30.11.2011 - 04.12.2011
Wednesday (Nov. 30) was the day before the Thanksgiving dinner. As a result we had a lot of shopping to do to make sure we had all the necessary supplies. So after our calligraphy final the whole group met up at Yonghui to get ingredients. Thank God we had Kia. She was basically in charge of Thanksgiving. She had everything planned out for what we needed to purchase and how much of it. A few examples of what we needed included 50 apples, 16 zucchinis, 3 dozen eggs, 100 chicken wings, 6 pounds of ground pork, 70 potatoes, 50 ears of corn, 15 bottles of pop and juice, and 4 gallons of wok oil. Thanks to all of Kia’s organization beforehand shopping went really smoothly. Checkout proved to be comical as we had eight carts of supplies and since China charges for grocery bags we tried to fit as much of it as we could into our backpacks. Even with our backpacks bulging we still required numerous shopping bags. As we trekked back to our dorms lugging oversize shopping bags and looking like turtles we garnered a number of good natured laughs from those we passed. After dispersing the ingredients amongst all of our fridges we had a few hours to do whatever we wanted. At 7:00 all of us in Kung Fu had to report to one of the campus performing centers for the final event of International Students Week. We were to perform the same performance as we had the week before, happily though there would now be lots of other acts performing (15 in all). The point of the event was to showcase the talents of all of the international students, to spotlight cultural dances and traditions, and as a way for the whole international community to come together. Aside from a few grumpy Johnnies who were very much over making fools of themselves doing Kung Fu, it was a good event. Some of the other performances included, traditional dances from Thailand and Korea, songs from all over the world including Kazakhstan and Taiwan, an African dance performed by most of my soccer teammates, a number of comedy skits, instrumental ensembles, a traditional Chinese poetry reading (which Luke had a starring role in) and the fashion show was performed again. My favorite act was that of my friends Kevin, Alex, Otabek, Nicolay, Badra, and Andrew. They did a spoof on Beijing opera that was hilarious. Our performance went much better the second time than it had the first and Levi was quite proud. The show lasted over 2 and half hours though and by the end we were all ready to be done. After countless group pictures for future use by the Waiban we all headed back to Wisteria Garden and called it a night.
Thursday (Dec. 1) was the day of our Thanksgiving. Yes our study abroad group had so much power that we could move a National Holiday that’s date of celebration had been set for generations. In reality we would have liked to have celebrated it when it was meant to be, but life simply didn’t work in our favor and celebrating it the following Thursday just fit better. After a morning spent trying to finish up the last of my many projects, papers, and assignments, Luke, Dan, Guy, Bert, Rae, and I went to one of our favorite chao shou restaurants for lunch and then assembled with the rest of the group to start cooking at noon. After lugging all of our purchases from the day before down to the kitchen of the Waiban restaurant that was adjacent to our dorms we were ready to start. For cooking we had broken into sub-committees each of which was in charge of a certain dish. Chris was in charge of the chicken. He was preparing it in a Thai fashion in which the chicken is deboned, then stuffed with a mixture of pork, noodles, and seasonings, then steamed, and finally fried in a wok. Cindy’s original plan was to make tacos but unfortunately the western market (Carrefore) in Chongqing had not quesadillas or any suitable substitute so she had to come up with a new plan. She decided to make spaghetti and meatballs and a Mexican soup. Kia was making a zucchini soup with zucchini stuffed with pork and fried rice. Zach, Nolan, and Sam were tackling mash potatoes and gravy. Guy was in charge of corn on the cob. Sarita and I were covering dessert. Our original plan was to make apple crisp but we had not been sure if we could find cinnamon so at Carrefore Kia had also picked us up two boxes of brownie mix. Eventually we had been able to find cinnamon bark and after two hours spent grating the bark by hand into powder had what we needed. As a result we were making both apple crisp and brownie. With 50 guests we figured one could never have too much dessert. The rest of the group (Bert, Dan, Deanna, Axel, and Luke) were basically slaves for the day bouncing from committee to committee helping with whatever was needed. Our first ten minutes in the kitchen were a little rough. We had been told that we would have the whole kitchen at our disposal, as well as all of its pans, utensils, etc. What we hadn’t thought about was the fact that when we started cooking at noon the restaurant was still open for lunch. This meant that the kitchen was being used by the normal chefs as well. The chefs though were incredibly friendly towards us and also proved to be great helps. The other minor crisis occurred when Sarita and I couldn’t find the oven. We had specifically asked prior to Thanksgiving if there would be an oven available to us. This may seem like a strange request but you would be surprised, in China virtually no kitchens are equipped with ovens. They simply aren’t necessary for Chinese cuisine. Therefore people and