Sunday, October 16th, 26 days left
Thank you to all the folks who are sending me e-mails. I enjoy hearing from you! I got a question about where to find the ingredients for the Cali-Sino dishes I’ve been showing you. Almost anywhere in the States, or Europe, you kind find the “exotic” ingredients at a local Asian store. Now before you say, “There’s no Asian store near me”, search the internet for “Asian market store” and add the city where you shop. In California and New York there is often an Asian aisle at the supermarket, too. If all else fails, order it from Alibaba 😉
Alibaba.com is the Amazon.com of China. If you ever want to spend an amusing afternoon seeing the diversity of products made in China, just search an item or word on Alibaba. For example, is tree fungus hard to find near you? Here’s what Alibaba might do for you. Don’t forget to pay attention to the minimum order quantity 🙂
Today I needed to get my election ballot over to the Consulate, but first I needed some help. I had sent an e-mail to Henderson County Board of Elections requesting an absentee ballot (which their web site says I can do by e-mail). I had followed their instructions and included all the paperwork they requested. But three follow-up e-mails and two weeks later, I had not received a single response 😦 So I walked over to Bookworm bookstore at 1:30pm to get some help provided by American volunteers in Chengdu.
Today is the smoggiest I have seen Chengdu since my arrival. This shot is looking down a major boulevard, obscured by haze in less than 1/2 mile.
At the bookstore I met Matt, the volunteer helping Americans get their votes in for the election. We spent the afternoon going over what I had done already, figuring out what I needed to do, including Matt calling for assistance, looking up rules for getting and filing an absentee ballot in Henderson County, filling out and printing a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
While Matt was on the phone getting assistance, a young, 20-something Chinese man came up to the table.
“This is where Americans voting?” he asked, his English understandable but heavily accented.
“Yes,” I said.
“You help me?”
“I’m just here getting help myself,” I said. “Matt, here, is in charge.”
The young man began to talk with Matt, who was on the phone using his cell phone ear buds and mic.
“He’s on the phone right now,” I interjected.
The young man cocked his head, looked Matt over, then looked back at me.
“Yes, that’s why I’m here, to vote in the upcoming election.”
He said something I didn’t understand. I asked him to repeat it. I didn’t understand the second time. He repeated it one more time.
“You vote Hillary or Trump?”
“Oh. Who am I voting for? For President?”
“My vote is secret,” I replied, a bit surprised at the question. “And I don’t know you.”
This last comment had its intended result. The young man backed away a bit, but not for long.
“I need help from American. I want sell on E-Bay.”
Luckily, Matt had finished with his phone conversation at this point. I was happy to pass the young man on to a him. He asked the fellow to wait until we were done, then he would come over and talk. Matt explained it was common curiosity in China. People see things on the internet and want to use them. But I did notice two things: (1) Matt had a money clip sitting out on the table, which he carefully took away when talking with the young man, and (2) the young man talked with another American for an hour, then left without paying his bill. The waitress came over to us, asking us to pay, since the young man who skipped had been talking with us. Matt did not pay, and said to me that the young man had probably just forgotten to pay.
Without any further excitement, but feeling a bit more like a mark at the English-language bookstore, we finished my ballot. I had my sealed, prepaid envelope ready by 4:30pm. I headed over to the Consulate, which was closed for Sunday. But the aide told me where and when to come back on Monday.
I will say one more thing that bothers me about places like Bookworm. Because I was there for a few hours, I felt it only appropriate that I should get something to drink, not because I was thirsty, but because I was benefiting from their establishment and I should contribute in some way to support the store. I ordered a tea. It cost 35 yuan. Now, for an American, or any Western tourist, this might not seem like much money. After all, 35 yuan is under $5, certainly a reasonable charge for a cup of tea in a bookstore in the U.S. But here in Chengdu, I spend less than 35 yuan for a week of groceries. A full meal at a noodle shop is under 10 yuan. My point is this, it feels like the bookstore charges those prices because tourists will pay them, in a place where English is spoken and encouraged. I didn’t like sitting there, drinking a 35 yuan tea, knowing the most of the people passing by would never spend that kind of money that way. I’m already an obvious foreigner. I don’t like to flaunt it, causing more of a separation than I already experience. It’s why I like to shop locally, and buy from Chengdu families. (Okay, I shop at Wal-Mart, too, a bastion of American economic interests. But so do the Chinese. It is only once every few visits that I see another Westerner in Wal-Mart.) I know this sentiment is not shared by most Westerners I’ve traveled with, so maybe I’m off base here. But I try to keep a minimal footprint while visiting a foreign country, out of respect for the local customs and culture. That includes keeping away from congregation points like Bookworm and Beer Nest. Enough said (for now).
On my way home, I stopped by Wal-Mart to do a little shopping. I bought a vegetable I don’t know. And I have to find out what these leaves are and how to cook them for next time.
I bought some more red pepper paste, cute ‘fingerling’ bananas, another mini-bok choy, another bitter melon, and more hard tofu. I also bought something that I have no idea what it is (long, slender, cucumber-squash-like vegetable).
Made deep-fried tofu with “mystery ingredient”. The vegetable had the consistency of a squash, but tasted more like a radish (earthy flavor). Not sure if I should have peeled it, but most Chinese cooking leaves the peels on, so that’s the way I cooked it.
Before calling it a night, I sent out an e-mail inviting Matt and his fiancee to dinner. He had offered to help me try to find the restaurant serving nouveau-Buddhist cuisine near the monastery. Matt is fluent in Chinese. His fiancee IS Chinese, so with their help, I might get some of that potato in bean curd sheet mock fish I’ve been dreaming about for the past 44 years! Just hope it isn’t the restaurant written up in Travel & Leisure Magazine starting at 600 yuan per person!