Archive for December, 2008
For Thanksgiving I went abroad. True, it wasn’t very far abroad, but it required a passport and they don’t celebrate this American holiday. In fact, I wasn’t trying to escape Thanksgiving; it’s one of my favorite American holidays, but a co-worker invited me to Toronto area for the break and as a long-time fan of Canada, I grabbed the opportunity.
I spent most of the break at Nina’s home. Her father and stepmother were most hospitable. They even prepared a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night with turkey, vegetarian turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Nina’s stepmother works at Canada’s top lingerie retailer and she gave me a wonderful fuzzy bathrobe and pink slippers which I put to use immediately. I also saw several good movies at Nina’s house–"Prince Caspian," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and several others. I loved "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which I certainly heard about in Taiwan and it’s hard to imagine how I failed to see it there. (For some reason, incidentally, I can’t remember which animal in the title is crouching and which is hidden, so I’ve taken to calling it "Crouching and Hiding Animals." Whatever the case, see it; it’s good.)
There was a jarring note in Nina’s break, however. The Ontario government insists on requiring her to start driving again with a learner’s permit for a year instead of renewing her expired Alberta license. Rather than give in to this insanity, she will be checking with both Alberta and New York to look for easier ways to get back on the road again.
On Friday, I went to Toronto to see Nancy, one of my favorite students from Sichuan days. She was one of the students who joined all the English activities and became a good friend. Later she took Karen (the other foreign teacher) and I touring in Chengdu, Sichuan’s main city and her hometown, and to some other famous cities of Sichuan where we had many memorable adventures (monkeys stealing a bag with toilet paper and bottled water on Emeishan, a mysterious cigarette burn in a hard-to-reach spot on the guy Karen hired to carry her luggage, a big argument with the monastery guesthouse about why foreigners and Chinese should not be forbidden to stay in the same room, etc.) Later, in her final year of university, Nancy jumped on a train and rode three days to visit me in Xinjiang in China’s far west where I taught at that time. This Toronto trip was the first time we’d seen each other since those China days, so I was excited about the visit.
Nancy gave me directions to her friend’s house where we met up around noon. From there we went downtown by subway where she showed me the University of Toronto campus and then we went to the old Chinatown for lunch. We met a schoolmate of hers from Sichuan, who vaguely remembered me from the university, and he treated us to an authentic Sichuan restaurant in Chinatown. The owners were from Chengdu even. May the taste buds rejoice! I had my favorite eggplant dish and other taste sensations that I can’t rhapsodize about enough. After that feast, Nancy and I went to get tea. I bought two varieties at the Chinese supermarket and then I got a bubble green tea from a tea brand I knew from Taiwan. That store was my downfall. They had special offers of the buy-two-get-one-free variety, and I came away with an embarrassing selection of teas. Later, Nancy and her husband gave me a porcelain tea kettle, so now I have all my tea needs met for a very long time indeed.
Friday evening I enjoyed my Chinese version of Thanksgiving. As it happened, one of Nancy’s friends, Mei, had invited friends over for a meal featuring turkey and stuffing, which it seemed she did very well, but what do I know? I’ve never cooked turkey myself. It looked great, it smelled great, and I believe it tasted good. Yes, I did try it, but I have little to compare it to. After all, it’s only the second time I’ve tasted turkey. Mei also cooked a number of other dishes, mostly Chinese dishes or variations of Chinese dishes. They were all lovely. She specifically showed me how to make a braised hot pepper dish that I remembered from my Sichuan days. I will definitely make that one of these days. If anyone wants the recipe, I remember how to do it! Incidentally, there were six of us at this feast–Mei,Nancy and her husband, another couple from China, and me. I felt like I’d gone back to China for the evening.
On Saturday (i.e. Sabbath), Nancy accompanied me to the Toronto Chinese Church. I was disappointed to have an English sermon with Cantonese translation, but pleased to meet a couple that I knew from Taiwan, where they’d gotten acquainted. Kathy is a Canadian from Hong Kong who taught in Taiwan. Yungda, her husband, is Taiwanese. Back in Taiwan, he had introduced me to his father as a good auto mechanic, and I gratefully used him as my mechanic the whole time I lived in Taipei. I think of his services longingly here in New York.
After church, I had another lovely meal that raised my gratitude to the Toronto Chinese community to new levels. I had Xinjiang food, a cuisine that I couldn’t even find in Taipei and had despaired of ever eating again short of an expedition back to the Silk Road. It was so lovely that I took a small take-out container back to share with Nina. She tasted it and liked it, but luckily for me, she forgot to finish it, so I did that myself back in Union Springs. The next day I set myself to mimicking the taste in my own cooking. I’m getting closer. I’ll keep you posted.
My culinary journey was almost over, but not quite. Saturday night I ate at Nancy’s house and had another selection of Sichuan fare–tomato and egg soup, tofu, cold seaweed with spices, and another cold dish that defies English description. All delicious.
