Tuesday, 8 April 2014

So I May Have Done Something...


When I left my apartment this afternoon and crossed the street my only intention was to go to my local hairdresser to get my hair washed...and well if you want me to be honest I wanted to ask my favourite hairdresser about dyeing my hair. We talked about it before and he assured me it wouldn't be a problem.

However...instead of talking to my hairdresser about dyeing my hair I actually let him do it. You may or may not wonder about the outcome... If you aren't wondering about the outcome then you really should because like I said I might have done something crazy today...or maybe it was my hairdresser who did something crazy? 

Long story short, I've gone blond! This may or may not have been on purpose. In all honesty it was more of a mistake because dying my hair is almost always a hit and miss. You never quite know what will happen. It also seems that Chinese hair dye is much more aggressive than Western hair dye. Western hair dye doesn't have quite as much power to radically change your look compared to the Chinese counterparts. It makes sense, I guess, seeing since black hair is much harder to dye.

I'd originally intended to only touch up my roots so that my hair colour is all even again instead of running around with three different shades of medium blond on my head. I'm now down to one shade of light gold blond (Yes, you read that right!). My hairdresser and his colleagues as well as two of my best friends have assured me that I look good and that my new hair colour suits me. 

I always had this crazy idea of going all out and dyeing my hair blond but I never thought I'd actually have the guts to do just that...especially not in China were a dark-haired foreigner stands out like a beacon so let's not talk about just how much of an attraction blond hair is.

What's done is done, now I just need to get used to the new me.

I know you couldn't care less about what I have to say, you probably have just one thought: Show me the damn picture already.

Well then...without further ado, here's the new me!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Hot Dry Noodle Heaven

I vividly remember when I first moved to Wuhan there was one thing very high on my to do list and that was finally tasting Wuhan's speciality breakfast - hot dry noddles (热干面 rè gān miàn). 

I didn't think it would be difficult to accomplish and I had my heart set on it so much that I got disappointed very very quickly. It wasn't that I finally tasted the dish and disliked it, no it was far worse then that.

I simply couldn't find a place where to have my first bowl of Wuhan's famous hot dry noodles. Considering that hot dry noodles are sold at just about every street corner in Wuhan that excuse is nothing but laughable. Still, I'm sticking to my guns, so laugh as much as you will.

I had my heart set on trying the best hot dry noodles in Wuhan so I asked a ton of people where to have my first bowl of this elusive best bowl of steaming hot 热干面. My question was met with as much disinterest as you could possible imagine. Apparently it didn't matter and any place was okay, followed by countless of questions as to why I just had to have those blasted noddles. "It's nothing special, stop wasting your time." My friends told me. 

It started grating on my nerves faster than you repeatedly clicking your ballpoint pen will. I stopped asking and started ignoring, determined to find the answer myself. After months of successful indecision I finally gave in to my good friend's invitation and let her buy a bowl of hot dry noodles for me although it wasn't the real deal because she had the cook add minced pork. Still it was delicious and I proudly instagramed my progress:

Once I'd finished my first bowl of "fake" hot dry noodles, as I call them, I felt sort of accomplished and the daredevil in me wanted more. I tried an actual original bowl of hot dry noddles and the taste was okay but it didn't make me sit up straight with excitement. For a while I didn't know what all the fuss was about and unable to find what I was looking for I resolved to just making the dish at home. I'm doing an okay job with it. The taste is anything but the real thing but it's not vile and I like it. I buy hot dry noddles from the wet market across the street and then I make the sauce myself. Usually I add more lajiao jiang (辣椒酱) than I should but what with my injury I've been forced to abandon all spicy food. Doctor's orders. Spicy food isn't the best option to aid the healing process of an open wound. This is undoubtedly rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine and I never asked why I should abstain but just did and I don't intend to eat anything spicy until I've full recovered.

