Adventures in China’s New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce

IMG_7009IMG_7006My father was a fisherman. If you grow up in the house of someone who takes his fishing seriously, you learn to love fish.

Or not.

Although I can’t imagine that scenario.

My childhood was filled with family camping trips where brook trout, large and small mouth bass, sunfish, perch and blue gills filled the menu. This is one of the only times I was glad I don’t have brothers, because my sisters and I got to fish with Bobbo. Now I’m not saying a son would have been his sole fishing companion, but in all likelihood that would’ve been one of their bonds. As it was, one girl rowed the boat while Bobbo and the others cast lines off the back. If we all hiked in to a back pond in the Adirondacks, one of us floated on the second, mini inflatable raft and did her own fishing.

When everyone moved away and established adult lives, visits to see Mom and Bobbo always included a meal of fish. I remain unspeakably moved that my father began to freeze the fish he caught, making sure there’d be enough when everyone  came home for the holidays. Every family has its own food traditions. For the Campbells, one of the best is fish for breakfast. The simplest and best of recipes, whether prepared over a campfire or on the stove in your fancy kitchen is: Fry some bacon until crisp. Dredge trout in seasoned corn meal. Fry the fish in the bacon drippings. Serve with the bacon, scrambled eggs, Sandy’s coffee cake or toast with jam (preferably homemade by somebody you know and love), mugs of hot coffee and glasses of juice.

Trust me. I expect to eat this meal in Heaven.

Flash forward to my recent trip to visit my sister Pam in China’s New Territories.IMG_6610IMG_7211IMG_7187The town of Sai Kung receives lots of weekend day trippers from Hong Kong who come for the green scenery and the quieter pace. And to eat, because Sai Kung’s waterfront is lined with restaurants.

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IMG_7192Almost all of them keep live fish and crustaceans in tanks out in front.

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IMG_7012Customers bring their own catch and pay a fee to have it prepared based on weight, or you can select the seafood of your choice. The restaurant will prepare it steamed with ginger, cooked with soy sauce and scallions, or deep fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce.

Pam and I sat down at an outdoor table to order. The waitress had us follow her over to the live tanks and we chose snapper.

IMG_7005IMG_6612Choosing our meal was more intimidating than it sounds. Some of the fish were ridiculously huge. How much would our fish cost? She eyeballed it and announced, 450$HK, plus the fee to prepare it. Not cheap.

IMG_6614What if a group of customers came in and ordered a one hundred pound fish? What would that cost? Could the cooks prepare it whole? Just how big a fish can a deep fat fryer hold, anyway?

IMG_7013A short time later a man brought out our fried snapper. He gave us a few seconds to appreciate its sizzling and then upended a plate of sweet and sour sauce. The sauce contained bright, chewy, sweet strips that we finally identified as preserved citrus peel. True daughters of a fisherman, we stripped that fish carcass clean.

It was good…. but.

Pam and I agreed. Our father’s fish were better.

NOTES: Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies

I seldom bake. Germany has the greatest bread on the planet[1]. France may have baguettes and croissants, but for sheer choice and variety nothing beats German baked goods.Why make something mediocre when there’s a bakery on every street corner?

As long as Uwe can recall, every week his mother made two cakes. It’s a German tradition, and women of a certain time period created great desserts that were works of art.

Before we visited, Mama always called to ask what kind of cake Uwe wanted. Sometimes I got to choose and I’d request Black Forest chocolate cake or a Bienenstich, a honey and slivered almonds cake that’s one of my favorites.

When it got to be late November, after each visit Mama Hartmann sent us home with tins full of Christmas cookies. She baked at least ten different kinds. Those cookies became cult. Friends would casually ask, “Have you gotten Christmas cookies from Uwe’s mom yet?” The idea was that I’d bring out a plate filled with said cookies for visitors to sample. “You tell your mother-in-law that these are damned fine cookies!” someone ordered happily.

Whether they had a thumb print of jam in the middle, or were layered with chocolate and ground nuts, or were perfect little crescents tasting of vanilla with a dusting of sugar, each cookie was delicious.

