Adventures of Life in Beijing

If you’ve been following along, you know there’s someone special in my life I haven’t seen since the Coronavirus started in Beijing three months ago. You can read about the street food chef  gone missing in my last post. Craving Normal

I began to give up on the Baozi Guy, trying to accept the parts of my life that have changed forever. Some friends who left China will never come back. I can’t wear lipstick in public because it just gets smeared inside my mask, and going out carries an element of tension since we have to scan an app (in Chinese) and verify our health status to enter most public venues.

It seems that everyone can relate to craving “normal” – that part of your daily routine that stabilizes your life, whether it’s a lunch stop at Chick-fil-A with the kids, a sweat-inducing workout at the gym or catching up with a friend at Starbucks.

I love that you are cheering for my Baozi Guy to return right along with me.  I was savoring your words of encouragement with my morning coffee a few days ago when my phone pinged.

Who’s texting at 6 am? The kids were asleep and Mike was out running.

“Closer to normal,” the message said, with this picture:

 

In addition to Baozi, the fried dough sticks on the right are a popular breakfast food.

 

I’m not one to cry over sappy movies, but that one image caused the tears to flow. There really is hope that we’ll all come out of this OK on the other side. I wondered what battle the Baozi Guy had been fighting while I struggled with loneliness and uncertainty in my apartment?

Five minutes later Mike returned from his run, like the Messiah bringing good news.

I took the precious warm bag and cradled it in my hands, inhaling deeply.

“You only bought one bag?” I asked. Ten bite-sized buns divided by four people times two teenagers is a very small number.

“Hey, I was impressed that I was able to pay for them at all. I didn’t want to get two orders and then have to leave them there because my phone didn’t work.”

I couldn’t respond because my mouth was full. Those little fluffy, pork-filled bundles were just as good as I remembered. How does he get the dough so light?

“I think he recognized me,” Mike said. “We were both kind of excited to see each other.”

It was a milestone day. The Baozi Guy returned, and the city of Wuhan  reported that all virus patients had been released from the hospital.

Today I had to go and see him for myself, to make sure it hadn’t all just been a dream, like a mirage in the desert.

I gave a joyful wave as I approached, knowing I was probably embarrasing him with my unreserved emotion. But he waved back and stood up as I approached.

 

 

“I’m so happy ! You’re back!” I said, using the simple words I’d practiced all day yesterday. “Are you good?”

”Yes, yes, I’m good.”

In the past my camera-shy friend refused my requests for photos, but today his eyes crinkled kindly  as he smiled behind his mask.

 

I paid for my order (called a Ti from the word for basket) and headed home, sampling a warm bun from the bag. I’m sure it was my imagination but it seemed like the friendly exchange added a depth of flavor to the pork and scallion puffs that I didn’t notice yesterday.

 

A taste of normal in my day.

 

I thought about all of the pieces in our lives that  have been scattered, at least temporarily. It’s left me longing, craving for connection. At least in a small way today, normal has returned.  I hope your normal comes back soon too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (23):

  1. Angelika Sorrow

    May 1, 2020 at 11:15 am

    So happy to read this!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:23 pm

      Thank you !

      Reply
  2. Jackie

    May 1, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    So happy for you

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:21 pm

      Thank you – hope your normal comes back soon!

      Reply
  3. Paula Kasnitz

    May 1, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    A good omen for all of us.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      I hope so! Love your pictures – you two eat well. Makes me smile.

      Reply
  4. Michelle Taylor

    May 1, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    I love this. I could feel your emotion & I’m ready to feel closer to normal as well. Big ((hugs)) my friend.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks Michelle – hope it comes your way soon!

      Reply
  5. Tina

    May 1, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    sniff…….I love this!! I think we will all look at normal a little differently after this is over. At least I know I will.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      For sure! Hope you aren’t going too stir-crazy. Thanks for the encouragement.

