Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Friday Food 179 – Edamame

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are boiling beans.

“Edamame” isn’t a term you are liable to hear anywhere on the streets or markets of Liuzhou. It is the Japanese name for immature soy beans (Japanese:枝豆), known in Chinese as 毛豆  (literally “hairy bean” – yes it’s the same character as the Chairman). For historical reasons, the Japanese name was adopted in America as far back as the 1950s but didn’t enter mainstream dictionaries until the 2000s when the beans became the latest fashion among trend following gastronomes.

The most common way to eat the beans is to boil or steam the pods, then pop out the beans as a snack or starter course. They are usually served with salt. The pods are not edible. The beans can also be microwaved or roasted.

Uncooked Edamame Beans

Boiled edamame with sea salt

Also, the beans can be used to make a “edamame hummus” by blending the cooked beans with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and chili flakes. Serve with flat bread as a dip or for breakfast as here:

Edamame Hummus

Edamame beans are in season in early summer – i.e. now! Approx ¥6 / kilo.

Liuzhou’s Historical Nightmare

In order to mark the Dragon Boat Festival, and perhaps today’s Children’s Day, Liuzhou Museum mounted one of its occasional temporary exhibitions. These can sometimes be wonderful. This one wasn’t.

Entitled “Historical Memory”. it consisted of a load of piss-poor water colours depicting scenes from around the city. You know, the same clichéd crap you get every time. Postcard standard, if you like really crap postcards.

But this is not what offends me so much. Nor what prompts me to use “Nightmare” in my description.

When I visited a few days back, they were playing some background music. The Carpenters’ Yesterday Once More, the song every foreigner comes to hate, if they didn’t already. If you didn’t hate already you are my grandmother or need aural correction surgery immediately.

But I’m a patient sort of guy, so I ignored it while looking at sad paintings. Finally, it limped to an end in its usual linguistic chaos.

Then it started all over again. Yes, they have the damned dirge on a continuous loop and are playing it from 9am to 5 pm everyday, except Mondays when they are closed to give the staff time to consult their therapists.

What is it about China and that miserable song? It’s 44 years old and was shit then, too. It is 34 years since Ms Carpenter died. And the song bears no cultural relevance to China (or anywhere else for that matter).

It kicks off

When I was young I’d listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favorite songs
When they played I’d sing along, it made me smile

No you didn’t! When you were young the radio only played reports from Liuzhou Tractor Factory announcing heroic increases  in production (all Fake News!) and proud statements on how the CCCP was responsible for everything from the weather to Ms. Carpenter’s healthy diet.

Those were such happy times and not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone

If the memories were lost 44 years ago, perhaps they should have been left to fester.

It then descends into linguistic gobbledegook.

Every sha-la-la-la
Every wo-o-wo-o, still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling, that they’re startin’ to sing’s, so fine

This is what every Chinese student learns as English!

The tune is unremittingly negative, depressing crap and the lyrics even more so.

There is, of course, some post Maoist connection. Although it was released during the latter stages of Mao’s cultural revolution, it was banned then as was pretty much everything including education. But there have been periodic attempts to re-Mao the country – we are in one now – and look whose face shines out of every banknote.

In many ways, Yesterday One More does sum up the country or, at least, it’s leadership. That is their goal.

But its use in this exhibition is just aesthetic philistinism. I’m voting for All Tomorrow’s Parties instead. A much higher class of misery.

Long Lunch at the Dragon Pool

Like so many things, it came out of the blue. I was kind of aware that there was a Chinese holiday this week, but being self-semi-employed I am often a man of leisure and the holidays make little impact on my life. This one is in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 and although it features nothing boat-like, it was festive and there is a dragon link.

It started with this invitation which appeared on my WeChat (Chinese social media) account.

Longtan (龙潭) means Dragon’s Pool and is more of a hamlet. It is about an hour’s drive north of Liuzhou city. (Nothing to do with the Liuzhou park of the same name.) I’d never heard of it and certainly never been there, but a friend of a friend had decided that a “foreign friend” would add just the right note to the planned event. I’ve seen many pictures of such “Long Table“ lunches and even attended one before – but it was very touristy. This one was different, very real and I was delighted to be invited.

