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August 2, 2006 - Nanjing, China

Hao Bao Zi or Ways to Get Fat

First day of classes today - promptly started at 8:30. First off went through our new Chinese names. Both Shannon and Naree got theirs as nice meaningful combinations, mountain faerie and heart of the flower respectively. Then mine.

The lao shi gave a small giggle. Great sign…

a li si ta

The she proceeded to name each character or radicals.




Awesome. I will be known as “the special ear smell” for the rest of the year. Why not “horse-faced pig” while we’re at it? At least that way I can justify a chuckle from my students. In all actuality the name is purely phonetic. No meaning. Even more disappointing. I think I might ask for another renaming ceremony.

After the shock of my meaningless (yet oh so special smelly ear-ness) new name, we went through the phonetic and pinyin sound structures. Got to love those c/ch, z/zh, s/sh, x and q’s.

Ate far too many bao after class, found a wet market and walked through it to a fairly typical alleyway (read - fairly dirty, rundown and perfect for streetfood). A small house had the steamer baskets out front and we got a couple long bao half the size of a fist, one veggie - chives, garlic, ginger and oil - and one unknown meat for 5 mao apiece. A full lunch of 4 big dumplings could be had for 2 kuai. Further down the street I walked into a melee surround a dumpling shop. After pushing in with my kuai I was turned down. No token. No bao. I was pointed inside. Another line to push through with kuai extended and a plaintive cry for liang ge. Tokens now in had I proudly strode back to the dumpling window and pointed at my dumplings. 8 more. Slightly fried and golden on the bottom, steamed on the top, full of juice/soup and a ball of filling. Hen hao!

Back to the sushe (dorm) for a quick study and run. Getting pretty used to the stares now, especially when doing something that calls attention to yourself i.e. running, walking, sitting, eating, etc. Good run today exploring the campus with plenty of stairs and a few laps around the track. Cold-showered after the run and then wondered why I was still dripping wet. I was still sweating. Either the afternoon run is going to have to move 6 hours later or I’m going to have to get used to sweating for a full hour afterwards.

More eating after a long study session. Getting into the writing a bit but being thoroughly outpaced by the other 3 vols. We found a small hole in the wall recommended by our field coordinator and sat down. Wrangled with the non-english menu for 5 minutes and settled on five dishes for five of us (one of the Traditional Chinese Medicine vols joined us). The first dish out was a Sichuan specialty. A large aluminum bowl - filled with a soup of sorts - it was boiled fish and a medley of veggies including mustard greens. Half way into my first bowl my tongue tastes an odd flavor.

The flavor was and still is a bit hard to explain. At first it was spicy, just like a whole peppercorn. Then it changed. It was sweet and slightly tingly. The tingling spread slowly at first. After a second and third bite afterwards I slowly realized my tongue was going numb.

Nobody else at the table seemed to be having any real issues with their food - much less any oral numbing action. I let it go a bit longer. By this time my lips were going slightly numb. The sensation was far from unpleasant. In fact it seemed to enhance the flavor - salt was saltier and sweeter and the flavors were clearer somehow. Time to speak up.

After a quick poll nobody had noticed anything unusual. Finally my tongue was going back to normal. And thats when somebody else had one.

They turned out to be slightly nubbed green peppercorns. I doubt they were pepper, but they looked very similar save for the surface.

The rest of the meal was good - some lamb and chicken stew, a bit of do fu, bamboo shoots (with a small cockroach) and an egg and tomato soup. Highlight was the boiled fish dish with the numbing bits.

Study time.

Wow, you've made me long for my time in China all over again. I studied in Jinan, Shandong for a year, and it was awesome. I've been looking for a good veggie filling for my baozi, but I was brought here. Thanks for that story :-)

- Michael on a Saturday

@Michael - Ah, the Nanjing baozi. I am now living far from there in Northern China (Ningxia) but the boazi are still pretty good. In fact just the other day a friend in a shop went through the steps of making them. Do you use the mien jiao?

My baozi look like hell however...

- Allister on a Sunday
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