Monday, September 07, 2009

I Just Couldn't Take It Any Longer, So I Went Back To China

Uh, ChinaTOWN, that is...

Presented with the opportunity to travel to Toronto so soon after our return to the United States, I jumped at the chance with excitement. You see, Toronto has one of the larger Chinatowns in North America. Here, then, was an excuse to speak some Chinese, and to let my five sense (with apologies to Desi!) by bombarded by all kinds of welcome stimuli...

Sight. As I walked up Spadina toward Tangrenjie, I kept looking for those familiar signs to appear, even if I can't read every character. I knew I had arrived when I spied places up ahead with names like 市场 (supermarket) and 饺子馆 (dumpling house). It didn't matter that the characters were of the traditional variety used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities, rather than the simplified ones present on the mainland. (They are written above in their simplified versions, the only ones I know how to type.)

Smell. Ah, the scent of dried fungus! Alas, all of the meats and sea creatures were kept way in the back of the marketplaces.

Hearing. The four of us are so ridiculous in the DC area. The moment one of us catches a single syllable of Mandarin, the word goes out and our collective antennae go up. Being immersed in the stuff in Chinatown alleviated the need for such targeted eavesdropping. If only they could get rid of all that Cantonese! (Just kidding, Guangdong pengyou!)

Feel. I know this sounds weird, but it was great to stroll down the streets with a bottle of my go-to green tea cradled in my hands. Yep, downright weird, Balla...

Taste. This (of course!) was the real highlight of the weekend. When I discovered a place that has tudousi and huanggua on the menu, I wasted no time in ordering these northern China standbys that are hard to come by overseas. (It's hard for us to believe that before we moved to China, we had never eaten tudousi, given just how much of a staple dish it is.) Then, a few minutes later, I happened to catch four Chinese characters written on a sign on the wall...京酱肉丝. I have no idea what the English name for this dish would be, but you might recall it is one of Desi's favorites. Thinly sliced tofu squares, pork chopped into silk-like threads, spring onions. The Toronto rendition? Not as good as Restaurant #3, but pretty darn tasty.

And that's the general take-away message. Toronto's Chinatown gave me a glimpse back into the lives we lived for a year. It certainly wasn't quite the same, but it sure gave me a nice little fix!

~Steve

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