Rui’an: Xiao Peng’s little one

Final dispatches from Rui’an

Food in Rui’an had its ups and downs. Wenzhou does not have a distinct cuisine of its own (unlike Sichuan, Canton, etc.) and all the restaurants and grub shacks (where we ate for the most part) are operated by out-of-towners, who brought with them their cuisine and old school culinary know-how.

飛雲鎮 Flying Cloud Town street market where I had breakfast and dinner most days

Breakfast time: one yummy sesame coated red-bean mochi, hot and crispy

My enthusiasm for Sichuanese yakitori is overwhelming

Fujianese beer, tastes like Natty light

Tragedy seen from a distance

On a sadder note.

There was a massive fire next to the main road to and from Flying Cloud (飛雲) town (where Xiao Peng’s factory is, where we work) last night. It took over an hour before this road was reinstated to Rui’an city proper and we got on our bus out to Nanjing within a hair’s breadth.

From the car window we could see twisting billows of opaque, black smoke engulfing the sky. One of Xiao Peng’s acquaintances owned that factory, which produced foam pillows and mattresses. The fire was initiated from one small spark, and because China is notoriously lax in safety regulations, what would have been an easily controlled situation snow-balled into an entire factory meltdown. Insurance isn’t going to cover this.

The smoke diffusing into atmosphere is as poisonous as it can be, given the chemicals involved, and the rain that came pouring down only moments after the explosion did nothing to quench the thirst of the fire, but only served to pollute the rice fields with its newly strengthened toxicity.

A child raised in this environment

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Rui’an: factory boys

The bourgeois life in China

I’m in the little industrial town of Rui’an (瑞安) off the southern coast of China. It’s so small it doesn’t have a KFC. Just a KFC knock-off with a forgettable Chinese name. (KFC acts as the marker of civilization for China, as Starbucks does for America) The knock-off’s menu features some Portuguese egg tarts too, but none that can rival the flaky, buttery magic of the KFC egg tarts.


20 brothels per block

Traditionally peasant food: dumplings with thicker skin (more carbs, more energy) and mushroom-cabbage stirfry. Simple delicious.

More simplicity from small food stalls: inferior dumplings, incredible greens sauteed with garlics, egg-chive-mushroom soup, peanuts and edamame

When we wandered into a small restaurant earlier for lunch, Edward, with infamous Chinese tact, asked the owner-lady, who was illustrating the many delicacies available in her southern hometown, “So are you fat because of all the food in Fujian?” and she fired back, “No, I live here.” Looking around Rui’an, the chubby to thin ratio is appallingly un-Chinese. Most men have enormous Buddha bellies, grossly disproportionate to their skinny limbs, and the women can be described as Rubinesque. The town center is a curtailed area that spans four city blocks, unlike in bigger Nanjing, where walking from the bus stop to the subway stop to whatever destination involves a marathon of sorts.

Let me give you a tour of the industrial environs that I’m playing in. Starting with the neighbor’s scrappy pup.

The pup’s mother curls up into a tipsy slumber. What else is there to do in this small town of ours?

My make-shift work space at the Kano machinery factory. I am probably reading American Psycho in ebook. Reliving my New York glory days. Eyeing me with suspicion through the office window is Xiao Peng’s precious daughter. She makes my womb ache.

Xiao Peng (Kano Machinery Owner) and Edward (Tea Party-er) are inventing machines with their engineering prowess. I am behind the scenes, being productive by taking notes, taking pictures, and taking the lives of flies (but too slow).

The factory boys perched atop a crippled drill machine, doctoring it

Living in this small town (small by Chinese standards, pop. 1.12 million), it would take practiced and dedicated frivolity to exceed a liberal budget of 100 元/day ($16 US). Food from ordinary stalls start from 0.50元 ($0.08), and rarely cost more than 10元 ($1.75).

The only thing that could make a dude go 700,000元 ($100,000) in debt in Rui’an and being rejected by 5 loan sharks is bad business with African con artists, nightly KTV with expensive booze, and cavorting with prostitutes, but I shall not finger who the indulging victim is.

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杭州 Chinese man rolls shirt over belly

Work, Perks, and Quirks

The stuff I do in the name of “work.” Let’s start going over big bonuses.

