Yesterday was among the best holidays I’ve celebrated in China – Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnaval, call it what you will. I woke up late and spent the morning grocery shopping. I had to pick up wine and fruit for sangria and flour, sugar, chocolate, and eggs for the cookies. Then I forgot the butter and had to walk all the way across campus again . . .
I got started baking in the afternoon, making one batch of chocolate-chip cookies and one batch of M&M cookies. It was going pretty well until one tray of cookies burned. Just to be clear, by ‘burned’, I do not mean that I overcooked them – I mean that they started on fire. They were black lumps of charcoal by the time I noticed it, and when I opened the oven the rush of oxygen caused them to ignite. Luckily, my friend Deni arrived just then and helped me move the oven to the balcony, extract the bonfire, and throw it in the sink – crisis under control.
I was nervous to start the second batch until I figured out what happened. My oven, in addition to being small, is probably less technologically advanced than the average Easy Bake Oven. It resembles nothing so much as a toaster, in that its only control is a little wind-up timer. When the set time (chosen by turning the knob to the 5, 10, or 15 minute marks or to some carefully-calibrated [not] position in between) is up, the oven ‘dings’ and turns off. But sometimes the cookies aren’t done, so I turn it back on to approximately 45 seconds and try again. Well, the oven is starting to break down, I think. Based on careful observation I can see that when I reset it for a short amount of time, it ticks for the proper duration, and then falls silent – without ‘dinging’ or turning off. This is a problem.
I paid more attention, let the oven cool off between trays, and managed to bake the second batch without incident. Then I hopped in the shower and hurried to meet my friends at West Gate. We had invited everyone we knew who was back in town, and it ended up being all women. From left to right: Nathalie (Germany); Andrea (Romania); Kristina, Maja, and Anja (Slovenia); Paloma (Columbia); Eva (Germany); me; and Deni (Mexico).
We went to a new Thai restaurant for dinner, which was a delicious choice. Two curries, Thai barbecued chicken, sweet-and-sour fish, garlic shrimp, egg rolls, 茄子 (eggplant), fried noodles, and Thai rice – for $7 each.
We ate ‘til we were full, ate some more, finished the curry sauce and rice, had a few more bites, and then started on the cookies. While we snacked, we took a bus to Bailuzhou Park to take in the Lantern Festival.
It was kind of like looking at Christmas lights, only there were inordinate amounts of tigers and red-colored things.
The festival is supposed to run all the way through March, which is good because I’d like to go back someday when it’s not cold and rainy. As it was, a quick walk-through was enough, and we went back to the dorm. We hung out in Paloma and Deni’s room, where we drank a whole pot of sangria and polished off the rest of the cookies. We talked while we ate, about anything and everything. I learned a lot about the other countries represented, especially Slovenia. I don’t know that I’d ever heard of it before coming to China – an Eastern European country near Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. It has 2 million people and its own language. Slovenian sounds like a crazy language because, among other things, it has different ways to say each noun depending on if there are 1, 2, or more of the objects – and that’s without discussing gender. Despite the challenges, I am slowly picking up the language. I can say ‘tissue’ (paloma), ‘two boys’ (fanta), ‘smart boss’ (bisterbosch), ‘orange’ (pomerancha) and ‘beer’ (pivo).
Anyway, last night we were lucky enough to have THREE Slovenians with us (0.002% of the ethnic Slovenian population), which we judged worthy of a picture.
The group included one Orthodox girl who goes to Mass with me, a few former Catholics, and others who had no affiliation, so knowledge of the celebration varied. Most of them were familiar with the idea of Carnaval or Mardi Gras in some language, but I think only one of them knew that it was associated (at least at some point in time) with the Catholic season of Lent. I think this is pretty common in the US as well; it’s kind of excusable because the first thing I think of when I hear about New Orleans’ crazy partying is not the Catholic Church. At any rate, I told them a little bit about the tradition, focusing on the season of Lent ahead of us – with its fasting and penitence – which is what gave rise to the tradition of Fat Tuesday, one last day to stuff yourself.
We finished about 4 minutes to midnight, feeling full and ready for Ash Wednesday and the following 40 days.