Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chinese Descendants

"You have GOT to be kidding?," I said loudly one evening at supper. 

"No, my boss thought it would be a good idea to have an off-site meeting with our FORD  team at our house, here in Masterland."

"You mean for a meal?"

"No, all day, here, in our place."

"How many people?"

"Oh, probably twenty, with lunch."

"Twenty?  Where would we put them all day?"
 (Notably ignoring the lunch part of the story problem.)

"We'd figure it out."

"Come on! This takes planning and logistics and organizing, you can't just throw something like this together!"
 I exclaimed.

With one eye-brow raised the Big Guy knowingly looked at his wife of 36 years. 
What did he know?
He knew, with his help, that we had the skill set to make the "Welcome to our Home," portion of the day work out just fine, including lunch for the masses.   

"Let's think about it," I muttered.

And that is when the wheels start to spin in an event-planner's craw.

So, I began asking all those basic questions of





Answering "Why?" wasn't really going to be mine to consider, the line was drawn right outside the pagoda's threshold and I was to gracefully step over it with my left foot first or run for Purple Mountain.

 (Chinese tradition states women use their left foot first and men their right foot.)

I chose to step over with my left. 

The plan scurried forward and the Big Guy's boss sent out an all-points bulletin of the date and time. 

Friday, April 6th from 8:30am - 4:30pm
@ the Johnson's Beautiful Home in Masterland

    (The pressure was mounting, not just twenty people, all day, for lunch, but now I have to redecorate?)

The chosen Friday was proceeded by Wednesday, April 4th, a Chinese holiday called Tomb sweeping Day. The Chinese honour their deceased relatives by going back to their hometowns to tend the graves and visit family on that day. Many people reported that they would be unable to attend the work session if it was held on April 6th . 

The event was rescheduled:

Friday the 13th,  same time and place.   

Choosing not to get superstitious, I was grateful for the extra week to plan.

With a friends help I chose the menu and began the Nanjing search for all the ingredients.   Grocery shopping for anything that is not an indigenous ingredient for Chinese cuisine swiftly becomes a scavenger hunt here. One makes a list two weeks ahead of time scurries from market to market and begins to substitute or merrily check things off.  No big deal, you've all done it of course, it's just more time consuming.  But, as you know this tai-tai (housewife) certainly has time on her side.

From what I've experienced and read the Chinese do their entertaining and hostessing not in their homes but in restaurants. Their smaller living quarters and shared spaces will not accommodate a large group of colleagues. So to have a place like ours that would hold everyone is a rare find.   

My concern was the meeting, seating and eating space. Where would they meet, where would they have their 'break-out' sessions and where would they all sit down to a meal?
We purchased four extra folding chairs, just in case. Things were starting to gel a wee bit.  

The date drew near but without much feedback from the FORD participants until...
the Big Guy sent out a warm invitation with agenda details, a map, plus google photo images of my lunch menu. 

The "ho-hum this will just be another Friday team meeting where we might get out early" mood swiftly escalated to an audible buzz when they saw glammed-up photos of the food.

Lunch was not going to be Chinese AT ALL and the cook was "Mrs. Big Guy" herself. 
(Rut-roh!)  In my round-eyed approach I had chosen a classic simple American party menu:

Lasagna with meat sauce
Tossed Salad with dressing
Hot Dogs on a bun

With all the ingredients 'in-villa' I began lasagna assemblage FORD Rouge Plant style. 

Cottage Cheese, Parmesan, Eggs & $25 block of Mozzarella

Minced Pork Meat substitution for Beef

End Result - Seven Pans of Pete and Cathy's Lasagna*
I have a very small table-top oven and so 'Mrs. Pete down the street' was kind enough to volunteer to bake 3 of the 4 pans. That would be beyond helpful and we could use little Mack's wagon to motor them down the street and around the corner to our place. Sounded like a plan and an example of the FORD team that we have built among the tai-tais.

The event day arrived and so did a rapid downpour.  A soggy but smiling Chinese Chassis Team descended upon Masterland with umbrellas. Our guests were very excited to see where the American lao ban (boss) lived and that included a tour of our 5 levels.

