Monday, August 1, 2011

Round Three - Ding!

Enter a new Ayi - three days a week.  Thanks to "L" for the referral.   We are going to try this one on for size.  She seems nice enough. 

 Here's her photo...

Ayi #3 Preparing to Cook

I haven't asked about the health of her grandmother........ yet.

Ayi and Rodolfo

As you've read, I spend much brain time during my encounters in Nanjing, China trying to make sense out of things. What I learn often has a cultural slant to it - definitely fun to discover and even more fun to pass on to you. I love the field of anthropology and folkways and mores and why groups of people do what they do!  So having landed in another culture I am certain that I truly do learn something new everyday.

Enter "Rodolfo." - He is a ceramic chef who sprouts a plethora of wooden spoons and utensils from his chef hat. He sits on the counter next to the cooktop and is ever-ready to offer 'just the right' one when needed. He's pleasantly plump and holds a wooden spoon in his left hand.  I was drawn to him for so many reasons; his left-handedness, his mustache, his cute apron, and his ticket price of 50 cents at last Fall's Congregational Church rummage sale back home. And so "Rodolfo" boarded a ship and came to China.

A few weeks ago while observing Ayi #2 in my teeny tiny Chinese kitchen, I noticed that she re-positioned "Rodolfo" from facing forward to facing backward as she cooked.  I didn't really notice this until she had left for the day and the counters were all sparkly and our tummies were full.  "Interesting," I thought and then I turned "Rodolfo" around to face forward.  The next time she cooked she did it again.  I wondered if the re-positioning him from watching the Ayi to not watching the Ayi had any significance.  Then Ayi #2 left us and my curiosity left too.  

When Ayi #3 arrived last week I had an opportunity to watch her kitchen skills. She stir-fried similar foods; eggplant with garlic, minced pork with edamame and peppers, minced pork with straw mushrooms and ginger. All of it yummy, using freshly marketed items she purchased just hours before.  She prepped, cooked and placed each in a separate dish for the Big Guy and me to eat when our Mandarin lesson was over.  Walking back into the teeny tiny kitchen with our empty bowls I looked over at "Rodolfo."  He was NOT looking at me, but once again had been turned around and faced the tiled wall.   What is going on?  Why did BOTH Ayis turn "Rodolfo" to the wall?  Was it 'unlucky' to have a man in the kitchen?  Is a figurine with two eyes not allowed to watch a Chinese person cook?  Would the kitchen go up in flames if he wasn't turned to the southeast? Were both Ayis offended that my mustach-i-oed "Rodolfo" was Italian and not Asian?   I tapped my fingers and thought the behavior surely was proof of some Chinese superstition. One that I needed to know about.

Enter Stefanie, our patient as a saint, Mandarin instructor.  She fields many cultural questions for us and is an excellent lǎoshī (teacher).

 After our lesson one night I asked Stefanie to come into the kitchen to meet "Rodolfo" and solve the mystery.  I showed her what each Ayi had done....revolving "Rodolfo" from front and center to the back wall, and told her that this happens each time an Ayi cooks in my teeny tiny kitchen.  "Does it mean anything, is it unlucky, what do you think?" I peppered her with questions as I wanted desperately to understand the cultural significance of this repeated behavior.

With a  quizzical look and a very long pause, Stefanie gave "Rodolfo" the 180-degree turn from facing forward to facing backward and then back again. 

 "This happens everytime?" she asked.  

"Yep, everytime," I replied confidently.

"Hmmmmmmmmm," she pondered.

 I held my breath like a new Mom seeking advice from her pediatrician about her ill and symptomatic first-born.  I would remain lost and in the dark without our lǎoshī 's astute and expert diagnosis. I craved enlightenment on this mystery. I wanted the answer.

And surely Stefanie, with her deep understanding of the Chinese culture, would have the answer.

Stefanie diagnosed the situation:

"Well.............I think both Ayis

did not want to get his face spattered by

 the cooking oil in the wok."

"Oh," I sheepishly replied.

(So much for my Margaret Mead anthropology skills, huh?  I guess I won't be tapping out a blog entry about this then will I?- Wait a second... I think I just did!)

Thanks for Reading,



Allison D. said...

So sweet! I love that!!

Becca said...

That is a great story :) Isn't it interesting that they would both think that way?

I love Rodolfo, by the way. He's a cutie.

Here's hoping your new ayi is a keeper!

Unknown said...

If you look with a bit of imagination, it appears the rearward facing Rodolfo is really a red belted ninja warrior, there to guard your kitchen with some evil looking weapons. Every kitchen will eventually have one. (you know how they like to copy)

Anonymous said...

maybe both ayi's were reaching for spoons in the back & never turned him back?