restaurants don’t have them. We were assured though that the Waiban restaurant did and that was the reason it was chosen for our preparation location. However after scouring the kitchen we couldn’t find anything even remotely similar. All we could find was a giant dust covered blue box that looked similar to a bank safe in the corner of one of the prep rooms. After asking around we were informed that the giant blue safe was the oven we would be using. Uh oh, we might be in trouble. With no other options we just had to hope for the best. We got to work. The boys and two of the chefs made quick work of the 50 apples we had purchased. Sarita and I also had to get in touch with our inner bakers during the process because in China there are no measuring spoons or measuring cups, everything is simply done by estimation or to taste. While the boys worked on the apples, Sarita and I put together the topping. Besides the lack of measurements (which turned out not to be a problem at all) the only issue we ran into was that the brown sugar was far too clumpy. To solve the problem Guy took a leaf out of the Guy Who Loves Us’ book and used a cleaned beer bottle to crush out the lumps (the Guy Who Loves Us crushes peanuts this way). In about an hour it was all done. We had made a quadruple batch so we had a lot of apple crisp. We spilt it up over two huge pans but because we were a little hesitant on how the oven was going to work we opted to cook each one separately even though the oven was more than large enough to fit both pans and have plenty of room left over. We put in the first batch and waited on bated breath. As it cooked we also prepared the brownie mix. Given that it was a mix it took practically zero time. The reactions of the group to the smell of brownie mix were priceless. It was like everyone was five years old again and couldn’t wait to lick the bowl. After Sarita and I spread all the batter we could into the pans we let everyone have a turn licking the bowl and spatulas. The smiles were some of the largest I saw in the whole trip. After 45 minutes our first batch of apple crisp was done and it turned out perfectly. The scary oven had done wonderfully. Both batches of apple crisp turned out well and the brownies, aside for one burned corner, turned out great too. The rest of food prep went good as well except for a few fumbles. For example, the boys didn’t know that you have to keep stirring gravy otherwise it congeals and unfortunately Cindy’s spaghetti noodles didn’t fair too well and just became one big clump. Otherwise though, it was a success. In addition to producing great food, Thanksgiving prep was a great bonding time for the group. At this point we all were already close but cooking together brings people together in new ways and it was certainly one of the days I will look back upon of China as filled with laughter, jokes, mistakes, successes, and camaraderie. Once cooking was done we all had a short time to change into something nice and report back down to the restaurant for the main event. The guests for the evening included the top members of the Waiban staff, Chuck, our professors, and then we each were asked to invite a guest. Sarita, Chris, Dan, and Kia each invited their language partners Sally, Amanda, Terry, and Shirley. Guy, Nolan and Axel invited our Thai friends Gao, Som, and Leyi. Bert and Deanna invited their significant others, Rae and Paul. Luke and I invited our international friends Ronnie and Larry. Cindy invited Leo Hao a friend of hers who owned our favorite milk tea shop (at 19 he was already the owner of his own business), but unfortunately he couldn’t close the shop for the night. With everyone we had around 50 people. After a brief explanation of what Thanksgiving was for all of our international guests who weren’t familiar with it and a blessing everyone dug in. The food had turned out better than we ever could have expected and went over fabulously with the guests. The brownies were such a big hit that they, along with one ginormous pan of apple crisp, were gone in about 20 minutes. After everyone had eaten their fill we still had tons of food left so we boxed it up and gave each guest some of their favorite dish to take home and share with their families, we gave some to our courtyard’s guard and the kitchen staff which had been so great about helping us. The night was just as good as the day had been with laughter, friends and good spirits. Everyone spent hours talking with each other and enjoying one another’s company. Eventually it was time for the restaurant to close. They graciously saved us a great deal of work by volunteering to clean up everything and ushered us out the door. The only downer to the night came when our Chinese professor asked us as she was leaving if we had finished the practice test she had given the Waiban for us. It was paramount that we have it done for class the next day. We told her we had not yet, we hadn’t even been given the test. She told us that she had given it to Chuck on Monday. Awesome, just what we wanted to spend the rest of our night doing, a 10 page practice test. After a wild goose chase to find the practice tests we finally got them. It turns out Chuckles had had them since Monday and simply hadn’t made time to make copies of them and get them to us. He brought them with to dinner when he came. Thanks Chuck. Sarita bunkered down to try to do the test. I decided just to wake up early and do it in the morning. Instead I went and hung out with the boys and the rest of guests for the evening.
