Yesterday i went out to do groceries, then got stuck at the entrance to the village with a bag full of goodies because the cop hadn't seen me leave just 20 minutes earlier. As a foreigner, i don't have a Chinese ID card, so the standard checks do not work.
There are so few expats in China that the bureaucracy rarely knows what to do with us. Unless you are specifically at a government office that is set up to handle foreigners, the majority of bureaucrats are not familiar with the regulations. They certainly will not be able to speak English, and their Putonghua [Mandarin] may not be very 标准 (standard) either.
Anyway, it was a struggle to negotiate with the cops to get back into my own village. On the way home i stopped in to the community center to see if i could get some kind of special pass to avoid future problems, but that was even less successful due to the clerk most only speaking Cantonese.
This is why i don't particularly want to cross the checkpoint unless i really have to.
One nice thing about being stuck in my apartment and working from home every day is that i can cook a nice lunch (currently my sole meal of the day) and take photos. Normally by the time i get home from work it's after 8pm so there is no natural light in the house.
What are some things i cooked last week?
麻婆豆腐，蒜蓉菜心 - mapo tofu, garlic choy sum
I make my mapo tofu with no meat and with peanuts in it. I also do it the Hunan way instead of the Sichuan way - with fresh chilis instead of dried chilis.
香干炒萝卜，手撕包菜 - smoked tofu fried carrot, hand-torn cabbage
This smoked tofu was the thin, hard kind. The carrot that i used is a local variant that is red colored instead of orange. It tastes pretty much the same but the consistency is a bit harder and it looks prettier in the pan. I am too lazy to hand-tear my cabbage so i chopped it. I doubt many restaurants hand-tear either, despite the name.
蒜蓉空心菜，香葱饼干 - garlic ong choy, spring onion cracker
Ong choy, also known as water spinach, is a weed that grows in the creeks of Guangdong and all over south-east Asia. I think it is my favorite vegetable. Because the stems are hollow they suck up all the sauce and then burst in your mouth. As with all my dishes, i toss in peanuts to add some extra fat and protein.
Due to the lack of a 锅盔 (roti) guy downstairs and the supermarket not getting any fresh 馍 (pita), i have been buying spring onion crackers as a bread substitute. Spring onion crackers are more common here than plain soda crackers. I use them to scoop up food, or in this case spread peanut butter and then scoop up food.
Please note the coffee press in the background, brewing my second-to-last pot of coffee.
This morning i had to drink Nescafé. It has been so long since i made it, that i did not know how much to put. It appears that you need about an equal heaped spoon of sugar to the heap of coffee to be able to create the right blend. Drinking it reminded me of simpler times. My parents always had a drip coffee machine, but instant coffee makes me think of camping or going to friends' houses or fixing breakfast at motels and rest stops.
攸县香干，娃娃菜，老干妈炒大白菜 - Youxian tofu, baby bok choy, Lao Gan Ma fried napa cabbage
Youxian tofu is a different kind of smoked tofu that comes in thick, square slabs about the size and heft of a home-made burger patty. The inside is creamy, which contrasts with the firm rind. I usually slice it lengthways and make little burgers, but due to the no bread problem it is cut smaller.
Lao Gan Ma is an extremely popular range of chili sauces here. I think they are popular because they are basically not spicy at all. I use the black bean version to give a rich umami flavor to cabbage. My secret ingredient is 山楂 (hawthorn) which is sold in little dried sticks. It has a flavor and consistency similar to dried cranberries, and when combined with Lao Gan Ma and fresh chilis it creates something reminiscent of BBQ sauce.
This meal (minus the bok choy) is the thing i cook when i am craving American-style junk food because the flavor profiles are similar. That 康师傅 brand honey green tea washes it down perfectly.
That brings me to today, where i cooked lunch and realized i had made another mapo tofu and choy sum, so it seems my rotation is about a week.
Tonight, just as i was starting to type this entry, i heard a knock at my door. When i opened it, there was just a package sitting there. Bless our building management, it seems they have taken to collecting packages from the side of the road and bringing them up to us.
This package is my coffee from Yunnan province. I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow.
HR has notified us that we must remain working from home till February 24, earliest.
I'll leave you with this essay, which was written by a Beijing academic who became a vocal part of the Chinese resistance when Xi abolished term limits back in 2018. It's a long read, but worth it if you're interested in China: http://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/viewpoint/viral-alarm-when-fury-overcomes-fear