So, I was picked up outside my city centre home at 9 am and the adventure began. We arrived at the village around 9:45 to be met by the friend in question. He led me to what appeared to be the head man’s home, outside which was a large courtyard with a few men sitting at a trestle table seemingly finishing a breakfast of hot, meaty rice porridge washed down with beer or rice wine. I was offered a bowl of the porridge, but declined the beer or rice wine in favour of a cup of tea. After downing that and making introductions etc, I was left to wander around on my own watching all the activity, of which there was a lot.

Here goes. I’m posting these mostly in the order they were taken, in order to give some sense of how the event progressed.

Rice Porridge

These two men were the undisputed kings of this venture, organising everyone, checking every detail, instructing less  experienced volunteers etc. It was obvious these men had been working since the early hours. and their breakfast was a mere break in their toil. There were piles of still steaming cooked pork belly in containers all over the courtyard.

Some of this had been the meat in the rice porridge, I learned.

This young lad had been set to chopping chicken. Not one chicken! Dozens.

Entrails, insides and fat were all carefully preserved.

In the meantime, the two masters continued boiling their lumps of pork belly. This they refer to as 五花肉 – literally “five flower” pork”, the five flowers being layers of skin, fat and meat.

Another man was dealing with fish. Carp from the village pond. He scaled and cleaned them with his cleaver. Dozens of them.

Peeling Garlic

Gizzards and Guts

More Pork . You can see the five layers here.

Just off the courtyard was another piece of ground and here were people sawing bamboo trunks into segments. One man to saw and others to hold and turn the heavy bamboo.

His rusty saw was making hard work of the job, so one man was sent off on his motorcycle to borrow the neighbouring village’s power saw.

Once a suitably long cable had been found, Mr. Power Saw made short work of reducing the bamboo to the required lengths. But for what? All will be revealed. The rusty saw was abandoned.

It was at this point around 50 cyclists out on a fun run (apparently something they do regularly) rolled into the village. They had cycled from Liuzhou. And would cycle back.

The cyclists are also fitted out with a bowl of porridge and a drink, but fish man is far too busy to notice or care.

The gutted fish are being slashed at intervals along the length of the body, He works quickly. He has to. So many fish no longer in the sea (well, pond, actually).

And around him, preparation continues.

More chicken!

Then the day’s mystery ingredient. No one knew what this was. For once, it wasn’t just the ignorant foreigner who was baffled. Everyone was asking and looking just as confused when they heard the answer.

What is it and what’s it for? To be revealed soon.

That chopped chicken, or a good part of it, is shoved into the bamboo pipes along with water and that mystery ingredient. It is identified to me as 草鞋板 cǎo xié bǎn (which translates into the meaningless “grass slipper plate”. A little research suggests it is dried Hoya Carnosa, a flowering house plant in most places, but seemingly used, albeit rarely, in Chinese Traditional Medicine. Whatever, handfuls of it are rammed down the pipe.

The chicken, water and herb filled bamboo tubes are lined up, leaning against a wall and a fire lit beneath them.

While, all of this is going on, the two lunch masters making an inspection of the various preparation sites.

Fancy an omelet?

Potato Slivers

The boiled pork belly is now deep fried.

The fish are rubbed with soy sauce, garlic and ginger then dredged in flour and deep fried

Then left to rest

The boiled then fried pork belly is sliced then assembled in a bowl with alternate slices of fried taro. This is 扣肉  kòu ròu (literally “bowl meat”), a local favourite.

The assembled bowls are placed in huge steamer racks ready for stage three of the cooking.

It is at this point the “kou rou” master notices a critical error. The person stacking the bowls in the steamers has forgotten to add the sauce, so they all come back out while the master illustrates the correct procedure and they start off all over.

Finally, they are deemed fit and set to steam for one hour.

It’s approaching noon and getting very hot. 33ºC and direct sunlight bearing down. I retreat for a rest in the house overlooking the courtyard.

But I can hear and see that there is still a lot going on and curiosity (nosiness) gets the better of me. I carry my cold beer with me.