Friday morning (Dec.2) I woke up early and finished my practice test before Chinese class. It turned out not to be that bad at all and all 10 pages only took about an hour. After that we had Chinese class and went over the test. I was quite glad I had completed it because it made the review much more helpful. Following Chinese class, Sarita and I went to lunch with Sally at her favorite canteen on campus. Their gong bao jiding was quite good. That afternoon we had our Study Abroad Seminar. I should mention that it was a gorgeous day outside. One of the nicest we had had in weeks. After the constant cloudiness the sun was finally shining. Sunshine in Beibei had a strange power. Since it was so rare during winter it had an almost transformative power. The campus and city suddenly became more beautiful, people became happier, and overall if the sun was shining it was just going to be a good day. When we got to Sam’s class we knew something was slightly off because instead of arranging the desks in a square like we normally did Sam requested we keep them in their normal positions. After some brief announcements concerning the end of the semester, preparations for Hong Kong, and comments on our papers, Sam said we could have the rest of the afternoon off to enjoy the nice weather. Perfect! We were all quite excited. And we followed his advice. The rest of the day was spent enjoying campus and taking advantage of the sunshine. That night Sarita, Dan, Guy and I went over to Som’s apartment and then to 99 to help celebrate her little brother, Tick’s 22nd birthday. It was a lot of fun until someone decided that rather than eating Tick’s birthday cake it should be used for a cake a fight. Alright, in all honesty the cake fight just made the night more fun. By the end we all were covered head to toe in frosting and it was matted throughout our hair. The only downside to the night was that I had to wait until the next morning when the hot water was turned on to wash all the cake out of my hair. It was still more than worth it though.
The weekend of Dec.3 -4 was pretty nondescript. I finished my last assignment for the semester, a reflection paper on my experiences teaching for my Teaching Practicum course and studying Chinese for our final. Saturday night we went out with a bunch of the international students to Mango Cheng. They hosted a party in celebration of the international boys’ soccer team’s victory (this game had nothing to do with the sports tournament for International Student Week, throughout the year the international boys actually have a legitimate soccer team that competed against other schools. Chris played on it). Sunday morning Ronnie hosted one last brunch for Sarita, Cindy, Luke, Kia, and I as a going away present. I am in awe of Ronnie’s cooking/baking skills. She simply loved to cook and usually did so when she wanted to put off studying. Using her roommate’s toaster oven and China’s limited baking supplies she managed to make all kinds of delicious things, such as kiwi pie, marzipan, and a plethora of cookies. At least once a week she would surprise us with some kind of sweet she had made. For our last Sunday she had a brunch for us. Sarita and I went early to help. With Ronnie doing most of the work and Sarita and I helping with whatever we could we put together a marvelous spread of French toast, breakfast potatoes, breakfast pizza, bacon, and scrambled eggs. In addition to the six of us, Kevin (our friend from Canada) joined as well. It was a great morning but also bittersweet knowing that it would be the last breakfast we would have with two of our best friends. That afternoon Cindy, Sarita, and I went shopping with Rae at the underground market. We all bought primarily gifts for people back home and a few things for ourselves to remind us of our time in China. That night we began the process of packing, but didn’t get very far before we all just decided it was too sad and that we’d do it later.