September 17, 2009

Delicious Irony

Filed under: China,east-west,food — Kim @ 5:19 am

Can’t remember why, but I found myself reading Peter Mandelson’s Wiki profile and came across the below. Old, but priceless…

In 2008, melamine added to Chinese milk caused kidney stones and other ailments in thousands of Chinese children, and killed at least six. To show his confidence in Chinese dairy products, Mandelson drank a glass of Chinese yoghurt in front of reporters. The following week, he was hospitalised for a kidney stone; despite the apparent irony, the events were probably unconnected.[25][26]

February 13, 2009

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is a top bloke

Filed under: asia,blogs,food — Kim @ 5:24 pm

The good old humanaught surprised me the other day by posting about a certain Mr Chris “Devonshire”-Ellis. Check it out.

But I don’t want to talk about the article or any of the claims and counter-claims that pinged around the comments section – until Ryan had to delete them because of threats from the litigious Monsieur Ellis.

No…what I want to say is that Chris Devonshire-Ellis is undoubtedly, and forever, a top bloke in my humble estimation. The reason why I think so is simple. I met him once in a bar in Dalian and he bought me a beer. More precisely he bought me two, and they were both Duvel.

I will forgive him anything after that. I will support him through thick and thin. I will never say a bad word about the man.

I do, however, feel that he probably shot himself in the foot by trying to get rid of online gossip about him. He is a very successful businessman now and has built up a company that is just too strong and established to be shaken by online twittering about him. So why sweat the small stuff?

Also, he reminds me very much in looks and attitude and demeanor of Felix Dennis. Who is another absolutely top bloke who gives away top quality wine at his poetry readings.

How I would love to have a drinking session with those two! Samuel Johnson once said, “let me smile with the wise and eat with the rich” and those are wise words.

So here’s a big “Cheers!” to the swashbucklingly entrepreneurial and magnificently magnanimous Mr CDE! (Mine’s a crate of Duvel.)

July 5, 2008

My Kiddy Cooking Weekends

Filed under: baby,China,food,teaching — Kim @ 5:08 pm

“I love babies, but I couldn’t eat a whole one”, said someone once. Some grumpy old man I guess, but I couldn’t find out who, even on Godgle. In any case, it used to be my attitude more or less, and until very very recently I found it very hard to imagine myself as a Daddy or much less as a (shock horror!) kindergarten teacher.

Having been an English teacher for donkey’s years, I used to get asked from time to time to teach children and my answer always used to be, “I don’t do kids”. But about 5 months ago when I went with my wife and 1 year-old baby to a nearby swanky kindergarten to inquire about prices and lessons etc, I was again offered a job and on very good terms. I only had to teach weekend mornings for a couple of hours and my baby daughter could go to the kindergarten for free anytime she wanted, and on top of this they’d pay me a hundred an hour. I told them I had never taught kids before (and only just resisted saying that I never want to) but they shrugged this off and said I should just try it out…so I did. This kindergarten is a franchise of a well known Australian brand, “Kindyroo!”, and they teach all their “lessons” in English, with a Chinese translator. All the foreign instructors apart from me are Filipinos, and the Chinese management was keen to have “a white face” at their school, to appeal to the daft and rather racist idea that a proper “外教 waijiao/ foreign teacher” shouldn’t be asian looking. Ho hum, good for me I guess.

The lessons turned out to be surprisingly easy and enjoyable. I have only ever had to teach the “cooking class” and so on weekend mornings I help the little darlings to make tacos or cookies or cupcakes or burgers or whatever. It’s a “language and culture” cooking class, so we introduce them to western food and teach them some polite phrases “Yes please, thank you very much, it’s yummy etc” and run through the list of ingredients in English and get them to repeat. And I usually get to sample the fares, so what a great job! And the kids are lucky because I don’t actually do any of the cooking, we have a proper chef who does it. Lessons would be deserted and the school would be forced to close were I the chef.

The age range is 2-6, and they pay 190RMB ($26) each for this particular class, which makes it rather pricey. As I said before, the school is very nicely designed and decorated, and the staff are well trained and good at their job. Apart from me that is, I’m just some big-nosed joker who turns up and tries not to scare anyone… and as I have to do a bit of singing and dancing every lesson, that’s not an easy task.

And I have found that teaching kids in short spells is not too bad, but it’s tiring and I wouldn’t want to do much more of it than I do now. It takes a sunnier temperament than mine to “keep up with the kids” and although they are mostly deeply cute and well behaved I just couldn’t hack it as a full time job. Most of the staff at Kindyroo are there because they love kids and while most of them are also well-adjusted adults, there are a few who have “the look”. This “look” is a kind of glaze to their features that radiates the unfazeable radiant cheerfulness of the terminally baby-besotted. (And, sorry, but it is an exclusively female trait.) Maybe these types start to revert to normal if you take them far away enough from kids but as I’ve never met them outside of work, I wouldn’t really know.”The look” is not so obviously a bad thing of course, but it reminds me of the “Stepford Wives” or “Brave New World” a little too much for my comfort.

Maybe the most positive thing to come out of all this is that I am able to be unabashedly warm and fuzzy in my feelings and reports about Chinese kiddies. We have all read in some papers, I think, that because of the one-child policy China is bringing up a nation of rottenly spoilt “little Emperors”…but my findings are quite to the contrary. This is an expensive school we are talking about and the well-heeled mummies are clad in designer clothes and accompanied by nannies and so there is a fair bit of potential for pampered little brats. But they are not; they are charming and well behaved and lovable and…ayah, I am becoming a big soppy baby softy.

Oh yes, and the best way is to boil gently for half a day or so, depending on weight. I found that roasting and frying leaves the meat a bit too tough. Add salt according to taste. Yummy!