Yes, the prep continues.

This young chap made up with exuberance what was lacking in knowledge. He had no idea how to cut the chillies to the master’s preference, but was soon gently put right. Bash them to flatten them, then cut in half or thirds depending on length. Of he went like a madman. I’ve never seen anyone who mistrusts their own knife skills so much that they wear crash helmet while chopping veg, though.

And just as any remaining chickens congratulated themselves at being spared the indignity of being stuffed inside a bamboo tube, a second wave of chicken cookery begins.

But first you’ve got to get rid of those feathers.

Then I spot the rice woman. She has, what looks to me like, a very strange technique. She soaks the rice. I’m not sure how long but long I’d say by the texture. Then she washes the rice. OK. And puts it to the fire with water. So far, so good.

Now she is skimming off excess water. This she carefully decants into another bowl. No doubt to wash her face. Chinese woman do that.

A friend joins her to use the inverted handle of a scoop to punch ‘holes’ in the rice to allow steam to escape.

Now, I haven’t survived this long by telling Chinese women rice cooks they are doing it all wrong, and I’m sure she knows more about cooking rice for 150 people than I ever shall. I just won’t be doing it her way at home.

In the interim, it becomes apparent that we have more kou rou steamer baskets than we have heat sources, so another villager is sent to get his apparatus, which he happily does.

Intermission

Now it’s time for the idiots to turn up.

I spend a lot of time with photographers and film makers and have decided there are three types, whether amateur or professional.

a) those who record what is actually happening

b) those who record themselves reacting perhaps to what is happening but more likely not, as they are so vain they don’t notice what is happening outside their unimaginative little mindset. The selfie stick people. There were a lot of them about. Mostly female, loud and wearing high heels – perfect for a visit to a countryside village.

c) those who ignore what is happening and create what they think should be happening or wish was happening, then record that. The wannabe movie directors.

A couple of press photographers and their ‘boss’ turn up. They are arrogant and rude (they always are) and people start to get annoyed as they push people aside or barge in in front of them blocking their view. They set up a table and demand that one of the masters come there to be photographed.

They have laid out a couple of bamboo leaves and placed stupid little bowls containing everyday condiments – garlic, ginger, salt, even water for the love of …

Utterly irrelevant to anything happening around them. But then what do you expect from someone who turns up in a countryside village lathered in (cheap) gold but wearing a peasant hat in order to “fit in”?

Spielberg ( I think that is Zhuang for “dickhead”.

One of them spots this tool lying to the side and immediately demands a demonstration – to be filmed. Master points out that he hasn’t used it in years and certainly not today. Doesn’t matter. I can see he is getting very annoyed by these donkeys, but he is polite and humours them.

What he has is a tool for piercing the skin of pork to allow the fat to render out.

It takes them about an hour to get these shots and then the idiots finally leave without eating a thing. They probably didn’t realise there was food!

Grrr!

It’s lunchtime!

After escaping the cameras from hell, I spot that these two burners are busy with something else.

A nearby table sports these fine looking creatures.

Yes those carp which  I saw being deep fried earlier are also “twice-cooked”, this time being finished off in a chilli laden sauce. They smell good with a a capital OO.

Another wok and burner combo is poaching those second chickens we saw being plucked.

After cooking, these are chopped to give us “White Cut Chicken, a Cantonese speciality of poached chicken, but also popular here.

So, it seems everything is ready. Somehow apparently random preparation and cooking has all come together at the same time.

We take our places at random. As a VIP, I am offered a seat at a table inside the house but explain that unlike them (the village leaders) I am a real communist rather than an opportunistic jackass and prefer to sit with the great unwashed masses.

Well, of course, I don’t. But I do insist on sitting outside (“to take pictures”, I say).

and the food!

Carp

Chillis

White Cut Chicken

Potato. Don’t be misled. These are wonderful, but very spicy.

This unappetising mud is actually the bamboo tube soup.

It looks better in the bowl and tasted just fine, if underwhelming. Neither the bamboo or herb added nothing I could detect, so really it was just water and chicken. Still I’ve had worse.