      Reply
  6. Ainslie Lewis

    May 1, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    I’m so excited for you! And I find it encouraging that normal will return, at least some of it. For the first time in seven weeks, I saw toilet paper on the shelf at Walmart. It was just stacked there without a large group of people gathering around to make it disappear again. And yesterday the stay at home order expired. There are still many restrictions in place however, I’m encouraged that in the coming weeks will get small bits back. I’ll continue to pray for you and your family. Thank you for your blogs.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you ! That’s funny about Wal-Mart. Isn’t it crazy that things that seemed so mundane are now causes for great joy? Good lesson here.

      Reply
  7. Ruth Meyer

    May 1, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Det ser rigtigt lækkert ud,Kirsten, kan du ikke sende nogle hjem til Danmark?
    Mon ikke også du selv kunne lave sådan nogle?
    Glad for, at I har det godt og at tingene bliver nemmere for jer – her er meget lukket ned.
    Pas godt på jer selv. Ønsker moster Ruth

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:18 pm

      Hi, so happy to hear from you. I wish I could send you some. I could learn how to make them but we pay about $1 for a whole bowl, so it’s cheaper to buy them. Take care – hoping things will be better this summer.

      Reply
  8. Wanda

    May 1, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Wonderful news .. I’ve enjoyed you Blog-sharing your adventures. Grateful for the JOY you experienced!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks for following along Wanda!

      Reply
  9. Rimjhim Dey

    May 1, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Lovely love story dear Kirsten.
    You are a wonderful writer. And, your dispatches are so heart-warming.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement Rim. Hope things are getting better in NY.

      Reply
  10. Marlyn G.

    May 1, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    Wonderful story about your new life in China. I am so happy to read that your bun guy is back; and you can feel that things are coming back to being somewhat normal.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks Marlyn, it’s been a journey for sure. Miss all you Tuesday ladies❤️

      Reply
  11. Frankie

    May 1, 2020 at 11:12 pm

    Our human connection to those people who come into our lives, makes living rich. Delighted your friend is back in business and that YOU get to share those savory treats with us.

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      May 1, 2020 at 11:28 pm

      So true- I think that’s the biggest lesson in all this. We are wired for connection.

      Reply
  12. Shari

    May 3, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    I LOVE a happy ending!!! ❤️❤️

    Reply

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Snake Skin

I’m really sorry I let you down. I made promises I just couldn’t deliver.

If you recall in my last post Chinese Medicine I planned to drink a pot of Chinese herbal tea everyday to try and improve my reptilian skin, itchy scalp and overall parched demeanor caused by Beijing’s cold dry winter. I know you were hoping I could share the results of a miracle cure.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine moisturizing tea

 

The concoction, brewed from a collection of beige roots and twigs, smelled a bit like a musty wool blanket that had been stored too long in a closet. It didn’t taste bad but as the holidays approached there was too much competition.

My first-ever  homemade eggnog with a splash of Captain Morgan’s did nothing for my skin, but it uplifted my spirits tremendously in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

 

You can’t buy eggnog in Beijing, but homemade was so easy !

 

Then there was the buttery yellow Chrysanthemum tea given to me by a friend. The color just made me happy, and I’d choose the floral aroma any day over the musky medicinal potion.

 

Chrysanthemum tea

 

And then there was the treasured Cadbury’s hot chocolate mix, which felt like such an indulgence topped with homemade whipped cream.
(Instant hot chocolate is a foreign luxury good, not readily available.)

Peet’s Coffee made its debut in Beijing this winter, and Santa brought me a shiny red mug for Christmas. It just didn’t seem right to fill it with Moisturizing Yam Tea.

 

 

With all of the competing beverages, I just couldn’t face another cup of astralagus root and dried yam tea.

In an effort to soothe my winter-weary skin, I turned to another (this time external) popular Chinese remedy: snake oil.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s what those fly-by-night traveling salesman used to sell at carnivals in the early 1800s, right?

Actually, it turns out that snake oil has a long history of popularity in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Made from the oil of water snakes, this omega-3 fatty acid rich substance has been used to soothe skin, cure dandruff, relieve split ends and reduce arthritis.

A quick visit to Wal-Mart and I strike gold: there’s snake oil cream right next to snail slime extract. Maybe these cold-blooded creatures can help.

 

 

Online shopping offers more choices, from Snake Oil exfoliating gel to Snake Oil hair removers and whitening creams.

