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.