Casey getting attention

For hosting they presented me with the most beautiful bouquet of pink lilies with silver sparkles, so pretty and fragrant.  The Big Guy received a lovely Asian painting of a peony blossom and two birds painted by Samuel's aunt, a renowned Asian artist. I can imagine it framed and hanging in a prominent space in our USA home.

After a compulsory group photo they sped into action with their meeting and I awaited the lunch break. The lasagna wagon commenced, the hot dogs were shrouded with buns and the condiments placed. Everyone was summoned from their meeting below.  As with most worry-worting, my concern over where they would all sit was not worth the hand-wringing. Upon filling their plates our guests stood around the dining room table for the entire meal.  Some ate their lasagna and salad with chopsticks and some used forks.  Only one out of the eighteen had ever tasted lasagna and many returned for a second, third and even a fourth piece which made this cook happy.  Here are a few snapshots.

Back to the living room they went and pushed through some more presentations and role-playing.  I heard both English and Mandarin throughout the day. At 4:30pm the work day was over, and the sun, she-was-a-shining!  The umbrellas needed upon arrival were shoved in a tote and out came sunglasses to greet the beginning of a gorgeous spring Nanjing weekend.

Both the Big Guy and his boss deemed it a successful off-site meeting. I was relieved to have pulled it off and thankful that our Ayi was there to put the place back in order. She is a gift.

In spite of my initial nail-biting, Friday the 13th at the Johnson's felt more lucky than unlucky. We had the Good Fortune of hosting 18 Chinese Descendants in our Nanjing home and I'm guessing they went home and announced that they had lasagna for the very first time.

Thanks for Reading,


Pete & Cathy’s Lasagna – 2012 China
Pasta - ½ to 1 box "oven-ready" lasagna noodles

Meat Sauce - Combine together:

1 # Pound Lean Ground Beef or Italian Sausage, browned and drained (use more if you want it "meaty")

Onion chopped
Mushrooms chopped (go easy on the mushrooms because they add a lot of moisture)
Garlic chopped

16 oz.Spaghetti Sauce
1 t. Salt
½ t.Pepper
2 t. Oregano
1 t. Basil
Crushed Red Pepper - to taste

Cheese Filling - stir it together
2 c. Ricotta
2 Eggs
3 c. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 c. Parmesan Cheese
(Variation: add Chopped Spinach - fresh or frozen chopped, thawed & squeezed)
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Spray  13 x 9” pan with Pam
Repeat once or twice - end with Mozzarella Cheese (and crushed red pepper if you like)

Spray foil with Pam before covering.
Cover and Bake for 50 mins.   350 degrees

Uncover and Bake for 15 mins. or until hot and bubbly.
Let stand for a minimum of 10 minutes before you cut and serve it.
Yields: 8 -10 large pieces.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hào Chī - Good Eats!

Picture Menus are the Bomb!

Our knowledge of the Chinese culture is growing.  It's a hot topic on Cricket's Voice. Surely my observations resonate with gobs of personal opinions and generous pinches of generalizations, but a flock of you remain curious, so I will 'let it fly!'

I think some of the most interesting observations I've made revolve around the topic of Food and Meals. No surprise in a culture where eating is the center of socialization, family and business transactions. 

Here are some of the conclusions that have surfaced through many China restaurant meals:

Mrs. Pete & Me

  • No one will DIE of a dreadful disease if we share our food.
When ordering from a menu, the custom is to order several dishes that are placed in the center of the table or on a large "lazy Susan" and then to share them with everyone at the table. This works well, unless a certain someone is in the habit of guarding and protecting their meat. If this is the case, it is wise to order a duplicate dish so that the beast gets fed. (I didn't name names and it's not the fellow you see below.)

GWJ2 - A little Nanjing Noodling

  • Dig in while it's hot.
In a restaurant an order does not arrive all at once. Food arrives as the cook prepares it and is often 'checked' off of the bill as it's plopped down.  Dishes are not held in the kitchen until the entire order is ready.  In other words, being Western-polite and waiting for everyone at a restaurant table to be served together, just is NOT going to happen. 