Somehow I managed to miss photographing the kou rou at the table. I certainly ate it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Probably the best I’ve eaten. although the meat is very fatty, and not something I generally like, it wasn’t at all greasy. It just melted in the mouth. Also, the taro picks up enough of the fat and cooking juices to be very tasty indeed rather than just starchy as I often find it.

It took ages to prepare – days if not weeks of planning then hours of hard work. And we demolished it in twenty minutes or so.

The Remains of the Day

The Team – Thanks. See you next year!

Come On Baby, Fight My Fire

For reasons they will probably regret, Liuzhou’s finest fire fighters have taken to posing for beefcake shots. No rationale has been provided.

Now, I don’t know about you, but should I ever have need for fire fighters coming round waving their hoses, I prefer them to be more sensibly dressed. In fact, just dressed would do.

Fortunately the photo series does have some shots of them in uniform. Unfortunately, natural poses are not part of the portfolio.

The full series can be seen here (Chinese website).

Ok. One more.

I just wish to add that I am full of admiration for the fire fighting service here nor anywhere else. Every time I walk past the local fire station (I live nearby) , I remember my friend Martin, a fire fighter in in the UK, who died far too early.

In China, the fire department is a branch of the army (PLA – People’s Liberation Army).

Study Chinese in Guangxi

Guangxi Science and Technology Normal University (formally Liuzhou Teacher’s College) is offering special rates on its Mandarin courses for foreign students, making it among the cheapest in China.

The university is fully accredited and has two campuses – one in Liuzhou and one in Laibin, the next city heading south towards Nanning. The Mandarin courses are held in the Laibin campus.

Normally, for a one year Chinese course, there is a tuition fee of RMB 10,000 yuan (approx $1,450 USD) and accommodation fee of RMB 2,000 yuan (approx $300 USD).  So, the total is RMB 12,000 yuan (approx $1,800 USD ).

For the 2017-2018 session, both the tuition fee and accommodation fee have been reduced to give a full. combined tuition and accommodation fee of RMB 8,500 yuan (approx $1,250 USD).

In addition, the university is offering scholarships of RMB 3,000 yuan (approx $450 USD to be awarded as an exemption on payment of the joint tuition/accommodation fees, thereby reducing the total fees payable to RMB 5,500 (approx $800 USD).

The start date for the next session is 1st of September, 2017. All fees payable in advance at the prevailing exchange rate. Assistance in obtaining necessary student visas and other required documents shall be offered by the university, but  any charges for such should be borne by the student.

For further information, please contact me using this link.

Note: A friend, the director of the relevant department of the university, who in charge of promoting and organising this course, asked me to help with some publicity. I have no other interest in the matter and am not financially involved in any way.

Friday Food 178 – Mushroom Extract

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are mincing mushrooms.

This mushroom extract is being marketed as “more healthy” alternative to the dreaded, but falsely maligned, MSG. Basically it is salt and powdered dried mushrooms (boletus, shiitake and shimeji). with a couple of surprising additions.

Extras include sugar, dried tea, unidentified spices and chicken powder (as in bouillon cubes etc). So, it is not vegetarian. He idea is that it should boost umami and they recommend adding it to soups, sauces, hot pots etc.

However, they somewhat defeat their own marketing. One of the listed ingredients (albeit in a tiny proportion) is sodium glutamate which is as near as makes no difference to MSG!

¥28 / 450g

I’ve been making my own version for decades. Just grind dried mushrooms. No need for chickens, tea, sugar or salt. Cost: negligible.

A Load of Bollards

I’ve declared war.

All over Liuzhou (China) are loads of bollards. These are erected to prevent the more idiotic citizens who have somehow managed to obtain a driving license despite displaying no discernible driving skills from inserting their vehicles into spaces where no sane person would think of so doing.

Said bollards are fixed to the ground by embedding a base in the firmament. The actual upright pole is then attached. You didn’t know I was an expert of bollard installation, did you?

He problem arises when the said bollards are decommissioned, wither because they are no longer required for some reason or, more commonly, because some idiot hasn’t realised that two physical entities cannot simultaneously occupy the same space time continuum and has crashed into the things rendering them ex-bollards.