 

I’ve ordered a moisturizer and a scrub. I passed on the snail slime. I’ll check in again in a few weeks and let you know things are coming along.

 

 

Pick up Sticks

Who Says You’re too Old to Play with Your food?

From meaty, cumin-scented lamb skewers to sweet, candied hawthorns, Beijing is filled with food on a stick. These fork-free dishes are perfect for strolling, sharing, dipping or indulging. If you’ve ever cooked over a campfire or savored a popsicle, then you remember that hand-held food is fun for all ages.

Local Flavors

Head to Qianmen or Nanluoguxiang to start, and grab some lamb skewers, “whirlwind” potatoes, squid or sausages on a stick.

 

Cumin-rubbed lamb skewers are a must try.

 

Called “whirlwind” or “cyclone” potatoes, think of them like fresh potato chips on a stick, seasoned with salt and pepper.

 

Choose your squid and have it cooked to order.

 

For the truly adventurous, there are scorpions, silkworm larvae and tarantulas, perhaps best left for capturing with your camera and not your taste buds.

 

They’re mostly a gimmick, but you’ll find scorpions and tarantulas too. See the starfish in the back?

 

For an experience that’s a little more off the beaten path, head to Xinmin market (subway stop Guloudajie) and spend the morning exploring the produce, spices and wet market. When hunger strikes, look for the ma la tang stand selling a variety of skewers including mushroom bundles, quail eggs, meatballs, broccoli, lettuce, noodles and much more. Don’t worry – there’s no menu to decipher; just point to a skewer that looks good and give it a try. For just a few kuai a skewer, it’s a fun, affordable outing.

 

Tofu, potatoes and broccoli are my favorites. Choose “spicy” or ”non-spicy.”


Travel the Globe

Don’t limit yourself to Chinese food. Beijing has a whole world of flavors just waiting for you to try. Grab a map and start checking off your destinations. At Athena Greek restaurant the Chicken Souvlaki comes on a suspended skewer.

Nearby Alameen offers a platter of mixed Lebanese kebabs, and a taste of Turkey is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Turkish Feast.

Branch out from curries at your favorite Indian restaurant with a skewer of cheese-like paneer or head to NomNom in Haidian District for Indonesian mutton or beef Satay with a side of Sambal Kecap, sweet soy sauce mixed with chilies and shallots. And of course, don’t forget to stop in Thailand for some peanut-y Chicken Satay.

If you’d rather take cooking into your own hands, Café Zarah offers Cheese Fondue every evening after 6pm. Each bowl of melted cheese-y goodness comes with crunchy cubes of bread, vegetables, cornichons and a bowl of pineapple.

 

A cozy evening at Cafe Zarah.

 

Cheese fondue.


Sweet Endings

Winter is the season for tanghulu, those shiny, sugary fruit sticks decorating the city like ornaments.

Round red hawthorns are the most popular, but you’ll also find grapes, kiwi slices and Chinese yams. There are even some Santa-themed ones with marshmallows and strawberries.

 

Freshly dipped in molten sugar water gives fruit a crackly, sweet finish.

 

Santa-themed fruit skewers.

Keep an eye out for purple sticky rice dipped in sugar or waffles on a stick that spell “I Love Beijing” in Chinese characters.

 

Warm glutinous rice dipped in sugar makes a filling snack.

 

Waffles on a stick make it easy to snack and stroll.

 

Find your zodiac sign fashioned in sugar candy or grab a stick full of sweet-and-sour shan zha (dried Hawthorn).

 

Floral scented gui hua cake drizzled with syrup beckons with its golden yellow hue, derived from Osmanthus flowers.

 

 

For a more interactive experience, head to Qianmen Kitchen restaurant  to make some S’mores. Roast American marshmallows over your own charcoal brazier, add some Lindt Chocolate and sandwich it all between Biscoff cookies and digestive biscuits.

 

Lastly, don’t rule out ice cream just because it’s winter. Beautiful rose-shaped ice cream and vibrant fruity popsicles (at Nanluoguxiang) will make you forget how cold it is outside, even if just for a moment.