tents, awnings and overgrown garden shrubs you can glimpse on three sides
long low brick buildings in various stages of disrepair. Instead of leaving
the bank and turning right, back to the main street and the restaurant,
I saw that my students were lined up to the left. They were standing
around watching a couple of hawkers. One was squatted on the ground,
with a deck of cards in her hands. Laying in front of her was a circle
divided into many wedges, with random numbers around the circle and Chinese
symbols. If you paid her a 'buck' you could pick a card and
she would tell your fortune.
her, obviously her shill, was a man on a short stool with a small coal
brazier between his legs, holding a small pot with a thick brown liquid
thinly coating its bottom. He would ladle a small amount of this
thick liquid deftly onto a white square board in front of him. First
a drop, then flatten it with the ladle making a smear. Then another smear,
then lift the ladle and let it trickle down into spikes and swirls.
He laid a stick on it, pressing it into a thicker portion of smear.
Wait a few seconds, and then gently lift it off the board with a long thin
spatula. Then I noticed he had a green Sprite bottle mounted on the corner
of his table; five or six of these shapes stuck out the sides of the bottle.
I saw fish, birds, dragons, butterflies. Two circles lay in front
of him with spinners. Around the circles were pictures of animals
or flowers. For free, you could 'spin' (or just nudge it
a little) and walk away with one of these delicacies. I saw a
girl pick out a butterfly, then walk away nibbling at its fragile wings.
Then I surmised that this edible liquid was brown sugar.
this artisan for a while, before drifting on into the bazaar. I kept
thinking we should get to the restaurant, that one guy standing there must
be getting impatient, and the guys we passed on the road, where were they?
But the girls were totally relaxed, enjoying themselves. I asked the girl
nearest me, "uh luh ma?" (are you hungry). She
said not. Well then, no hurry for lunch, I thought.
around the maze of tables of wares in a timeless bubble of a warm Spring
morning, the tide changed and suddenly we were all headed out, back to
the main street. As we neared the columns Tsering Ji, one of
my more advanced students, said to me, "Sherab Drolma eez hongry.
Let's go." We got back to the restaurant. There were maybe
three people already sitting, nibbling on the sunflower seeds in the condiment
dish, a light covering of shells at their feet.
filled quickly. I noticed their Tibetan literature teacher, seated
at another table. The class monitor, Gunga Tsewang, came up to Tsering
Ji and me to chat. He told me that he had come to my room Friday
night, but I wasn't home. I was puzzled. I was indeed home,
watching a movie with an English Department student. We had the lights
out, but I know the glow from the TV screen lights up the curtain.
He and Tsering Ji saw the drawn curtain and no lights on, and thought I
wasn't home. I simply hadn't heard them; they were quiet as mice,
rather unusual for Tibetans. So there was my invitation from the
monitor, delivered but not received. We were in a hot pot restaurant.
Each round table comes with a hole in the center, in which is laid a wok
with a divider down the center, sitting on a gas burner. Two differently
flavored spicy broths are poured in. You select your raw food from
a wall of racks, then sit and dip food into the boiling broth from your
tray piled high with meats, vegetables, seafood and seaweeds. About
eight people can sit around one table.
On a visit
to Xi'an last year friends took me to a Mongolian hot pot restaurant.
I rather enjoyed that experience. Each person had a bowl with tahini,
sesame paste. A series of condiment dishes went around the table,
so that each person could personalize the taste in his bowl with such as
cilantro, garlic, hot sauce, chives and more. The broth was tasty,
with dates floating in one side and just a few red peppers in the other.
The waiters brought dishes of raw food ordered by the guests. There
was a lot of thinly sliced curled goat meat, yang rou, beef, niu rou, and
a great assortment of vegetables and long stemmed button top mushrooms.
There were clear noodles, or fen si.
the hot pot evolved from the nomadic fires of the Mongols, then was adapted
by Beijing and Japan. I fondly remember the delicious simmering
clay pots in Japan that eschewed the tongue numbing spices preferred in
China. A few months back I read an article by Ron Gluckman, in Destinasia,
claiming that the hot pot was invented in Sichuan. I guess you could
say that this dish served in Guza is a local invention, since it has no
closer tie to Mongolian hot pot than ravioli does to wan tan.
miles and worlds away from Xi'an, two broths fill the halves of the divided
pot. One broth is a bland salty stock with red floating dates.
The other side is red from la jiao, the fiery red pepper paste, and is
loaded with hua jiao, the numbing seed of the prickly ash.
The students took turns filling the platters from the racks of foods in
the other room, filling our pot with a wide range of mushrooms, various
sea-based flora, vegetables as varied as whole leaves of lettuce and thin
slice of potato, small shrimp, frozen chicken legs, thick sliced bologna,
and other things I didn't touch but think were slices off gelled blocks
of pig blood, and intestines.
in front of each diner has no tongue soothing tahini. The waitress
pours oil from a jug over the la jiao paste that fills the bottom.
The food fished from the bubbling broth is stanched in this oil before
eating. The bones and grizzle of the hacked pig or chicken are dropped
onto the floor, either directly from the bowl or from the mouth.
The floor grows cluttered and greasy.
was typical. The boys drank beer, the girls drank Sprite and
Coke, and tea was plentiful. The boys offered each other cigarettes.
One by one tables took turns as the boys stood and toasted each other.
We had no guys at our table, so they had to come one by one and toast us.
In this triglot environment, where the students easily shift between Mandarin,
Sichuan, and the Khampa dialect of Tibetan, I could only guess at the intent
of these toasts.
I had my
digital camera with me, having learned that these students fondly collect
pictures of themselves with their friends. As I moved from table
to table I stepped gingerly. It was like walking across a frozen
pond slipping on chunks of slush.
singing started. Oh, and can this class sing! Both boys
and girls regaled us. I hadn't heard the girls sing before, a special
treat. They sang their Tibetan songs, singing about mother, friendship,
and the wild freedom of the mountains, ululating in clear ringing tones.
Some songs were in Tibetan, while others were in Chinese with Tibetan melody
As the dinner
progressed I steered the conversation towards the reason for this fete.
Listening through the usual vagaries and unknown vocabulary, I gleaned
that it was to honor the seven classmates who would be leaving at the end
of this term, to enter the teaching jobs awaiting them in their home villages.
Tsering Dendrup, Sherab Drolma and the other five gathered for a group
picture, and I felt the weight of loss. I had promised the English Department
to give a lecture at 3:00. It was already advertised, people had
stopped me all morning both on campus and in Guza saying they were looking
forward to my talk. Sitting at the restaurant I kept eye on the time.
I had promised Mr. Yang, from the English Department, to meet him at the
lecture hall at 2:30 to make sure the overhead projector and mike were
working. Finally at 1:30, although no one was making a move
to leave, I forced myself to begin saying goodbyes and inching towards
the door. An entourage grew, as students walked with me to a taxi
and saw me off. I had to rush to get home, heat the iron to touch
up my dress, change and arrive out of breath at 2:40 to the lecture hall.
No one noticed that I was late. The hall was already filling.
At the end
of the day, back home at last, I plugged my digital camera into the
computer and savored the photos, as my tongue gingerly touched a blistered
below is the first article that Santina wrote for the magazine:
To write Satina