J & A in Beijing
  • Wait-staff only come when summoned.
The fúwùyuán (attendant) arrives at your table to take your order, bring you food, and bring your bill but ONLY when summoned. A very loud shout of "Fúwùyuán!" will bring her/him your way.  They aren't working for tips (they don't tip in China) and they figure if you want them you will call out to do so. This is very different than the USA.  It would be considered VERY rude to call out "Waitress!" in a US restaurant.  (The only exception would be my father and his buddies who while at the bar many years ago beckoned any waitress by calling out "Nurse!" just for chuckles and attention. And she....yes, it was always a she....hopped on over to provide the next round.)

  • Special orders
Ordering a dish say, without mushrooms or mayo, or with cucumbers instead of pickles, etc. will get you looks like you just jumped off the wrong bus on the wrong street, in the wrong city, naked.  In other words, how they prepare the listed dish is the ONLY way it comes, so save your breath.  Oh, you can try to customize.  I have a vegan friend who is quite successful in ordering with her Mandarin list of acceptable and unacceptable ingredients. But for the most part the order taker will suddenly appear deaf in both ears to your request.  We've learned to pick out what we aren't interested in eating.

A restaurant owner asked me once, "Why is it you Americans want everything 'special' or 'without this or that?'  Can't you just order what's on the menu?"

I remained mute.  But I wanted to defend the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave and launch into what it really means to be a US citizen and the privilege of choice and the cost of freedom, etc.  Silence wasn't easy, friends.
Quack and the Big Guy

  • Bring It, Baby
This culture is very aware of rank.  Higher rank, higher status, means more influence.   In entering a restaurant for a meal you will most likely interact with all of these folks during your food break:

Greeter or two
Hostess to Seat You
Drink Menu and Food Menu person
Order Taker
Beverage Toter or two
Food Toter or two
Dish Clearer
& Back to the Order Taker

Each task is performed by someone in a uniform determined by their job and rank.  I know this isn't that foreign in fine restaurant dining in the USA, but I'm talking about Pizza Hut, here.

  • Are they open or what?
It is not uncommon to approach a restaurant about 1:30pm and be shoo-ed away.  That's because at 2:00pm the lights will go out and the entire staff will put their heads down on the table to nap before the dinner hour which begins a couple hours later. I liken it to the Siesta in the Latin American countries where it's just too dang hot to work so a break is imminent.

Beijing Restaurant ~Hua's

  • Míngpiàn?  - (Business Card?)

My Favorite are filled with Shrimp
Finished with your meal? The wait staff won't approach you with your bill until summoned. "Fúwùyuán!" - remember? Upon arriving with the bill she'll announce the total and she won't go away until you pay her, right there on the spot, in CASH.  As you waddle out, because, yes, you ate too much, be sure and stop at the entrance desk for a míngpiàn so that you can show your taxi driver how to get back at some future date.  Oh, heck, take a few and give one to your friends when they ask,

"Where did you eat this weekend?"

Hào Chī - Good Eats!

It's official, we've hit a milestone.   
We have lived in Nanjing, China for one entire year!

March 30, 2011

is our anniversary date of disembarking from Delta Flight #181 and planting wobbly sea-legs onto the China soil.  We head into our second and third year of this adventurous assignment with more language skills and greater cultural understanding. We've made new friends yet accept the ever-fleeting reality that people 'move on.'  Farewells and Best Wishes are just part of the plan.
We've 'paid it forward' by helping new ex-pats settle in and have relied on seasoned ex-pats, new friends and co-workers for so much. The love and support of family and friends back in the States has been immeasurable and humbling.  And we are grateful to ALL of them.

The conviction to make these three years with FORD of Asia-Pacific three of the best years of our lives is coming true.

Cheers and Thanks for following me and the Big Guy during the First Year of our Journey.

And yes, in looking ahead we say in unison "Bring it, Baby!"

Thanks for Reading,

Best Beijing Restaurant - Liu Home