Monday, September 19, 2011

Estelle: A Love Story

This post is not about the fabulous British singer who sings about American boys.  It is, however, a simple love story.

A few months ago, Jason and I started toying with the idea of getting an electric bicycle.  We had been living sans wheels for quite some time, and with summer fast approaching, the idea of zipping through the city instead of slowly trudging through the grueling Beijing hot smog started to seem more and more appealing.

We started checking internet classifieds for a second-hand dian dong che (electric bicycle) and hoping that we'd find one that hadn't been used too much and was the right price.  Often times, we came across ads for two-seater battery-powered pedal bikes.  Truth be told, they are not pretty.  Clunky and made mostly of cheap aluminum-like metal and often emblazoned with the image of some sort of infantile mascot (they like sheep here, for some reason), these bikes are long associated in my mind with the post-menopausal aunties I see picking their grandchildren up from primary school.

Even though I felt too foolish to verbalize it, I had a secret hope that the moped we found was of the fake-Vespa variety popular amongst over-privileged Korean students in Beijing.  It felt stupid to do so, but even when I prayed at night about whether or not a moped was waiting for us in our future, I asked that it would be one that wasn't an eyesore and would help me fulfill some silly fantasy of being like Audrey Tatou in Amelie, zipping around Paris on an adorable little Vespa, arms wrapped around the torso my Chinese-American version of Nino / Matthieu Kassovitz (with obvious, glaring differences, of course.  I mean, c'mon.  Who are we kidding?  Paris vs Beijing?).

"I know that if it's your will for us to buy this scooter," I'd pray at night, "then you will prepare the perfect one for us.  Even it may not be the one I have in mind."

Well... he is good.  He dresses the lilies of the valley, he gives the birds a home, and he prepares Beijing's most adorable, perfect scooter for us.  Estelle (my moniker for our perfect Chinese fake Vespa) was put up for sale late one night, and we were the first to respond to the ad.  Not only was she the most perfect scooter and in our price range, but Estelle's previous owner was an amazingly sweet Indonesian man studying Chinese on our very own campus.  Like all things pre-ordained and blessed, obtaining Estelle was easy, joyful, and beneficial to all parties involved.

So while you may have thought that this love story was going to be about my love for Estelle, it is more about the amazing love of a Father who provides and fulfills our every need AND desire.  I think living in China has often made me jaded to the idea that God actually wants to give us all that we desire and more.  But in my blindness and self-satisfying tendencies, I fix my eyes on what I can't have (easy access to cheese, open roads, trees, and clean air) instead of simply asking and receiving.

Thankfully, with His grace and through these small acts of love, I don't have to be a slave to what I "have-nots," but I daily have the joy of receiving all that I need, and more.

Estelle has changed our lives.  I know that sounds a little dramatic, but I guess if I compared it to having a car in downtown LA and not having a car, you would see how it would open up so many opportunities and save a ton of energy.  Plus, whenever I take Estelle out for a trip to the veg market, or to meet a friend, or to drop off my dry cleaning, I don't just enjoy the feeling of being a Chinese version of Amelie, but I am reminded of how deep the Father's love is for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Big Plate o' Chicken

Ahh, Xinjiang food.  If I ever leave this crazy country, I may bid its traffic, crowds, and pollution good riddance, but I will be eternally grateful for being introduced to Xinjiang food.

Xinjiang is the very large province (technically 'autonomous region') in northwest China populated mostly by the Uyghur minority... and some of the most delectable sheep you've ever encountered.  The land is dry, which means less rice and more wheat, yielding a cuisine rounded out mostly by some tasty flour-based carbs such as noodles and bread that is baked in wood-fired tandoori-like ovens.

Despite Xinjiang's abundance in tasty lamb, one of my favorite Xinjiang dishes is Da Pan Ji (大盘鸡), literally meaning Big Plate o' Chicken.  And a big plate of chicken it indeed is: a giant platter of chicken pieces tossed with potatoes, green peppers, and leeks.  Fresh, wide, chewy flour noodles are added afterward and tossed in the remaining sauce.

Are you drooling yet?

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching a group of primary school teachers from Xinjiang, and decided to let them put their teaching skills to the test and teach me how to make Da Pan Ji.  It certainly wasn't easy or quick, but I was pleasantly surprised by how do-able it is and that Da Pan Ji is a one pot recipe is an added bonus.

Well, I couldn't keep the joy of Da Pan Ji to myself, so here is the recipe for one of the tastiest things that China has to offer.  And I promise you, it will taste nothing like Panda Express.  In a good way.

Xinjiang dinner, compliments of my amazing students.

You will need:

For the noodles:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt-- dissolve salt into water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the Da Pan Ji:
1 whole chicken-- cleaned well outside and inside the cavity, giblets removed, separated and cut into small pieces (keep bone in)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3-4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 liter light beer
1 cup hot water
3 potatoes-- peeled and cut into 3 inch cubes, then tossed with a little salt
2 Anaheim peppers, cut into 3 inch squares
salt to taste

Flavor Bouquet-- place all ingredients into a small bowl
3/4 cup dried red chilis
1 whole star anise
4-6 Bay leaves
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
4 inch knob of ginger-- peeled and sliced into strips
2 leeks cut into 4 inch pieces, then sliced lengthwise
1 whole bulb of garlic-- peeled, then crushed lightly to release flavor

Note:  For those of you who lack the butchering skills (or a mini chainsaw) to take apart an entire chicken, I cheated the second time I made Da Pan Ji by using drumettes and chicken wings.  Saves a TON of time, and if you live in China, you don't have to deal with the whole chickens coming with the head and the claws.  For me, personally, that's just a little to 'real.'

