Thursday, September 23, 2010

Best Day Ever: Festivals!

After we left the Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market, we went to my colleague's dinner party in honor of the Mid-autumn Festival.

Because of the worst traffic in the whole world (the half-hour trip to work took over an hour and a half!), we arrived an hour late to my twin's apartment, so my entire office was already busy cooking, stratified according to where they were from so they could cook local specialties together. Some of the geographic variation we knew already from being here already, like the famous spicy fish soups from Sichuan, where they put the entire fish in the pot......including the heads. But others we had no idea: for example, Shanxi province is famous for homemade noodles
. The officemates from Shanxi humored us by letting both Alison......and me out by rolling dough. Within an hour, all the food was set on the table. It was a huge feast!Anyone notice the chicken head and foot in the pot? (Side note, the same woman who ate the fish head ate the chicken foot. blech). Culturally, it was interesting how different they do huge potluck feasts. In the US, we're used to loading up huge plates and then sitting and eating in smaller groups. But here, you take your bowl and stand or sit around the table where the food is and constantly nibble out of the pots. It makes for a much more social experience.
We were each handed "pre-dessert," which was a fruit salad (with yellow watermelon!) in a bowl made out of dragon fruit skin!

We politely declined the offer to put mayonnaise on the fruit, but we did eat it with chopsticks. Then Dr. Qiao, the epi dept head (my Fogarty PI) came and we took a group picture, minus Alison unfortunately (and the guys, who were all in the kitchen).
He also brought a platter of mooncakes, which are always beautifully packaged. I don't remember if I posted about this already, but on this holiday you give your friends and bosses mooncakes to symbolize that you wish them a year of happiness, and the holiday is always on a full moon. The best mooncakes are insanely expensive (for example, Haagen Das sells 4 for 40 dollars).
Anyways, we were a little apprehensive considering we had already been forced to eat a beef mooncake and an egg one (we had to choke them down to show our appreciation for being offered a year of happiness...small price to pay I guess). But these ones were filled with stuffing made of flower petals and were DELICIOUS. Afterwards, we headed to the nearby park to see the lanterns. Alison and I were both envisioning a few lanterns strung in trees so we were pretty impressed by our first sight of "lanterns" in the water:

They had a ton of different ones, ranging from cool... uber creepy the Snow White and Seven Dwarfs exhibit, complete with rainboots and fake knives. This being China, there were about a billion people in the park, but it was still so charming, especially seeing how excited the little children were about the lanterns.
They also had a section with carnival-like games. We at first thought how similar this was to our American fairs, but then we looked closer and saw that the prizes ranged from typical American stuffed animals to what would definitely raise eyebrows in the rabbits and birds in cages. We actually ended up closing the park--they turned off the lights, but not before we got a great pic:

All in all, it was an absolutely delightful day. We first went on another successful double date to a beautiful historic site with a fun, smart couple and then experienced a true Chinese festival. Everyone keeps asking us if we are making Chinese friends, and I think we are making great leaps. But, after spending 5 hours with my officemates, we realized that all of our interactions have to be on our terms (because they have to speak English to include us, and that is very difficult and tiring for some of them), so I don't think we will ever become the types of friends that sit for an hour to catch up over coffee...but they have definitely welcomed us with open arms into their circle. Long story short, we were so happy to be included--I hope they enjoyed showing us their culture as much as we enjoyed the American evening last weekend!

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