certainly, the aspects of Hamilton’s life that were discussed were contemporary to today’s culture, and out of proportion to the culture of his time. But then, why would we want to talk about Hamilton in a context that doesn’t interest us? I listened, and pondered, and enjoyed a hot cup of jasmine tea with a steamed bun.
I think the tea woke me up enough that I didn’t go back to bed. Instead, I studied Chinese. I rediscovered the “Quick Study” guides I bought six months ago. I have two, each one has three, two-sided, laminated, pages just crammed with rules and tips. One is for Mandarin Grammar. the other Mandarin vocabulary. They are so condensed that just reading a page gave me more insights into Chinese than my whole textbook.
I was reminded that there are four tones, and more importantly, that the tones change when they are next to each other. It explains my confusion at the restaurant where the characters had one tone when said separately, but a different tone when combined with another character that also had a tone. This little tidbit goes a long way towards explaining why native Chinese speakers have such trouble teaching Chinese to Westerners. Most of the important, critical, crucial rules are so deeply buried in native speakers that even they are unaware of what they are doing, and so cannot teach it. I remember this was also the case for me, teaching English to French speakers. I didn’t learn to speak English by learning all these rules, I just learned to speak the way everybody else was speaking. I am reminded that this is a good reason for me to get someone who is trained to teach Mandarin to Westerners.
I saw an ad for 6 hours of free Mandarin classes. The free classes are taught by students at Sichuan University who are training to be Mandarin language teachers. If it’s free, it must be worth it, no?
For lunch, I had another steamed bun.
By the afternoon, my early morning rise caught up with me. I took a nap at 2 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 5 p.m.
I was eating the leftover Chinese chestnuts, avoiding the alternative of another two steamed buns for dinner. The chestnuts were a few days old and getting tough. So I thought about reheating them by roasting them lightly in the wok. And then it occurred to me that I could invent a dish, another Cali-Sino dish: stir-fried chestnuts! So I did:
Chestnuts with broccoli, tree fungus, and bean sprouts
1 T. cooking oil
1 T. ginger
1 T. garlic
1-2 tsp. hot pepper paste (to taste)
½ cup Chinese chestnuts, shelled and halved.
¼ cup sliced spring onion
¼ cup broccoli
½ cup (several leaves) bok choy or similar
¼ cup tree fungus
1 T. fermented black beans
1 T. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
¼ cup cool water (not hot)
1 tsp. corn starch
2/3 cup bean sprouts
Heat the oil, add the ginger, garlic, and hot pepper paste. Cook until garlic turns transluscent (Warning! You know what you get when you sear hot pepper paste, right? Pepper gas. So do this only in a well-ventilated kitchen, or add the paste later, with the hoisin sauce.)
Add the chestnuts, stir-fry for about 30 seconds, add the onion, stir-fry for 30 seconds, add the broccoli, bok choy, and fermented black beans, stir-fry for 1 minute.
Turn down the heat, cover, and let steam for 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, cold water, corn starch. Turn up the heat. Stir in the hoisin mixture. Bring to boil to thicken the sauce.
Fold in the bean sprouts and turn for 30 seconds until everything is coated with the sauce and the bean sprouts are warmed, but not cooked.
A week from today I will be half way through my stay. I’m already missing it!