Thursday, November 10th, one day left.
I had my last Mandarin class this morning. Taught by a young man who spoke very little English, I learned about Chinese culture, including the Chinese knot. My teacher gave me a completed knot, and a long length of red chord to make my own!
I liked the way my teacher taught me how to write the Chinese characters, patiently showing me the stroke order and correcting me as I learned each step. He also showed the evolution of several Chinese characters, from pictures to squiggles over 2,000 years. It’s the kind of historical context I came here for, where each character carries meanings across time.
But the big news for today was my lunch with Matt. We had found a restaurant at the Wushan Monastery (just upstairs from where we had been before) where they made a version of the traditional Buddhist potato fish.
I met him at the subway and we followed our previous route through the market and old town. Inside the monastery, where the buffet lunch was served, there were the stairs. The restaurant was as unmarked as before. We went up the stairs, which led to a beautifully redecorated restaurant. At our table, the waitress handed us an Apple iPad with pictures of the available dishes. Tapping on the thumbnail image brought up details about each dish. Another tap on a check-box and the meal was added to our order.
We got four dishes: the potato fish, pork rinds (smoked bean curd skin), a shrimp/seaweed soup (contents unknown), and a lemon-filled sesame bun.
It’s hard to describe what I was feeling as my expectations, the result of 44 years of anticipation, swirled on my tongue with my first bite of potato fish. It was a bit surreal, really.
I loved the sauce, a wild mix of sweet, sour, spicy pepper, and coriander. And the bean curd sheet skin was crispy and delicate. But the potatoes were gummy and flavorless, not at all flaky, as if Goldens were used instead of Idahos. And there were no bones, or imitation bones of carefully sliced and placed bamboo shoots.
Overall, the meal was excellent: well prepared, fresh, inventive, exotic, all vegetarian. I loved every minute of every bite – a dream come true! And I was redesigning the dishes from the moment they hit my mouth. I can’t wait to try my hand at the potato fish. Watch out, North Carolina!
I had a delightful conversation with Matt, then had to say my goodbyes. I still had some packing and cleaning to do.
Back at the apartment, I put all my purchased kitchen supplies and remaining foodstuffs carefully into a large bag. I boxed up the almost new rice cooker and put the bag and the box where they would be appreciated (next to the communal garbage can). By the time I had washed the floor, all my offerings had been taken.
I later found the instruction manual for the rice cooker in one of my dresser drawers. I put it out where I had left the rice cooker, and like the rice cooker, the instruction manual was gone when next I looked.
The first time I weighed my suitcase it was 59 pounds. Out came all the heavy books and foods, loading my backpack until my suitcase was reduced to 49 pounds. My carry-on backpack was now over 30 pounds!
I looked around the apartment one last time. I was ready to go.
I crawled into bed early, preparing for my pre-dawn departure. I was already missing my men’s chorus and honking car alarm clock!