As I found out first hand today, there is very little serenity in sitting on a tiny stool, an island within a mega-Walmart in Nanjing, face plastered over with an astringent face mask sans eye-holes, so that the only thing I can focus on is the blaring chatter of aunties around me while the sales lady quizzes me about my feelings about their product and the order of the dynasties, whatever.

As for the feelings, let’s be real.  There’s an awesome Japanese onomatopoeia that would describe this original sensation. It’s called NEBA NEBA! If I rubbed my face against the wall right now, 6 hours later, I would never get unstuck.

With literary flourishes brimming of snobby ridicule, the LA times has an entertaining piece about Chinese men and their sexy summer habit: men with their shirts rolled up over their beer guts to fend off the heat.

All the dudes do it, and dude, it is not so pretty.

From the article, several gems of comedy, “They’re known as bang ye, or ‘exposing grandfathers,’” and “During this summer’s World Expo, the mayor of Shanghai has urged residents to stop running red lights and strolling the streets in pajamas, a popular summer attire. But male belly-baring has proved a tough habit to beat.”

For the very last, my absolute favorite sentence, which cannot help but confirm that my thoughts are as unoriginal as every foreigner suddenly flashed a sweaty mid-section bulge, “There are precious few washboard abs among the lot.”

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Matcha cookies 抹茶餅乾

Lessons on cultural differences 第一

Edward (my tea party conspirator) and I were having an intense English debate earlier this morning , briefly interrupted by an insight by his  20-years-younger Chinese girlfriend, who bemusedly noted, “One of you start talking before the other ends their sentence. How can you hear what other is saying if you both talk at the same time?”  Welcome to the real American conversation experience.

Last year, when I came back from living in Tokyo to New York/Boston, I was perpetually annoyed that every time I started saying something, someone else would chime in, uninvited, with their opinion before I could finish my thought. I was also still annoyed that there weren’t seat warmers on toilets. Now after a year, it is not something that I notice anymore, until a “cultural outsider” reveals how absolutely bizarre we are in our multi-tasking monologue-like dialogues.

Today, did some pastry monkeying and baked matcha cookies without proper equipment (we have an inaccurate toaster-oven and no measuring instruments). The humidity here in Nanjing from the rainy season makes the sugar stick together. Because I am not pro, we also gave a baggy of 500 level fine, emerald matcha powder to a local baker in a fly-infested shack within a Nanjing farmer’s market to develop recipes for our Rocky Mountains Tea Bits!

Tomorrow, I will try to bake it again at 100  some odd degrees, (slow baking- is that a legit technique even?) because the tea burns too easily and does not hold its fragrance very well.

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N’awlins: Domilise’s Shrimp Po’boy, fully dressed short of hot sauce

N’awlins: the po’ boy edition

Taking a brief step back from the Orients, across cultures, back to August 15th, down a river, into a bayou.

New Orleans is a smooth operator that seduces you with its music and Cajun food, and so the strings of my heart were tugged and played in such a way that I strongly considered giving up the great empire city for this American Venice.

N’awlins, the name rolling off the lips in quick humor, is home to culinary giants that set the standard for the region, but is also the home, to the other verbally truncated po’ boy, a sandwich served to the plebes in less financially lush times and now elevated to function of post-mayhem carbs for belligerent drunks. This status offers it the justification to join the ranks of 10$ sandwiches, and dresses up for cameos in certain upper-crust grub shacks.

This journey into the rich (by which I mean, in tradition) man’s fast food was made possible by Eric, Neil, and Eric’s family, who generously took the time to take us to their favorite places, who took us out of Bourbon street into the real New Orleans experience, who made fabulous company and the meal fun. As said Anthony Bourdain,

“Anyone who genuinely enjoys food or cooking or even just likes eating as part of a larger picture — because they like people and like drinking and like talking and communicating — that’s why the meal’s so great.”

Domilise Sandwich Shop
5240 Annunciation St
New Orleans, LA
Pascal Manale’s
1838 Napoleon Avenue
Pat O’Briens
718 St. Peter St
Mother’s Restaurant
401 Poydras St
Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur
Central Grocery
923 Decatur Street
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Nanjing: Xiao Long Bao

No leaf left uneaten

The foot masseuse thought I was preggers the other day. No, I just ate too many buns or something.

When eating in China:

1. Warning to dieters: doing business in China always mean endless banquets and working lunches that turn into 10 courses.

2. Try to have 3 spoonfuls max of any given dish. Do not fear feeling hungry and having to fill yourself on the first three dishes out of the kitchen. There will always be more coming, and the best usually appears last.