I should also briefly mention Nancy’s cat. He was bashful and skittish at first, but I discovered the way to his heart. I ate peppermint patties left over from their Halloween stash, crumpled up the foil into little balls, and tossed them across the floor where the cat gleefully batted them around until they finally lodged themselves in inaccessible locations. Of course, then I was forced to eat another peppermint patty to keep him happy.
Nina and I returned to New York without incident even though we did hit some nasty weather in New York, snow which turned to sleet which turned to rain as we drove closer to Syracuse. But I had my last cup of Tim Horton’s mocha, a bottle of Kao Tao green plum tea, and between the two of us, we had 2000 iPod selections to DJ from my stereo all the way back. So in conclusion, it was a very pleasant trip.
Is Rochelle a four year old phenomenon of children’s literature, or just a kid with a vivid imagination? Probably the latter, but either way, you may enjoy the stories and poems that she composed for her mother.
A Poem for Mommy
By Rochelle Stankavich
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Dandelions are yellow
Tulips are pink
Daffodils are black
Rainbow sugars are sweet
And so are you
Love you, Mommy!
The Happy and Sad Party
By Rochelle Stankavich
There was once a little girl. Her name was Tracy. It’s Tracy’s sleepover party. The best part for her is making new friends and making music. The instrument that she likes to play is her drum. She has lots of books too. Her mom’s real name is Angthra and her big sister’s name is Thruta. Someone spoiled the party. It was Tracy’s little sister. She opened the water and spilled it and that’s not good because it made a big mess. Then everybody went home without presents. They did not even taste the cake that Tracy’s mom baked. There was no sleepover party.
Jack the Snake
By Rochelle Stankavich
There was once a scared boy. His name was Wayne. Twinkle was not scared. Wayne was scared of Jack the Snake. Twinkle got an idea. She said, “I know, I know, I know! Jack can put on a helmet and ride a bicycle.” Wayne said, “That’s not a great idea.” Twinkle said,” I have another idea; we can feed Jack the Snake when he is hungry.” Wayne said, “I give up; maybe it will be okay.” “Let’s try it”, says Twinkle. Wayne said, “Okay”. Twinkle got a basket of food. They threw the food to Jack the Snake and he ate it all. “The food was yummy,” said Jack and he said thank you. Jack the Snake said, “Now I can go play with a balloon. He bounced and bounced until he flew away in the air. Jack the Snake said, “Help! I need to get down. Please help! You need to help me down before I go far, far away.” Twinkle and Wayne used pogo sticks to reach Jack. Twinkle caught Jack but she needed more weight, so she yelled to Wayne for help. Then Wayne reached them but they spun around and around until they get down safely. Jack said, “That was a fun ride.” Then Jack looked to see what was going up in the air, it was the balloon. “Oh, no! How will we get the balloon now,” said Twinkle. Jack the Snake had an idea; maybe we can use the zippy scooter that bounces. So they rode their zippy bouncy scooter and they zipped and zoomed to catch the balloon.
The Bee that Could Not Fly
By Rochelle Stankavich
Once there was a bee that could not fly. His mom could fly. His daddy was a gladiator. His mom said, “You go outside, go on, don’t be shy.”
“I am a little shy, I don’t want to go out and play.”
But his mom put on his jacket, and said, “Now go out and play. You have to run and run and run until you get your exercise.”
“I’m tired; I want to go inside now,” he said. “I got a good exercise.” After he got his exercise now he can fly.
I Am a Hungry Bee
By Rochelle Stankavich
Now you should listen with me.
Long ago there was a bee. The bee was hungry. The hungry bee looked around hoping to find some food. She sniffed around and she smelled a yummy food. She thought it was a hamburger, and it was. She munched it and she said, “Ummm. I’m not hungry anymore. I’m going to tell my mommy that there is a hamburger in my tummy.” She raced to the house and she could fly. But she got a hiccup and that made her fall down. She cried and cried and cried until her mom rushed to her. “You cranky little bee! Why are you not careful? Go inside and play with your computer.” The little bee said, “Will that make me feel better?” Her mommy said, “Yes, it may.” She went inside and played with her computer. Then she said, “Mommy, I’m hungry again; I want some bread.” And her mommy gave her a peanut butter and honey sandwich.
I’m feeling intellectual these days because I’ve been reading works by seventeenth-century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. I actually picked the book up to read during our school basketball game–in case there were slow moments–and I thought a volume from the Great Books series would be appropriately eccentric. So I started reading Pascal’s Pensees. Later I took the book home and discovered his Provincial Letters where he imagines a Parisian writing back to the provinces about an ongoing intellectual debate, a controversy between the Dominicans, Jesuits and Jansenists about theological minutiae. It sounds deadening, but it’s actually quite clever and even witty. It became something of a bestseller among the elites of Pascal’s day–though also very controversial–and ultimately led to some censuring of Jesuit behavior. It’s got an intellectual wit that’s appealing even if the original controversy is light-years away from one’s current life.
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