Gerlingen03100_oOMG-Cookies

We came home with three tins of cookies that year.

The supply ran low really fast because our friends consumed all of them, rather than politely taking one or two. Uwe finally told me it had to stop. No more offering cookies to guests!

Mama’s days of baking are behind her. We’ve brought her to a nursing home in our village so we can see her more often. But in the last winter before she had to move, I wrote down the recipes and helped her make cookies. I imitated her steps for each one.

Well, what I baked bore little resemblance to the miniature works of confectionary art that my mother-in-law took out of the oven.

I discovered something. To bake like a professional takes years of making cakes. Preferably two a week, plus cookies every Christmastime. This last Christmas I knew Uwe would be missing his mother’s cookie tins. I was way too intimidated to try to bake Mama’s cookie recipes, so I came up with an acceptable alternative.

I baked one of the few cookies she didn’t: peanut butter with chocolate chips. They’re quintessentially American in their peanut butteriness and chocolate chips, and one cookie I can make and actually have turn out right. While it’s not a Mama Hartmann traditional recipe, it tastes like the holidays.

I like to think that maybe someday I’ll set out Christmas cookies for friends. But really you should try making Mama Hartmann’s Walnut Squares. With practice they’ll be perfect when the holidays roll around.

The Cookie Dough:

250 grams Butter

200 grams Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla

4 Eggs

300 grams broken Walnut Meats

250 grams Flour

3 teaspoons Baking Powder

The Frosting:

250 grams Powdered Sugar

2 teaspoons Instant Coffee

3 tablespoons Brandy

2-3 tablespoons hot Water

The Decoration:

100 grams Walnuts

Pour batter into a flat pan and bake at 200° (Celsius) or 390° (Fahrenheit) for 15-20 minutes. Frost the cake, cut into small cookies, and place a walnut meat atop each one.

NOTES: [1] For variety and yumminess, bread from India is a very close second.

Photo Copyright © 2015 Pamela J. Campbell.

Adventures in China’s New Territories 2: Dancing Dragons

IMG_6867I just spent a few weeks visiting my sister and her family in Hong Kong. I was there in May, ahead of the rainy season. It’s already hot and humid, only a hint of the weather to come….

It can’t be a coincidence that this time of year is also the birthday of Tin Hau. [1, 2]

IMG_7155 IMG_7170She’s the Goddess of the Seas, patron saint of sailors and fishermen throughout China and Southeast Asia. Her festival is always held on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of the lunar calendar. This year her birthday fell on May 11th. My friend Weiyu flew over from Beijing, and we had the good luck to see a dragon parade. [3]

IMG_6727Lin Moniang (don’t forget that Chinese put the family name first) was born during the Song Dynasty on Meizhou Island in Fujian, China. Her dates are 23 March 960 – 4 October 987. She was the seventh daughter, an excellent swimmer, and wore a red dress. No matter how bad the weather was, Lin Moniang stood on the shore in that red dress in order to guide the fishing boats back home.

Wikipedia’s description of her legend is so good that I’ll repeat it verbatim here: “Lin Moniang’s father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she fell into a trance while praying for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping or sitting at a loom weaving. In both versions of the story, her father and brother were drowning but Moniang’s mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. This diverted Moniang’s attention and caused her to drop her brother who drowned as a result. Consequently, Moniang’s father returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened.” [4]

IMG_7156She was deified shortly after her death. There are many reports of miraculous sightings of Tin Hau by sailors in distress. Chinese who immigrated often built temples once they arrived overseas to thank her for the safe journey. Each year a major festival is held on her birthday.

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One of the most spectacular is in Yuen Long in the New Territories. Weiyu and I headed out early to reach the town (an easy trip on the MTR, the wonderful regional transportation system). We left the metro station and immediately saw bright colors and a crowd of people. As we got closer, firecrackers began to go off! We’d arrived right on time!

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The firecrackers exploded and confetti fell out and rained down!

IMG_6737IMG_6743This village had just begun to parade their dragon. They circled the lot a few times accompanied by a loud drum and cymbals. There was another loud bang, more firecrackers popped, and everyone followed the dragon as it headed into town.