January 18, 2008

Back to Blighty

Filed under: culture,east-west,food — Kim @ 5:17 pm

After slightly more than a year in Dalian, I’m off back “home” to England for a couple of weeks. My university gives me a return flight at the end of every year (when they give you a single it’s time to look for another job) and so on Feb 8th I’ll be jetting off and leaving my poor wife and baby daughter to fend for themselves in the bleak North-East midwinter.

What am I looking forward to? What do I miss about dear old Blighty? Other than family and friends obviously.

Well, I want some good steak and proper bacon. In fact, when I wake up in England I want to have my proper bacon with some free range eggs. Then for my next breakfast I want to have some non-sweet sausages, maybe with some Worcester sauce or some Colman’s mustard. Then some black pudding.

And I want bread and cheese. I want Vintage Cheddar and Cheshire, and some Stilton and Stinking Bishop. With crusty sugar-free bread.

Too much sugar in the wrong places in Chinese cuisine!

And I want some more bread, with hummus and big green olives. And then I want some pasta and pesto with generous sprinklings of Parmesan, washed down with good red wine. And then I want some Tiramisu.

I want, I want!

I want to sit in the pub and drink real ale by the barrelful. London Pride and London Porter, Old Speckled Hen and Old Peculiar, and Bishop’s Finger and Hobgoblin. But, actually, since most good ale comes at almost 3 pounds a pint and since you can get a banquet for that in China, I will limit my pub crawls to a couple of sessions.

The other thing is that you don’t get a wide range of international food in Dalian, so I’ll go to a Thai restaurant to eat some Som Tam with sticky rice and Singha. Then maybe go Greek for some rich lamb stew with Retsina. Then it’ll be time for a Balti and some Kingfisher.

And I don’t want any fish ‘n’ chips. They’re shite.

As you can no doubt deduce, I am an enthusiastic trencherman/complete greedyguts.

Actually, I’ve lost 8 kilos in China over the last 12 months. I mean, I love the wonderful Chinese, Korean and Japanese food here in Dalian, but it’s just not fattening enough. Plus I can afford to play squash regularly here, and go to a very good and nearby gym.

But what else to do in Merry Old England other than to scoff and quaff?

I’ll go to the British museum for a day…the best museum in the world and it’s free! And, if it’s not raining, I’ll make sure to make time for a Sunday morning at the always entertaining and occasionally enlightening Hyde Park speaker’s corner: an unthinkable place in China.

Then I’ll go to some non-censored second-hand bookshops. And I’ll see if there’s any decent bands or poetry readings or political debates, or other such cultural events that don’t exist in Dalian.

Then I’ll do some shopping for jackets and jumpers at Marks and Sparks and get some shaving cream and deodorant at the Body Shop. Fascinating stuff, eh?

My big regret is that I won’t be able to fit in a game of cricket. Now that’s what I miss the most perhaps. Ah yes, I miss the cricket.

And that’s about it really. I don’t miss the telly and I can get the radio and the papers online.

I’m looking forward to it. I like England, although I don’t want to live there any more. Why not is a topic for another post of course.

August 28, 2007


Filed under: China,food — Kim @ 7:27 pm

Went to a wedding last week and played the toast the foreigner game.

Most of the time, thank God, we were toasting with watery Chinese beer, but towards the end someone got out some Taiwanese 55% baijiu and so off we went with that for a few shots.

And, perhaps because it was an expensive bottle from Taiwan, it was not a totally grim experience. Quite smooth drinking for a 55% liquor and a pleasant grainy dry flavour, with a long aftertaste of fire and brimstone.

To say that baijiu does not have a good reputation amongst expats in China is putting it wildly mildly. I’ve seen people cringe, wince and shudder at their memories of baijiu evenings, and for many it is simply known as “the nasty stuff”.

Here’s a couple of representative expat comments on China’s national firewater…

The shanghaiist says

If ever you’ve imagined taste-testing insecticide or paint thinner, Chinese white wine, or baijiu (白酒), should be a fair approximation.

And Comrade Language up in Beijing claims that baijiu’s special flavour comes from the secret ingredients of “rodents, migrant workers, and dung.”

And how about this from Wapedia? It’s not – at least not obviously – a dig, but it speaks volumes about why westerners have problems with the stuff:

Jiang xiang (醬香): A highly fragrant distilled liquor of bold character. To the Western palate, fragrant baijiu can be quite challenging. It has solvent and barnyard aromas, with the former, in combination with the ethanol in the liquor, imparting a sharp ammonia-like note.

Barnyard aromas? Sounds like there really is dung in it.

But I would like to commit heresy by mooting that baijiu can be damn good. No, really, it can…this is not a sick joke, honestly. However, it has to be rice baijiu and it should be sipped straight from the fridge, or served with ice.

Rice is God’s gift…not sorghum or millet or any of that crap that goes into normal baijiu. Drink rice baijiu, or a rice mix such as Wuliangye (五粮液), and drink it cold and it can be as complex and rewarding as a good whisky.

I made a similar mistake with Japanese sake when I first went to Japan. The typical – and wrong – way to drink sake is hot after a meal. To be fair it’s nothing like as strong as baijiu but it’s easy to quaff and will deliver a hangover as foul and wretched and soul destroying as anything baijiu can manage. This is because most places will sell cheap sake (with loads of added brewer’s alcohol) for warming because you can’t really taste much when its warm anyway.

But good sake drunk cold was a revelation. I love good wine, but I think I like good sake more. The amount of flavour those master Japanese brewers manage to get out of rice is astonishing and the range of taste is just as varied as wine. Quality sake and fresh sushi are a sublime combination.

But here I am gibbering on about sake. My point is that it is rice that does it. Here’s a big Cheers to chilled rice baijiu!

Buy a bottle this weekend and put it in your fridge. Go on, try it, you might like it!