My injury is exactly what made me finally discover the best hot dry noddles in Wuhan (my humble opinion) although I don't recommend that you burn yourself with scalding hot water from an electric hot water bottle until you end up with a full-thickness second degree burn the size of your hand that requires skin grafting to heal to ask your friends to come by and visit you and bring you hot dry noodles for breakfast.

Long story short, with me on bed rest and unable to leave the house to do simple things such as going to the supermarket and buying food for myself my friends took over helping me and whenever a friend came over to help me go to the hospital she would bring be some breakfast. When asked what I wanted for breakfast my answer was always the same, I wanted hot dry noodles. One bowl of hot dry noodles fills you up and you feel full for a long time with no need to eat anything. That suited me just fine. One morning one of my friends bought a bowl of hot dry noddles from the little snack food shop beside the entrance to my apartment complex. I've since been inside (thanks to my fantastic doctor who gave me my freedom back) and discovered that they serve numerous "quick" dishes perfectly suited for a breakfast on the road or a short lunch break.

I now have an insatiable thirst for their hot  dry noodles and don't want to buy my breakfast anywhere else. Mind you, I don't eat hot dry noodles every day but I do enjoy a steaming bowl of hot dry noodles and a cup of soya milk.

What astonishes me is the complete indifference the people of Wuhan have when it comes to hot dry noodles. I totally get that it's nothing special to them but try to buy hot dry noodles anywhere else in China and you will recoil at the taste. There is quite frankly nothing worse than someone who isn't from Wuhan attempting to produce a sellable version of Wuhan's signature hot dry noodles sauce. 

The recipe itself is very easy, hence my ability to produce it at home (though I wouldn't attempt to sell it or offer it to other people, especially people from Wuhan), but it's a delicate recipe and if you mess it up it's a bomb gone wrong. The taste will go from exploding in your mouth making you crave more to you spitting it out, pulling a face and vowing to never eat such a vile dish ever again. I kid you not. There is nothing worse than trying to eat hot dry noodles when the sauce isn't right. I tried it ones and I couldn't bring myself to swallow more than one bite before giving up and tossing the dish.

It's true, the dish is nothing special, the taste is simple, there is nothing but noodles and sauce in the bowl, but nevertheless the dish is rich in taste and it fills you up better than a bowl of rice will ever do. There's a ton of different versions of the dish and some people like to add meat or other goodies for a different taste but the traditional, original dish will always be ridiculously simple.

The sauce is compromised of many different ingredients, yet it's simple enough to follow, if you'd like to try it at home:

油 2汤匙(30ml)

oil, two tablespoons
芝麻香油 4汤匙(60ml)

sesame oil, two tablespoons   
芝麻酱 2汤匙(30ml)

sesame paste, two tablespoons 
香醋 2茶匙(10ml)

vinegar, two teaspoons (adjust based on personal taste)

酱油 1汤匙(15ml)

soy sauce, 1 tablespoon  
白砂糖 2茶匙(10g)

white sugar, two teaspoons 
酱萝卜丁 50g 

marinated radish cubes
辣椒油 1茶匙(5ml) 

hot pepper oil, one teaspoon
香葱 2棵 

spring onions, two pinches
胡椒粉 1/2茶匙(2g)

ground pepper, one/two teaspoons 
卤牛肉汁 适量 (可根据个人口味增减)

beef gravy juice (as per personal flavour, I never add it)

Apparently a lot of foreigners aren't really a fan of hot dry noodles so I always get astonished looks when I do order the dish and I usually just joke that I'm from Wuhan. They don't believe it for a second but they are humorous enough to laugh at the joke and they I get kudos for eating like a local.