In such circumstances, the bollard is scraped up and probably sold off for its scrap metal value. The disposal methods of plastic and other materials, I don’t know.

One thing I do know. No one ever removes the base, instead still leaving them attached randomly to the terrestrial fundamental. There are thousands of these things all over the city (country). Some are still complete. Most are crumbling slowly (Half-life about a century or three.)

And they are a frigging danger. Twice now, I have tripped over one in the dark – in places you can’t imagine ever requiring bollardisation. The first time was quite a serious fall, rendering me unable to move or work much for nearly a month. Of course, back home, I could sue someone, but not here. They just say everything belongs to the government and you can’t sue the government because malignant bollard bases are all part of the master plan to universal socialism by abandoning all pretence of socialism.

The second fall wasn’t so bad as the first but was extremely hurtful to my dignity. And my temper.

It’s war.

Sam Sung – Bad Music

Never again will I buy a Samsung phone.

I am no newcomer to cell phones or mobile phones or whatever you call them. I bought my first mobile phone back in 1988 – a Motorolo brick which weighed the same as well fed baby and was equally shitty.

Over the years I have upgraded and side-stepped but mostly Nokias until they went tits up and Sony Ericsson until they gave up, too. I hate everything Apple, so that wasn’t an option this time round, but all the reviews gave the Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge high marks and I fell for it. At ¥2 short of the ¥6000 mark, it wasn’t cheap but I started out very pleased with my purchase. I was especially taken by the camera which I still rate highly.

A couple of month’s later I noticed a crack across the facia A trip to the shop where I bought the thing led to a referral to the Samsung service centre just off the city centre pedestrian street (behind the Lijing Hotel) on the second floor of this building. The least welcoming place in China.

This is a worryingly busy place. So many dysfunctional Samsungs (and I don’t mean the exploding variety). A young woman examines my phone, announces that I have dropped it and that anyway cracked screens are not covered by the guarantee.

I have never, ever dropped this phone.

She offers to replace the screen for a mere ¥1500. I suddenly remember the Korean for “fuck off!”, not that she would even know it’s Korean. One quarter of the total phone’s original price for a self-cracking screen? So I rattle on with a cracked screen, remembering that the phone is now not waterproof, one of the less critical features advertised.

One of the bizarre things about this expensive phone is the combined SIM card /SD tray which must cost all of ¥1 to make -a batch of ten. Cheap thin plastic. I’ve met more robust condoms.

Of course mine snaps in half with the SIM card and SD card trapped inside the phone.

Back I trot to the Samsung centre where a smug, arrogant asshole opens my phone, extracts the two cards then reassembles my phone. Then he puts the two cards and the broken card holder into a small plastic phone and hands them to me, along with a now dysfunctional phone.

I explain that I would like him to replace the broken part.

“没有 méi yǒu!” “Don’t have.”

What? The only moveable part on the phone – the part most likely to fail and you don’t carry spares?

You have taken a working, if imperfect phone and rendered it unusable. Because you don’t have a ¥1 part?

Customer Service? You wouldn’t know customer service, if it bit you in the privates.

Utter morons.

Somehow, I get my phone to work again by trapping the cards back inside, then find the required card trays widely available on Taobao, China’s main online shopping portal.

I think I’ll buy a pigeon!

China NoCom

This could all have turned out very differently. I was having visions of spending time at the keyboard lambasting all and sundry for their corporate incompetence, tax avoidance, general annoyance etc. I would have worked the orange imbecile in somehow, too. A total breakdown in civilisation etc.

I had to move house. Always a load of not fun. I found a place to go to very quickly and it is not only nicer and more convenient for my dissolute lifestyle, but it managed to be cheaper than the old place. Guanxi.

I actually moved at the end of April, but twenty years accumulation of this and that takes a long time to unpack. I knew that if I got the internet reconnected at the new place (I had ceremonially, literally cut the cables at the previous place), I would ignore the fact that my entire life was somewhere in one of those many unmarked boxes and spend my time reading stuff on the internet in which I am not the least bit interested. You know, life as usual.

