Beginning with the Saturday after we were married in May of 1982, David has made pancakes almost every Saturday morning. It is a family ritual, and probably one reason the girls’ friends love to sleep over on Friday nights! This morning, I contributed by making coffee and cooking the sausages. I burned the sausages. Oh well, they tasted yummy anyway. Here are some photos of Saturday morning.
Sarah joined us anyway even though she couldn’t eat anything at the table. She had a bad food reaction this week and is still on a very limited diet as a result. After breakfast, I took our dog out for a romp in the "park." He loves to get off his leash! He’s growing so big, here’s a picture. Since he’s only six months old, I wonder how big he’ll be when he’s fully grown! Fortunately, he has a great disposition.
Today is New Year’s Eve in the Chinese calendar. Tomorrow there will be fireworks in the middle of the Pearl River where it forks in front of the White Swan Hotel, at Shamian Island. We decided to go on a quest to locate a spot from which to watch the fireworks.
Shamian Island is the old colonial concession, and also the site where Chinese threw barrels of British opium off the docks into the water, thereby inciting the "opium war" with the British and ultimately forcing the British to retreat away from Canton (Guangzhou) to Hong Kong (previously a non desirable fishing village). The old colonial buildings on Shamian are still in use as restaurants, shops, subdivided apartments, and consulates. It is picturesque and probably the most "touristy" area of Guangzhou. Here is one picture of a street on Shamian Island, and also some pictures from the inside of the White Swan Hotel. Since we are entering the year of the dog and I was born in the year of the dog, David took this picture of me with the appropriate decor. The other picture is in the main lobby.
The White Swan Hotel wants 500 RMB per person for dinner buffet with a view of the fireworks. I don’t think so. Another restaurant wants 185 RMB per person. With five in our family, that adds up fast. Last year, we took a boat cruise on the Pearl River to see the fireworks for 100 RMB per person (about $12.50 U.S. each). When I inquired about boat tickets for a repeat performance, the price was almost double that of last year. We plan to check again tomorrow to see if prices are reduced for unsold seats.
But, continuing our quest to find a good place to view the fireworks, we continued on foot past Shamian island, heading to the west. In a perfect location to view the fireworks from the Western side, we spotted a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of a ramshackle old building that looked somewhat like an abandoned warehouse. We noticed the huge wholesale seafood market was just beside this restaurant, with a trawler docked at the wharf. (I’ve heard of this market before and I’ve been keeping my eye out for it for more than a year, but everyone kept saying it was north of Shamian. It’s not, it’s due west!) Scaling the steps of the restaurant, we found ourselves in a crowded and very busy seafood restaurant serving massive plates of boiled shrimp and various other seafood. They had no English menu, nor did their menu have any pictures. We knew enough Chinese to order jasmine tea, spinach (a recommendation from another patron), and boiled shrimp. We told the waitress we wanted large shrimp (da xia). The reason I used the word "large" when I ordered shrimp was that last time I asked Song Ying to purchase shrimp from the market, she came back with something about the size of krill. Our waitress spoke a mile a minute and we understood barely anything of what she said.
A patron who spoke English saw we were having some difficulty and volunteered to assist. It turned out we were about to order shrimp stir fried in black pepper that had heads and shells on them. The patron helped us to specify that we wanted boiled shrimp. All the shrimp at the other tables were looking increasingly yummy, served with a dipping sauce made with soy and vinegar. They looked perfectly cooked, plump and pink.
After we placed our order, I decided to reconnoitre to see what other tables were eating besides boiled shrimp. Meandering around nonchalantly, I noticed most every table was eating a dish of scallops steamed in a garlic sauce. I asked a waitress how to say the name of that dish. I then went back and told my waitress we wanted one of those dishes. She didn’t understand what I was saying, but we were able to point to the food at another table to make our wishes known. I was a bit anxious about getting back to check on our children, so I had a bit of consternation when the waitress told us the dish would take 40 minutes to prepare, because they had to go purchase the seafood from the market. David, however, felt sure she said 14 minutes. We later learned she had, indeed, meant 40 minutes. We called and made sure our children were okay and could order takeout.