IMG_6817IMG_6830We arrived at another square where more dragons waited.

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IMG_6863IMG_6855They took turns weaving up and down the main street, curling and snaking, rising and falling in an intricate dance. Sometimes two dragons danced at the same time.

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IMG_6865IMG_6862People’s shirts indicated which village and dragon they were with. There were groups of old women waving fans, and children in costume, and lions. IMG_6856

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Can you see the dragon on the side in green?

IMG_6848IMG_6845IMG_6847Flags and banners waved around the Fa Paus, ornate towers with paper flowers. Huge elaborate placards wished for luck and prosperity.

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One village group’s Fa Pau

IMG_6809IMG_6852IMG_6843Offerings included entire roasted pigs.

IMG_6850IMG_6846I recognized those instantly from the worship of Bà Chúa Xứ in southern Viet Nam. It can’t be a coincidence that her festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of a lunar month too…

NOTES: [1] Tianhou (天后) literally means “Empress of Heaven”. [2] She’s also known as Mazu, Tian Fei or A-Ma. The Buddhists conflated her into a reincarnation of Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion. [3] She has over 90 temples in Hong Kong alone. [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.

Go to my post The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ to read about south Viet Nam’s most sacred shrine. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and China and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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http://www.asiaatsea.com/tin-hau-chinese-goddess-of-the-sea/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/travel-and-culture-in-hong-kong-and-macau/tin-hau

Adventures in China’s New Territories 1: Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the path

Pam on the path

My sister Pam is a teacher for international schools. For the last three years she’s been located in the Hong Kong area. It’s a great place to visit: the languages are Cantonese and English, the transportation system is so simple that anyone can feel clever using it, and contrasts between modernity and tradition are everywhere you look.

Pam and her family live in the New Territories. This part of China is on the mainland north of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is the most densely and vertically populated city on the planet, the New Territories are still relatively quiet. The landscape consists of steep, lush jungle peaks that end in bays and inlets.

Hong Kong Island

The vertical density of Hong Kong

The view from my sister's apartment in China's New Territories

The view from their apartment near Sai Kung

The region is growing, and changing fast. On the bus from the apartment we pass villages on hillsides or tucked into hamlets and harbors. Several floating villages of traditional houseboats are minutes away. And then the high rises suddenly appear, row after row after row.

There are lots more that look just like these

There are lots more that look just like these

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So did you hear the one where the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest, and the Jewish rabbi enter a temple…

It’s not far to Man Fat Tsz, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. It was founded by the devout layman Venerable Yuexi (the Chinese月溪法師; pinyin: yuè xī). Building began in 1949 as Yuexi and his disciples carried everything up from the foot of the mountain. For eighteen years they constructed the buildings – and 12,800 Buddha statues.

IMG_6471You head up through a bamboo forest and statues line both sides of the path to the monastery. IMG_6442There are roughly 500 Arhan [1] statues in plastic, painted gold. Each one is unique. IMG_6462IMG_6445IMG_6464IMG_6465IMG_6449IMG_6461

Their expressions represent the experience of enlightenment. Other statues await once you reach the summit. (Click on any of the thumbnail photos for a closer look.)

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I felt like I was in a tacky Buddhist Disneyland until I got to the top and entered the main temple. Before the altar is a glass case, and it contains Venerable Yuexi’s preserved body! His body (still perfectly intact) was exhumed eight months after his April 24, 1965 death. Yuexi was next embalmed with Chinese lacquer, his head and face covered in gold leaf. The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi’s robed corpse sits in the lotus position. I was oddly moved by his preserved body: with the sight, I had a glimpse of religious truth. [2]

IMG_6492IMG_6546IMG_6545IMG_6551That feeling became surreal as we headed back to the bus stop.

This pagoda appears on the HK$100 banknote

This pagoda appeared on Hong Kong’s $100 banknotes

IMG_6516IMG_6504We climbed down a different set of steps past my least favorite creatures: wild monkeys.

IMG_6574And from the meditative hillside of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we neared and then entered the shopping mall complex at Sha Tin.