China Telecom – San Zhong Road Branch

Finally, on May 5th, I hauled myself round the corner to the local office of China Telecom to arranged for my account to be moved from a to b. The young woman serving me spent ages mucking about with her computer and it was only after an hour when she suddenly produced a SIM card and demanded my cell phone that I realised that she had completely missed the point and was attempting to fit me up with a new cellphone internet service which I neither needed nor wanted. This despite me having said that I wanted to move the account and even supplying her a copy of my agreement.

That out of the way, she started all over again and just as I was thinking that I should have brought a packed lunch and perhaps dinner, too, she demanded my ID Card number. Why can’t Chinese people work out that non-Chinese are unlikely to have Chinese ID cards?

But no problem. I had been sensible enough to take my passport. She went off banging her keyboard yet again and discovered (big surprise) that her computer wouldn’t accept my passport number (not enough digits). She consulted colleagues; she tried again in case the computer had changed its mind. Finally someone wiser (her boss?) suggested that perhaps they couldn’t accept passports, but that the head office downtown could. I should piss off there and never darken their door again.

To be fair, they were quite apologetic and even wrote  a note explaining the problem for me to show the staff at HQ. But I had wasted two hours.

I took myself off to Longcheng Road and the Telecom HQ opposite the square, climbed to the third floor and grabbed myself a ticket for the queueing system. My number came up quicker than I anticipated because it was lunchtime and the people in front of me had all given up and gone for their noodles.

Liuzhou China Telecom HQ

Another young women went direct to the heart of the problem, tapped away on her computer, entered the passport number without problems and relieved me of ¥100 transfer fee. I took the opportunity to also pay for a further year’s service as I knew it was due at the end of the month anyway.

“The engineer will call you tomorrow (Saturday) to arrange installation,” I was told.

Of course, no one called the next day. Late on Sunday I received a text message (Chinese)  informing me that they could not install internet service in my new place as there were no free ports.

To my astonishment this was followed up by an English translation, of sorts.

I went ballistic.

“China Telecom can’t provide telecom? Are you serious? What line of business are you in, then? Time wasting?

CT’s main slogan is the semi-literate and totally illogical “Customer First,  Service Foremost”. I reminded them of this and asked how they thought it applied to the situation now.

This just provoked a repetition of the original message.

Various telephone calls were made but it was clear I was getting nowhere. Until on Monday morning I was told that I could wait until they install some new ports, but that wouldn’t happen for at least a month.

The problem was that I couldn’t even decamp to an alternative provider as they share the ports and I would have the same problem.

Then, to my amazement at 5:37 pm I received this.

A call to make sure they hadn’t made an error assured me that someone had suddenly, unexpectedly cancelled their internet service freeing up a port for me! FAKE NEWS!

Or one hell of a coincidence. Face-saving nonsense more like.

On the Wednesday, she reconfirmed

On Thursday, I waited in all day and of course nothing happened. At 3:30 pm, I contacted my mystery correspondent again and told her no one had come.

At around 5 pm a young man turned up and did the business. I’m back in internet land.

I have my theories as to what really happened, but have no evidence. I’m sure however that if I hadn’t kicked up hell, I would still be sitting here staring at a blank screen.

The mystery staff member has been back in contact to thank me(!) for my patience and her chance to practice English. I’ll be holding on to her number. Thanks whoever you are.

P.S. Of course I had internet access via cell phone throughout so wasn’t totally cut off. However, I can’t sensibly work on my cell phone.

Friday Food 177 – Red Potato Shoots

chopsticksFriday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are seeing red.

I was in the supermarket a while back  and became confused – not for the first, or last, time. Among the many mysterious green vegetables on offer was one whose label clearly said which is the character for red. My pique was curioused.

Closer inspection and remembering the more complicated character which denotes the humble potato led me to the full story. The final character means several things including ‘plant.’

Eat your heart out, Sherlock, I have red potato shoots (红薯苗) on my hands.

I confess, I’m not a great lover of red or any type of sweet potato (I’m not a great potato lover, at all) but I can make space for these. Usually simply stir fried with the usual suspects – garlic, chilli, ginger or in hot pots.

Less than ¥2 for a bunch (approx 400g). Next to nothing.


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