Archive | March, 2015

Thick skin and dilemma

21 Mar

I have been spending a lot of time with H., S.’s nanny. She started working for us three weeks ago. She is a soft-spoken and kind-hearted lady in her late forties with a lot of experience with young babies.

Both H. and I like to cook and I think that’s how we hit it off. We have a natural curiosity for each other’s cuisines and are keen to learn from one another. She cooked a few jiāchángcài (home dishes with pork mainly, including the famously delicious Shanghainese dish hóngshāo ròu) using many of the ingredients I already had (dried mushrooms and dried tofu) in my pantry but didn’t know how to use. She’s also explained to me at length which foods you should eat when according to the heat or lack thereof within your body (basic principle of Chinese medicine). Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say that so far I think I only understand 60% of what she tells me and am therefore not in a position to faithfully relate all of it but I get the jinx of it. I hope that with time I’ll get used to her accent (very Shanghainese whereby all the sh become s and the zh z) and build up my vocab.

Two days ago, I saw a small box in our fridge containing some kind of shapeless black paste. I didn’t ask H. about it, she’s welcome to put whatever she needs in our fridge. Over lunch, she asked me whether I had seen the box and offered me a piece. Looking at it, the paste could be many things; the first thing that came to my mind was a brownie with very dark chocolate. As I took a bite of the piece she gave me, I naturally asked H. what it was. She said it was lǘpí but it didn’t ring a bell. While she was trying to explain and even mimic something, the paste’s taste invaded my mouth. It wasn’t particularly horrible, though not good either. Mostly it was very strong. I continued chewing and trying to make sense of what she was telling me, I knew pí can mean skin but still wasn’t sure what it was. Then I finally understood, took my phone to double check the translation and suddenly my heart sank more than a little bit, when I figured that I was eating donkey skin!

As I was trying to recover from the shock and hide it, H.’s explanations started to become clearer. Basically she told me that eating lǘpí is very helpful during winter if you have some sort of deficiency (don’t ask me which one). She added that this one in particular came from the province of Shandong (northeast of China) and was of really good quality. I told her that the taste was too strong for me and that I wasn’t used to it, to which she replied that she couldn’t feel it but that her family thought likewise and wouldn’t eat lǘpí. She laughed when she said that they even ask her how she could it! Very kindly, she told me that if I didn’t like it, it wasn’t a problem.

I now have this remaining piece I bit into in my fridge. As much as I like to be open-minded or to think that I am, I am not quite sure what to do with it. I would hate to throw it, out of respect for H.’s kindness. What I am sure of is that I don’t feel like eating it. I don’t look forward to its taste and now that I know it is donkey skin (I have eaten Italian donkey salami a long time ago) I can’t stomach it.

Sigh.

What would you do?

Donkey skin

Lǘpí

Back into writing mode

19 Mar

Anyone who knows about or has visited my blog in the last 9 months or so must’ve noticed the lack of activity. I have clearly been very lazy over the last year even though it was not for the lack of events or interesting things I came across or experienced. The idea of dropping the blog altogether never crossed my mind and the very few times I had a look at the stats I was surprised to see that I still had a decent number of visitors despite not adding any new content. (For some odd reason I happen to have a very strong readership in Brazil so far in 2015. So much so that it has overtaken the US in number of views). Anyhow, maybe as a belated new year resolution, I intend to get back into writing and try to catch up for the past year. I hope I’ll be able to relate past events and experiences (though perhaps not in their strict chronological order) in an interesting and pertinent way and be able to convey the feeling I had at the time it happened. Before I start writing about these individual events and experiences, I thought I’d do a short recap of 2014 so that those among you who are not family or friends and read this manage to make some sense of the changing context.

So here we go.

Unequivocally, the most important thing that happened to me not just in last year but in my life is the birth of my daughter S. in late October 2014. So I have spent most of 2014 pregnant in China and have given birth in Shanghai. Therefore, indulge me if too many of the posts relate to pregnancy, giving birth and babies. I promise to try and make them interesting.

Due to the pregnancy and other reasons, we haven’t done much travelling in 2014. We went near Hangzhou for a couple of days with four friends for a quick Chinese New Year escape. I might write about it as the Chinese concept of natural reserve was a bit skewed we thought at the time. We went (again) to Beijing with J’s parents and sister in early May. And that’s it, nothing else in China or Asia in 2014.

We’ve had some important defections in the first half of 2014. Our dear friends M. and L. and their son I. moved to Beijing about a year ago. C. and E. and their daughter A. went to Seattle. Bastards. I still can’t get over it. On the other hand – not that it replaces the aforementioned’s absence – we’ve had the pleasure of having our small Lebanese community grow with new joiners and I’ve made good friends via the pregnancy channel.

Overall 2014 was a lovely and fairly sedentary year, very much centred on myself and my growing belly. What we missed in geographical coverage was made up for in equally interesting cultural differences and a lot of emotions. As many of the upcoming posts will relate to this topic, maybe it turns out for the best that I write about it with some distance as I now realise that some of my reactions at the time may have been a bit exaggerated – hormones not helping – and it’s probably saner to be able to reflect and rationalise some of it now. In any case, I hope you will enjoy reading about it.

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