Weekend visitor, homegrown culture

No deep thoughts or anything.  D’s first cousin WN is here for the weekend.  What a treat to see him, but I forgot to make sweet iced tea for him!  Oh well, he says he doesn’t drink much of it anyway.  We didn’t either until we came here and it became our ethnic statement.  I made the biscuits last night, too (another ethnic statement).  I should have made them tonight, but now I’m out of baking powder.  (I know I can find it somewhere in Guangzhou, but I can’t remember where.) 
 
For tonight we decided to treat ourselves (all) to a home-grilled steak dinner.  Australian beef is definitely not the same as American beef.  I guess now I know why they feed our cows hormones — there’s just no other beef to compare with American beef (well, I haven’t tried the Japanese kobe beef b/c it’s way too expensive).  But the steaks were passable, and I figured on adding in a baked potato and a salad.  I knew I could find sour cream somewhere in GZ for the baked potatoes.  Finally did find one 6 oz container at Carrefour, sort of a French version of Wal Mart, just took about an hour to get there in the car, the traffic was so bad.  (The label was only in French but I knew the container had some kind of cream.  Took a gamble and indeed, when I opened it, it was sour cream!  Yummy too!)   But I ended up making mashed potatoes instead of baked ones, and grilled veggies on skewers instead of salad.  Then for dessert we had some shortbread cookies and sliced Dragon Fruit.  WN says that’s a lot better than the fare he’s been having in Foshan (the next town up the road, where his work is located).  The Chinese guys he works with take him to a restaurant every day and order all kinds of things to eat for lunch that aren’t exactly tuned to his palate.  Today, for example, they ordered beef lung.  mmmm.    I guess that steak sounded doubly good! 
 
That even makes my lunch yesterday sound good.  Yesterday, I went with the women’s club to a "sample of Yunan" themed lunch.  The dancing and singing by the waitresses was really enjoyable, but the food was a challenge.  First of all, everything except the raw cucumber (served whole) was really spicy.  Not like Sizhuan spicy.  That kind of spicy is a bit sweet and tasty, and makes you want more even though it singes your nose when you smell it and is so spicy that it makes your scalp perspire.  Nope, instead, this was that kind of deep throated spicy that you don’t really feel in your mouth so much but it makes your heart go thump and you feel like you’re having a heart attack.  But second of all, it was not flavorful, nothing really noteworty in terms of taste to make me say "I’d like more please."  And third of all, it was just . . . unusual . . . challenging mentally.   Like the dish that came out looking like deep fried snake skins.  I mean, this dish looked just about exactly like what the snake leaves behind when he sheds. And it was very hot and spicy.  But it wasn’t snake skins, after all.  Tree bark, is what we were told.  And reassured several times, before any of us would venture to taste it.  But when I read the list of what we had been served later, it turns out it was deep fried tree fern.  Well, my main thought was "that’s all well and good, but why would anyone want to eat it?"  Let alone call it a delicacy.  There was one thing on the menu that I thought was pretty good, but not many other people would eat.  That was the wild rabbit stew, made with peanut and taro root.  It was actually pretty darned good, it just had such a hard time competing all those other items for my brain’s attention.  Of couse, in China one will never starve because there is always white rice to be had for the asking.  On the other hand, it may not be polite to ask for rice.  (Several of us were impolite yesterday.)  We were supposed to have waited for the special tubes of rice that had been cooked inside bamboo and then the bamboo split open.  It was pretty good, you could wrap it very well in your backpack and carry it along as take out food.  Well, I’m not complaining.  Now I know what Yunan food is like.  (When I go there, I’ll be sure to carry some sea rations.) 
 
Today I also bought some containers and potting soil to plant the seeds for lemon basil and red basil seed packets that I found last fall in the plant market.  I wonder, why can I purchase those seeds (that say "grown in USA") or purchase Washington State apples in the grocery store, but I’m not allowed to carry the identical product across the border?  Of couse, it’s a current joke in my family that the Birkenstock sandals I purchased in Thailand for about $2 U.S. were made in Germany, and I know that because the logo on them says ‘Made in Germany."  Borders are so artificial, as the current Avian Flu situation demonstrates.  Ya know, Yunan Province is directly north of Thailand, and the food wasn’t so different from northern Thailand food.  We now can tell the difference between a Thai curry, and Indian curry, and a middle eastern curry.  But, I notice a distinct continuum. 
 
You know, although I may joke about some things a bit, living here really makes me appreciate that continuum of culture — the rich heritage of people in each locale, peoples who have lived in one place so long.  When we Americans speak of living in the "melting pot," it’s so definitely true.  By assimilating so many different cultures we have developed our own, where we think nothing of cooking Mexican one night (which is not Spanish and is not American Indian), Italian the next night, Indian the next, and then Chinese.  In a sense, we become all of and none of, and we lose our special sense of place.  One time last year, a Chinese person explained to me that although his family had lived in Guangxi Province for 16 generations, they weren’t really considered to be "Guangxi People" by the local residents.  That’s because sixteen generations ago, his family had migrated there from a location near the Yellow River, during a period of civil war.  The other person sitting at the same table with us was from Guangdong Province.  I asked her how long her family had lived in their present location, and she replied "twenty three generations."  (They said they knew this because of the tombs they take care of at their family burial grounds, as well as family oral history.)  The person whose family lived in one spot for 23 generations now lives in Guangzhou, but no matter how long she lives here she will not be a "Guangzhou Person."  She will always be identified with her family’s hometown. This also gives me more insight into the plight of peasants in China whose farm land is being taken for industrial development.   Once their land has been taken, they are truly desolate, because "place" means so much more to this deeply rooted society than it does to our culture where we are mostly all recent immigrants, relatively speaking. 
 
Okay, I said "no deep thoughts."  Promise, I’ll quit now.  My reading the last few weeks has been limited to my Chinese language books.  I use the kind written for babies that have pictures and a word.  They’re right at my level.  I’ll go look at one for a few minutes and fall asleep very quickly.  No wonder my Mandarin is going at such a snails pace! 
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