So if you've ever in Wuhan, let me take you for a bowl of hot dry noodles so that you can make up your own mind and stop believing other foreigners who "don't like the smell" and therefore walk about telling everyone that it's a horrible dish. They clearly have no appreciation for a good bowl of Chinese snack food. I've heard astonishing stories from locals as to why foreigners don't like the dish and it makes me want to paint my skin yellow and get surgery on my eyes. Some foreigners are just too indifferent to local culture and taste and it makes my heart hurt.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

You Can't Play On Broken Strings

In an attempt to be semi-poetic I'm stealing a line from the James Morrison song "Broken Strings" for the title of my blog post. For no particular reason other than I felt it fitting, for reasons I'm not entirely certain will be revealed in this post unless you, my readers, are very good at reading between the lines and understanding what I didn't write.

I don't have much to say because I'm not looking for pity and yet I want to say so much that it feels like I could fill the pages of an entire book.

I'm not quite sure how to put what I want to say into words but my romance with the Chinese fish is over. It drowned for lack of oxygen. A fish and a landlubber are just not compatible, not for a long anyway.

"My" fish, and I'm using quotation marks because I'm not sure he was ever mine to begin with, slipped out of my grasp like fish do. I should have seen in coming but loves makes you blind and stupid and everything in between. It's the most wonderful thing, yet it's also the most painful thing that can happen to you.

I'm not going to kiss and tell, not in a situation like this, that's just not my style, but well it's over. This past year and a half I've cried enough tears to fill the East Lake twice over and then some or so it feels like. I've put on a brave face when inside all I wanted to do was fall apart. A lot happened but I'm not going to air my dirty laundry in public. Anyways, there are always two sides to a story and since the fish is not around to share his I shall not share mine. Let's leave the accusations, the hatred, the anger, the hurt and everything else outside where it belongs.

Most of my friends seem to believe that I'm just putting on an act and that I'm going to fall apart sooner or later but I'm fine, really I am. As fine as you can be when you've lost someone you loved deeply, someone you were planning a future with, someone who's children you were planning on bearing...

Like I said I'm not looking for pity or comfort, it's the least I want and need. I have something happy in my life right now but it feels so fragile and new that the thought of sharing it terrifies me right down to my very core. I'm so afraid of losing this something happy, that I don't quite have just yet, that I just want to grasp it as tightly as you can grasp something so fragile and hold it really close to my battered heart. I don't want to share and no amount of persuasion can make me change my mind until I'm good and ready.

For now I just want to share the news of what I've lost, although I do realise that I'm being cryptic about it and not giving away many details. Then again what's there to give away when talking about a break up? I could blame him for a million things and I do but I prefer to do that in the privacy of my own head. I'm not famous, nobody cares about the saucy details, not that they really matter. It just didn't work out and I couldn't even explain how or why or when it all started to go pear-shaped because that's the part that I don't understand and I don't think I ever will. I'm not going to get that kind of closure but that's okay, I'm a writer, I have imagination, I can spin a story together faster than you can blink. Something comforting with half-answers and half-truths that will console me yet keep me grounded if I ever do fall apart.

I'm sorry that I have no juicy details for you on why the white girl and the Asian boy had no future after all but I will tell you it definitely wasn't cultural differences. In my opinion, anyone who cites that as a reason for a break-up just didn't try hard enough to make the relationship work and understand the other person. When two people love each other and want to be together the discovery of two different cultures can be the most beautiful and magical thing ever. I think two people can turn that kind of mutual understanding into their strongest bond and it can be just as strong as the love they feel for each other.

One thing astounded me these past few weeks though. Out of the few people I told about the break-up, 3/4 called me a liar, as if I'd make something like this up for fun! I can be very funny and extremely sarcastic but even I have a bottom line and I would never steep so low.

I am also aware of today's date and it's ironic indeed that I chose today to present you all with a truth I've so desperately been longing to share but didn't feel ready to until now, until today. There really is some sort of twisted irony in this. Rest assured, this is not an April's Fool's joke although I can't help but wonder...if it was, could I have pulled it off?

Anyway it's all out in the open now and even though I haven't pressed "publish" just yet but will do so in a moment, I feel incredibly relived. I've finally done it, I've written about it and that's the best cure there is.