23 June 2011
well, this is according to Wikipedia, but it’s cool if true: Ai Weiwei’s father was a famous Chinese poet called Aì Qīng (艾青). But that wasn’t his real name; his original name was Jiang Zhenghan (蒋正涵), styled Jiang Haicheng (蒋海澄)–in addition to his numerous pen names.
Anyway, this poet was tortured and imprisoned in 1932 for opposing the Kuomintang (KMT) party. While in prison, he wrote his first book Da Yan River–My Wet-nurse (《大堰河——我的保姆》)… But while writing his surname (Jiang, 蒋) he stopped at the “艹”, because he resented sharing the same surname as KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (“蔣介石”). So he finished the rest of the word with an X. This happens to be the Chinese character ai (艾), and since the rest of his name, Hai Cheng, meant qing (青, the color blue), he adopted the pen name Ai Qing.
sounds like an interesting family.
Self-portrait by Ai Weiwei: its caption（草泥马挡中央, "grass mud horse covering the middle") sounds almost the same in Chinese as 肏你妈党中央, "Fuck your mother, the Communist party central committee". (The Australian via Wikipedia)
21 December 2010
This is a new dish I discovered on my last trip to China; and I’m hoping someone just recently invented this, because I don’t know how I could not have tried it before! After seeing people line up for this dish at different food courts, we finally tried it at a sit-down place called… yep, the name of the dish. (ma la xiang guo = “numbing spicy fragrant pot”)
Unfortunately this is a post-eating shot, but you can see it’s for spice lovers. You could say it’s kinda like a dry version of hotpot… Basically there’s a counter with raw ingredients (similar to what you would find for hotpot), and your server fills a gigantic metal bowl with whatever you tell him. Then after choosing either regular or really spicy, the cook does some sort of magic cookery while you wait for its final delivery to your table. YUM! and NUMB!
I believe you pay by weight at food courts, but at this particular restaurant it was a set price. which apparently also included ice cream to cool you down after (or maybe even during?) your meal–like this guy here, who we watched alternate bites between the bowl and his two cones:
2 December 2010
Since it’s December and minus 15°C out, I thought I’d write about the beach. Or at least about the last time I’d been to a beach, which was in Dalian on China’s Northeast coast.
Dalian was rated China’s most livable city in 2006–a fact that kept popping up everywhere we went (or maybe we were just watching too many CCTV commercials at the hotel). Dalian also happened to be the site of a massive pipeline oil spill in July, equivalent in size to the Exxon Valdez accident (though I suppose this is minuscule when compared to what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico at the time).
Anyway, we were curious to check out the beaches since we were there barely 3 weeks after the oil spill.
business as usual
As far as Chinese beaches go, things appeared to be normal for August: i.e., insanely crowded + blazingly hot. We opted to stay away from the crowds and crossed over to a rocky area by the water. No oil residue in sight!
…and only one wedding photo shoot.
[the job of the woman behind the bride was to throw the train of the dress high into the air--imitating a gigantic gust of sea wind, I guess?]
The heat was too much, so it wasn’t long before we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel… and after some rest and A/C, we headed to a sichuanese restaurant and had some of my favourite dishes for dinner: shui-zhu-yu (fish), pickled cucumbers, and yu-xiang-qiezi (eggplant). woot!
20 September 2010
…is a Canadian dude from Ottawa?! His name in Chinese is 大山 (‘dashan’ or big mountain), and he’s crazy famous. Hilarious because I would never have heard of him in Canada–but Chinese people tell me he’s more famous than Mao. (How’s that for a benchmark?)
So I guess it’s no surprise that the Canadian embassy in Beijing now has his face plastered on the building, as a publicity thing for the Shanghai expo. They also have a billboard showing Stephen Harper walking with Hu Jintao… It’s kinda weird advertising (I mean, have you ever seen promos on an embassy?), but I guess a little national PR doesn’t hurt. (?)
canada's rep to the world expo
15 September 2010
Liang pi literally means ‘cold skin’ in Chinese, and is a lovely cold snack served in the summer. This dish comes originally from Shaanxi province but you can pretty much find it everywhere in northern China, and in Beijing it is common to find liang pi stands on the street, like so:
It’s basically a cold noodle dish, but the noodles are cut from a large sheet or ‘skin’ (hence the name). According to Cultural China’s website:
First, wheat or rice flour is turned into a soft dough by adding water and a little bit of salt. Then, the dough is put in a bowl, water is added and the dough has to be ‘rinsed’ until the water is saturated with starch from the dough, turning into a muddy white color. The remainder of the dough is now removed and the bowl is left to rest overnight at a cool place to allow the dissolved starch to precipitate. The following day, there will be a kind of starch-paste on the bottom of the bowl with a more or less clear liquid on top which has to be discarded. Once the liquid has been removed, a small amount the paste can then be poured into a flat plate or tray, and spread evenly in a thin layer. The whole plate is placed into a large pot full of boiling water, where it is steamed for a couple of minutes and the resulting ‘pancake’ cut into long pieces vaguely resembling noodles.
Ok, starch paste doesn’t sound so appetizing, but it’s the sauce that makes this dish! Variations abound, but the main ingredients include garlic, vinegar, chili oil and sesame sauce. As Julia Moskin of the nytimes describes it, the sauce “hits every possible flavor category (sweet, tangy, savory, herbal, nutty and dozens of others).” (Coincidentally, she is describing my fav place to eat in NY, Xi’an Famous Foods–whose version of liang pi actually inspired us to go to Xian this summer! Yes, it’s that good.)
liang pi sauces at an indoor food court
Finally, the noodles and sauce are tossed together with chunks of wheat gluten, cucumber slivers, sometimes beansprouts… a savoury yet refreshing dish when you’re sweltering from the summer heat. Prices range from 3-10 yuan in Beijing, with the more expensive ones coming from fancy shopping mall food courts (gotta pay for the aircon, I suppose).