The difficulty with pronuciation was because of the Cantonese accent with which Guangzhou people speak Mandarin (the language we struggle to speak). A Cantonese person will pronounce the number forty like "suh! suh?" and the number fourteen like "suh? suh!" David works all day long with people from Northern China who pronounce their ten’s the correct Mandarin way, with a "sh" sound and not the hard "s" that the Cantonese use. No wonder there was a bit of confusion! All’s well that ends well, we were happy to wait.
Our spinach came. It was served in a bowl of broth with garlic and preserved egg. It was rich and filling enough to be a meal unto itself. Then our scallops came.
They were a bit rich. We’ve had these before. As tasty as they are the first time you have them, after a year and a half in China I’m getting really sick of garlic flavor and also of strong flavors in general! I wish there were such a thing as seafood seasoned with dill and lemon. (I’ve never seen dill here even in an import shop.) I’m looking forward to our shrimp, which will just be plain boiled shrimp. The tables around us have also received plates of crab and rock shrimp, one receives a flounder steamed with spring onion and cilantro on top. It all looks great.
Then our steamed shrimp arrives. You can look at the picture and imagine how we felt!
Yep, that’s our shrimp! We ordered "da xia." What we got was apparently "xia wu" (translates "shrimp animal") and it is certainly "big"! Getting served curve balls is one of the hazards of living in China. If you can’t roll with the punches, you won’t make it. Fortunately, the hostess of the restaurant semi-saved the day when she used scissors to cut up our "shrimp" and fillet the meat onto our plates for us. After I recovered from the mental shock — the shock of being served this creature, and then the distress of having to use less than rudimentary language skills to work out the problem — this crustacean tasted fine. Although it would have been better of course with butter and lemon juice. I tried to imagine it was lobster. Our Canadian benefactor (an overseas Chinese who was home for New Year) assured us that this is much better than normal shrimp. Our restaurant bill for the three dishes, tea, and white rice, came to 145 RMB (about $18 U.S.).
After leaving the restaurant, we decided to survey the seafood market for future reference. We ascertained that small size grouper was 220 RMB per half kilo (roughly $20 per lb) and that medium size flounder was 30 RMB per half kilo (roughly $3.75 per pound). (To covert to U.S. $, divide by 8.2.) We saw Alaskan Snow Crabs, lobsters, all kind of fish, snakes, eels, turtles, shellfish, abalone with feet about 2 feet long. It was late; we didn’t ask the prices. Lots of people at this outdoor market were playing ma johng or Chinese chess while they were tending their seafood stalls, many of them were having their own small feasts of steamed or stir fried seafood and rice wine. In fact, we saw rice wine aplenty, after all it’s New Year’s Eve, a time for celebration and dinner with family. Many people said "hello" to us in English (perhaps the only English word they knew) and were pleasantly surprised when we could reply in Chinese and wish them "Xin Nian Quai Le" (Happy New Year!). Leaving that cheerful but somewhat roughshod place, we caught the bus home.
Riding in the bus along the Pearl River which was fantastically lit up with all kinds of colored lights, we enjoyed seeing thousands of people out enjoying the evening. Even some of the homeless people had on festive head dresses. Mommies with daughters, both wearing bunny ears. Families with each member carrying boquets of flowers home from the market. We were tempted to go other places to see what else was happening in the city, but we had children at home.
As we disembarked from the bus on our quiet street, we noticed the sky north of our apartment was lit up with flashes from fireworks. We understand that Beijing is allowing individuals to shoot off fireworks this year. We don’t know if it’s legal in Guangzhou or not. Fireworks at New Year are said to frighten away any bad luck that remains from the old year, to usher in the new year with no bad residue. So, at 12:20 A.M. (my time) on the first day of the New Year, I wish you "Xin Nian Quai Le!"