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Sha Tin shopping mall

Sha Tin shopping mall

As I say, the New Territories has both the traditional and the modern. They all line the same path.

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NOTES: [1] To quote Wikipedia, “…in Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत् arhat; Pali: arahant; “one who is worthy”) is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana. In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment.”

[2] Taking pictures inside the temple is not allowed.

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Woof

Beatrice: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me. —Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing Act 1, Scene 1

Friends of mine live with a large, enthusiastic, energetic hound named Jessie. Picture a black dog with white paws and the unnerving golden eyes of a goat: that’s Jess.

She’s ten years old and her owners claim she’s slowed down. But Jessie still takes fences with an easy bound, even if her paws now touch the top railing rather than simply sailing right on over it.

When I visit, our time always includes a trip to the dog park. A dog with this much energy needs a lot of exercise.IMG_6398

IMG_6381This is where good dogs go before they die. Located on the edge of Lake Washington in Seattle, the Warren G. Magnuson Park – Off Leash Area is property set aside for the use of canines. Once you’re inside the grounds, all the dogs are allowed off leash to run, play, chase balls, chase one another, and generally act like… dogs.IMG_6397IMG_6395

From the largest and meanest-looking to the smallest frou frou doggy, they love it here. The first time I visited I was amazed to see how well dogs can play with one another. Somehow they know: the park is theirs. The space belongs to them. There’s no territory to be defended or persons to be snarled for.IMG_6400

IMG_6380Instead of dog fights, the park is filled with the joyous barking of canines wanting to play. Magnuson Park includes an area for timid dogs (usually but not always littler dogs that are intimidated by the bands of boisterous bigger dogs) plus lots of play areas and trails. The park has a beach front area where dogs can go swimming, and even a place to wash off pets and get a gulp of water before leaving.

IMG_6393IMG_6389IMG_6394IMG_6385IMG_6384It’s a dog’s life!

NOTES:

Warren G. Magnuson Park – Off Leash Area

7400 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98127

Phone number (206) 684-4075

Business website: seattle.gov/parks/Magnuson/ol…

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell.

Brutus: I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon…
— Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 4

We can't wait to get out of this stupid car

We can’t wait to get out of this stupid car

Nippon Visions

Ronnie’s coworker Yoshiko Sakei appeared in the next vision. Yoshiko came to the States for college and ended up marrying Erik Gross. She became an American citizen forty years ago. She’s nearing retirement, and she and Erik plan to move to Honshu. Yoshiko feels a secret guilt: she’s enjoyed the irresponsible freedom of a Japanese person living outside the home country.

Kyoto parade

Kyoto parade

Yoshiko tells Erik, “Let’s go back and care for my parents.” Erik likes the idea, because a Western man in Asia has lots of advantages. Gaigin aren’t expected to fit in.

They sell their home and plan to move as soon as Yoshiko stops working.

Miyajima

Miyajima

Kyoto train station

Kyoto train station

Kagoshima Aquarium

Kagoshima Aquarium

The vision shifts. Zen landscapes,

Bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

Zen garden

Zen garden

crowded city streets with tall buildings,

Tokyo

Tokyo

monks in yellow,

Kyoto temple

Kyoto temple

geishas in colorful kimonos,

Geishas

salarymen in somber business suits all kaleidoscope through the dream. A few exquisite pieces of lacquer ware and a hand painted folding screen decorate a small space.

Zen interior

Zen interior

Yoshiko and Erik sit at a table across from an old Japanese couple with gentle smiles and parchment paper skins. The four of them drink tea. In the next scene they lie asleep in blankets on spotless tatami mats.

All four open their eyes as the light wood of the house splinters into match sticks. They look shocked in Ronnie’s direction – and the dream blows apart.

The ground stops convulsing and a gigantic wave with the salt of a billion tears engulfs the collapsed dwelling. Fires burn as poisons spill out into the land, air and waters.

It’s absolute devastation as far as the eye can see, whether on site or from across space and time. Ronnie sees the word TEPCO but has no idea what it means. A disaster is on the way, and her friends and every soul within hundreds of kilometers are doomed to die. Whether the death of one person or ten thousand, the outcome is unchangeable.

