While Thing 1 and I were eating gourmet Lebanese meals this weekend in Beijing, Mr. Understanding was eating duck elbow joints in Guandong. I did not know that ducks even had elbows. Thing 1 and I traveled to Beijing to visit with an OBF (old best friend) of hers from Brazil who moved to the PRC at the end of 2005. Things 2 & 3 were left in the capable hands of the Communists, my Russian neighbor and the Brazilian neighbor, an ex-Trotskyite (many thanks!). The trip was Thing 1’s birthday present but really, who are we kidding? It was really a gift to me too!
We stayed in the most lovely Glama Villa inhabited by the Cat Family who are mainly, but not exclusively, Lebanese. They are moving back to the US (news alert for those who know them) in June after 8 years abroad (this outing). The Beijing floor plan of a Glama Villa is far better than a Pudong Glama Villa, although they too had a nasty stench for 6 months, it also being a new house when they moved in. Reason to hope?
Mrs. Cat and I were acquaintances during our time in Brazil although our daughters were in each other’s houses almost every weekend. Giggly Cat, the third daughter of the Cat family, is a sweet, bubbly girl – easy to have over. By the time I arrived in Brazil, Mrs. Cat’s social scene was firmly in place. While in Brazil, I helped her husband write a booklet on (and I hope you all appreciate the irony here) a Lebanese Maronite Catholic partriach who the Lebanese church is proposing for sainthood by the Roman Catholic church. Mr. Cat and I think alike politically so when we did see each other, the conversations were always spirited and entertaining. He left me an authographed copy as he was in the US negotiating for the number of 40 foot containers Mrs. Cat can have at her disposal. I think both Norma (Mrs. Cat) and I realized during the visit that we would have had a lot of fun together in Brazil, even if we had bankrupted both our families. Mrs. Cat is a shopper par excellence. To say nothing of being a fantastic cook. The kind that can cook without a book.
There were many blogworthy moments in a short amount of time. Norma took me to a ceramic shop the first afternoon while Thing 1 stayed at the house to wait for Giggly’s return from school. Norma was interested in a vase that was high on a shelf, at the back of the shop, wedged in by ceramic vases as high as our waists and shoulders.
She called me over to ask my opinion. As I drew closer to the vase up high, I noticed my progress was impeded by more vases and jars. One of the jars had a stick propped in it running across to another shelf; as my eye traveled up I noticed a whole pig head and a chunk of meat dangling separately off hooks. Looking like it belonged in Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, I was not initially sure if the pig head was real or a Halloween mask. But really, who are we kidding? This is China. Of course it was real.
As we wandered around the shop we began to notice other food items such as fish pickling in large plastic jars stuffed into the mouths of other shoulder height vases, probably all soaking in brine in preparation for CNY (Chinese New Year). Think pink squid at eye level. There were also various boxes sitting atop the ceramic wares which we were too afraid to open. Tripe or imitation Ming porcelain? I had had to get out of one line at the airport and into another because a fellow passenger’s hand carried luggage, boxes stacked on top of one another, tied together with plastic string, stank so much so I was not about to investigate.
Then there was the shop that asked Norma if her name had an “L” at the end. In a country where “Anglo” names such as Fish and Seven are commonplace, this was not so strange. But even Norma had to admit it was a first.
On Saturday, Norma and I left the girls at home to be teenagers for an unfettered 6 hours of power shopping, first to the Hongqiao Pearl Market and then to an antique warehouse.
We spoke Portuguese to each other when offering/asking opinions on price. It’s all about negotiation here and haggle we did. In between outings we talked about everything under the sun, drank tea, and ate good food. I saw no sights (that will come in March) but Beijing elbowed out Hong Kong as an expat getaway. It was a little taste of home.