3. Eating in hotel restaurants or large banquet halls contains a larger possibility of food contamination, but it also means a larger possibility of western-style seat toilets instead of Asian squat toilets.

4. Everyone will always force you to eat beyond your capacity to eat. Do not succumb to their will. You will regret it.

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China: Hangzhou West Lake

Hangzhou tea and Lin’an hickory

Photomentary of lakeside banquets in Hangzhou, and driving up precarious one-way mountain roads in Lin’an at the invitation of successful hickory sweets producer, Shan Mei Zi (山妹子).

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Ni hao, zhong guo

12 hours in China, and I am already exhausted of Chinese toilets, the unhealthily reliable constant: dirty squatters, urine everywhere and no toilet paper. Even plumbing within private households blows. Strangely, dirty toilets in China smell differently from dirty toilets in America, and I am becoming conditioned to associate this unfamiliar odor to poop.

Maybe it has to do with the nation’s diet of carbs and veggies as opposed to America’s meat and potatoes?

(the foodie in me just had to analyze that.)

Running on a continuous 48 hours after a 19 hour flight with delays from JFK to Shanghai, spending a night in a 24 hour KFC eating 皮蛋瘦肉粥, running about touring water plants, and going through a circus experience on the back of an electric scooter. I am nonetheless still alive as I am sprawled across my loft bed in my temp situation in Nanjing and am feeling an understandable void inside as I think about the early morning wake up tomorrow to make it out to Hangzhou and Lin’an for a formal emperor’s tea banquet and discussing tea bits business with some major playa playas.

During dinner, some really happy Chinese people randomly set off a whole bunch of fireworks from our roof, shaking up the 20 story apartment, reflections of the hundreds of explosions bursting across the windows of the neighboring apartment and, and– I truly thought it was the end of the world.

This moment of awe and wonder that I am back in the motherland stirs up memories of when I first arrived in Beijing in 2004, and my 16 year old self wrote: “Saw two Kungfu mastahs. It is truly Beijing! First thing Sarah and I did upon arrival was spazz dance in our underwear and climbed up the windows, nearly falling out. Gravity works the same here too. Amazing.”

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Fishing: the final product

From Sea to Plate

Eric, Max, and I boarded Captain Mike’s fishing boat at 8am on Thursday, with 3  six-packs of Honey Moon, Corona, and Sam Adam Summer Ale at Howard Beach, Queens. Our intent: to catch as many fish as we could for dinner that night. This was a real fish party.

We also brought along our failed experiment: a watermelon with a one-inch hole where college-quality vodka was drained into– the mythical vodka melon. Due to lack of time, we only had 5 hours to let it stew in its bitter juices and left out on the counter on a sweltering summer night. None was eaten.

It was my first time fishing, and I surprisingly ended up hauling up a few that were too small to keep (we ain’t no child molesters) and then some. Every time something tugged on my line and I hauled it up, I gave off embarrassingly shrilly girly shrieks. IT WAS SO EXCITING. I was channeling Bear Grylls in a minor sort of way.

Holding up that 20 inch fluke was a bit repulsive– I had fish mucus coating my fingers after sticking it all the way up its gills, and the boat did not have running water. I had to lick it all off to clean myself.


But that dear little fishy, flopping around in a giant bucket of New York sea water (we fished off the coast of Staten Island and Long Island), was brought home in a plastic bag fillet’d by the boat crew (Joe!), coated in salt, pepper, egg, and bread crumbs, and transformed into a fabulous dinner of fried fish.

Tada! Fried Fluke and Sea Bass

Delicious without ketchup.

Verdict: While there were some squeamish moments in the beginning where I had yet shed my city sensibilities and my stomach roiled when fixing the minnow-baits by spearing its eyes with the hook, or when an undersized fluke was writhing on my pole with blood streaming down its wounds, or when my giant fluke leap out of its bucket (where it was sent to die) to slither around on my new shoes. But I would definitely try this again– for fugu! Shark! Blue Fin Tuna!

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lobster lunchin’

帰った! Still alive

After a month of eating glorious European fare, exploring parks, beaches, and frolicking about with sorely missed friends, I returned to New York and was thrown head-first into organizing this INCREDIBLE event.

It went a little bit like this:

Chinese-style sauteed lobster

Apologies for being distracted.

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