This dream of Japan contains only destruction of life and property and an aftermath that will linger, terrible, for generations. She can imagine what poisons are released; she can imagine, but she doesn’t want to.

***

Ronnie wept in great gasps and needed long minutes to convince herself that she wasn’t in the dream earthquake. All the same, she’d experienced a tsunami of the soul.

A disaster was going to strike northern Japan. What the hell could she do with the information, call the Prime Minister and warn him that he needed to put Japan on high alert? Contact TEPCO, whoever or whatever they were? Could she warn Yoshiko and Erik not to move, or to bring Yoshiko’s aged parents to them instead? She had nightmares for weeks.

Ronnie acknowledged the vision’s finality with a heavy heart. She went to going away parties and contributed to the fund for Yoshiko’s retirement present. She took part in the long goodbye with a smile whenever they met, knowing the parting would be final. When they left for Fukoshima, their absence felt like they were already dead.

That early farewell to Erik and Yoshiko pushed her into a deeper process of farewells. Ronnie was detaching more and more, from everybody and everything. She couldn’t be sure when the next person she knew would show up in a vision.

***

– from my chapter “Precognitious” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. This link gets you there.

Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The Fork is Mightier Than the Sword. A Post in Which I Eat Paris.

As someone who believes in freedom of thought and speech, I was horrified by the attacks in Paris. I’m only a few train hours away and visit there gladly. The murders were way too close to where I live, on every single literal and metaphoric level you care to mention.

Uwe and I spent our honeymoon here. We visited eight museums in three days with our city pass and rewarded ourselves with great meals every evening. My husband has business trips to Paris, and sometimes I meet him before or afterwards. On the last trip we dined in a small restaurant where I ordered a meal that came with french fries. One bite, and I knew I was tasting something I’d read about but never had the pleasure of trying: potatoes fried in duck fat. They were sublime.

On another trip the Metro was on strike. We decided not to wait on the platform for a crowded city train. Instead, we went to a bistro with tables so tiny and close together that Uwe and I bumped knees under ours. A portly man sat at the next table with a salad that included slices of pear and fois gras on toast points. Beside his plate was a half carafe of house wine and a carafe of water. An entire fish baked on fennel halves arrived. He expertly dissected the fish and ordered more wine.

My salade nicoise was salty with anchovies. I watched waiters make their way through the packed bistro, food trays held above their heads. The patrons were businessmen and women, students, and  families with small children. Not a seat was free. When we left, my neighbor had a platter of cheeses in front of him and showed no signs of slowing eating. I was sorry we had to leave before he got dessert.

My friend Shaun met me for a week one year. We washed lettuce in the bathroom sink of our obnoxiously small apartment. Warning to future travelers to Paris, triple check when a holiday rental promises it has a real working kitchen! This kitchen was two burners in a closet. [1] But we sat on a park bench and shared a cheese crepe we’d bought from a vendor on the street. She introduced me to (and got me hooked on) vibrant, dry Sancerres. And we ordered steak and pommes frites from the menu written on a little chalk board in a café with red checked table cloths and candles in wine bottles. We found that place by walking a block past the tourist spots.

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I bet whatever they were cooking was delicious

Once I traveled to Paris with my sisters and our friend Chris. Paris with three artists is daunting. We went to one museum per day and I’d watch as all three of them sketched madly in concentration. Then we’d go shopping for ingredients to cook that night. A moveable feast indeed.

If Bangkok is the most sexual city I’ve ever been to, Paris is the most sensual. A simple omelette is a marvel, with beaten eggs of impossibly silky texture. Pastries nestle in  windows. Each bakery, patisserie, café and place to eat calls out “Come here, mon petit!”

And, like any wise lover of food, I go. Je mange Paris.

NOTES: [1] You read that correctly. The kitchen was two burners in a closet and a miniature sink too small to wash a head of lettuce.

[2] For a more political response to the attacks, I refer you to cartoonist Robert Crumb’s answer. http://observer.com/2015/01/legendary-cartoonist-robert-crumb-on-the-massacre-in-paris/