First, prep the noodles.  Put the flour into a large bowl, then add salted water little by little, incorporated it into the flour by hand.  Continue to add water until the dough comes together and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.  Knead the dough on a board (no need to flour the board) until it softens.  Put the dough on a board with the bowl inverted over it to keep the dough moist.  Allow the dough to rest.

AJ kneading the noodle dough
Pour oil into a large wok over high heat until the oil is about 2-3 inches deep.  When the oil begins to smoke, add all of the chicken pieces.  Stir carefully, and add a few pieces of ginger to stop the smell.  Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of salt over the chicken to render its juices.  Cook over high heat for 10-15 minutes, until all juices have reduced and the oil begins popping gently.

Add soy sauce to the chicken, until it turns into a deep caramel color.  Add the flavor bouquet all at once.  When the chicken begins fragrant, pour in the beer, and hot water.  Allow to simmer for a few minutes, stirring the chicken and spices gently.  Ladle out about three ladle-spoons of the broth, and reserve for later.

Flavor bouquet!

Rinse the salt off the potatoes and drain well.  Place potatoes on top of the chicken in a single layer, but do not mix them.  Cover the wok with a lid, and turn down the heat to medium.  Let the broth simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (and can be pierced easily with a chopstick).

While the potatoes are cooking, push down the noodle dough into a large patty.  Rub the oil over the top of the patty, turning it over once so it is well coated by oil.  Cover with the bowl again, and let it rest a second time.

At this point, the potatoes should be cooked through.  Add the reserved broth back on top of the potatoes, toss in the green peppers, and mix everything together, and transfer to the biggest plate you own, preferably one with a generous lip to catch all the good broth.

Now, to finish off the noodles!  Slice up your patty into long strips about 1 inch thick.  Squeeze the strips in between your fingers to create a wide, flat noodle.  If you're feeling brave, you can try holding your noodle on each end between your index finger and thumb and waving it up and down to stretch it out.

Once your noodles are good and stretched, fill up your wok (no need to clean it!) with water and bring the water to a boil.  Push your noodles into the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes.  You can put the noodles over the chicken, or divide it between your guests bowls, and ladle the Da Pan Ji over the noodles.

Wipe the drool from your chin, and savor the product of all your hard labor.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

White Privilege: Not Just for Americans

Before coming to China, Jason and I were hoping to teach English in Korea.  Of course, now we know that it was simply not in the plans for us to avoid going to China, but I had a hard time grappling with the reasons for why we couldn't find a position teaching English.

"Hi, you are Korean American, right?" the girl at the teaching agency asked.

"Yes, I am.  But I was born in America and I've lived there my entire life."

"Yes, but it is very difficult to find a school that will take a teacher who does not look like an American."

To which my next question should have been, "Well, what the hell does an American look like?"  I suppose people everywhere are ignorant of the fact that different countries contain a diverse range of physicalities.  I'll admit that it still surprised me just a little bit (ok, maybe more) when I met a Chinese-South African, or when I realized that there is a huge Asian-Australian population-- a group of people who look a lot like me but speak with a way cooler accent.

Does it get frustrating when I walk into a class full of students fully expecting a "foreign-looking" teacher whose disappointment is clearly written all over their faces because I look Chinese?  Yes, and the whole explanation about not being from Korea, and having not much of a Korean national identity, is never easy to get out.

But what is more infuriating than having to explain myself a hundred times a week to taxi drivers, restaurant workers, office workers, sales clerks, and nearly every other person in China is that I could never get the job in Korea, or the job posted here on the blog, simply because I don't enjoy white privilege.  Not only that, but the job very well may go to some idiot whose Modus Operandi it is to sleep with as many unsuspecting Asian women and get as plastered as possible every night while still being able to show up to class the next morning, just to play a pirated DVD of Friends and sleep off his hangover at his desk.  But it doesn't matter.  Because he is white.

So what do I hope to gain from my little rant?  Really, nothing.  I'm as little of a fan of white guilt as I am of white privilege.  Am I saying all Chinese people are ignorant for thinking that I look Chinese?  No.  Because frankly, so would Dave Chapelle.

I suppose I'd like to say just this: WAKE UP.  It's no surprise that the world is a diverse place, and thankfully, the media is just starting to catch onto it.  Racism is still a problem today, but namely because of things like this advertisement and the people who perpetrate the problem are those who assume that one's ability is based on the color of their skin.  If the Chinese continue to believe that because "we all look the same," racism is not a problem in this society, they are sorely wrong and will continue to fall short of the social advances of their world power neighbors, who are just now learning to embrace their diversity as an asset.

'marshawu,' you should seriously start reconsidering the wording on your advertisement.  And I'm not your friend.