Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fish Pancakes 

Finally left Lush early this morning. It was a quiet night until a whole bunch of kids came in at 5 am from the Propaganda Bar. That's where they all were. Pretty nice kids, actually, but a wee bit noisy. They were all well imbibed. I may have to take back what I said (you know, about how I can tolerate many kinds of music as long as I can distinguish the words). Maybe it would be better if they took turns singing. And a little more quietly.

I remember years ago when I was a cab driver on Kodiak Island in Alaska. I was appalled by the obsession with the party environment that seemed to prevail throughout the community. A drunk comes stumbling out of a bar at 2 o'clock in the morning, and gets in my cab. I ask him, "So where's home?"

"Home!? I ain't goin' home! Take me over to the Bar-B."

I thought, "This has got to be the drinkingest town in America." Mind you, I had seen a lot of them throughout my years as a truck driver. In the bars in Kodiak, last call was 4 am. But Wudaokou has them all beat. Last call? What's that?

The twelve thousand international students in the Wudaokou area come from all over the world. Some of them come from countries like Norway, where their tuition is paid for by the (oil-rich) government. Some of them, like many of the Americans, are financed by their parents. It's a good idea, don't get me wrong. Kids who develop Mandarin proficiency have a significant advantage, especially if they are involved in international trade. But with no moms and dads here to tell them what time to be home, well, some of them do tend to put in a long night. For the most part, though, they are good students, who learn language quickly. But responsibility and discipline must be personal, because there is little else to restrain them.

I decided to have a dinner tonight for those who had not left town for the holiday yet. I had wanted to do something over in the CBD (Central Business District) area, so I contacted Raymond, who suggested having fish pancakes. Fish pancakes? I was curious. We met in Dawanglu, and Raymond took us to the restaurant. That's the thing about Beijing. Just when I think I have see everything, there is a new, incredibly delicious dish that I have never tasted. I had Synapse with me, and she had never had fish pancakes, either, even though she is a Beijing native. What it is, actually is a platter with two big fish heads. Then they sprinkle what looks like torn up pieces of soft tortilla over the fish. You grab a piece of the soft "pancake" with your chopsticks, dip it in the sauce the fish has been cooking in, and eat it. Alternating between that, and pieces of fish from the fish heads makes for a very delicious meal.

In other news, I did manage to buy a train ticket. I finally gave up on trying to get up there for New Year's Day, and bought a ticket for the day after. Turns out the travel volume drops off drastically after the first of the year, because New Year's Eve is the moment everyone wants to get home for. But this year the volume is especially heavy, so even at that I was not able to get a sleeper on the fast train. Means it will take me almost a half-day extra to get up there. Worth it, though. Soft sleeper, bottom bunk. Makes a long trip much more livable.

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