Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It's more fun to talk about food than grief

Well, you know the old saying, "Pride goeth before a fall"? That was me last night. In my last post, I sounded pretty darn chipper about they way R. was processing her grief. Yesterday, after spending some time looking at her photo books that her foster mother had made for her, it hit full force. Night times are hard. When you are tired, it is more difficult to hold your emotions in check, and often it is when you miss that special person the most because they are one who tucked you in and made you feel safe. Last night J. and I were comforting two grieving children as they worked through the magnitude of their loss.

Grief is hard and doesn't make for terribly entertaining reading. While we are over here dealing with grief, you don't need to continually read about it. Instead, why don't we talk about food? I meant to write a post about food in China, but never got around to it. Here it is, just a little late.

Since food is one of the necessities of life, it is one of those things one thinks about a lot when travelling, especially because you can't take your kitchen with you. Deciding where and what to eat for each meal becomes one of those things that take a lot of brain space. This is doubly true when travelling in another country with a very different cuisine and language. Each meal becomes a little mini-adventure. When you throw in how food is tied in with our emotions and feelings of well-being, then it add even more pressure to the daily challenges of eating.

Breakfast in China, especially when staying at the fancy-schmancy hotels we had to, is the easy part. Vast breakfast buffets are a big deal and you can find just about anything your heart and palate desire. It is really an obscene amount of food that is placed at your disposal. J. enjoys trying new things and made good use of the various buffet selections. He even tried smoked horse intestine at one hotel. For me, while I'm willing to try new things at other times of the day, breakfast does not find me at my most adventurous. My ideal breakfast is good, strong coffee and a brioche with butter and jam. Outside of France, brioche are a little difficult to come by, so I will also be quite content with a good croissant. This was my breakfast for three weeks. I never really tire of it and my only complaint is that the Chinese do not seem to really understand coffee addiction. It always took a little effort to track down a server to get my cup refilled. R. and Y. seemed to get the most out of the breakfast buffet. They had noodles and congee and eggs and lotus root and fruit every morning, but the favorite item for both of them was the sauteed green beans. Both girls really like green vegetables.

And then come the other meals. The meals not included in your room package. The meals you have to go out and find yourself. There are always three different choices. First there are the hotel restaurants. This is rarely our choice since they are always overpriced and usually pretty mediocre. It is easy, though. There is English on the menu and bilingual serving staff, plus you don't need to go outside. Second, are the ubiquitous American fast food chain restaurants which are everywhere... KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut. It is the rare place that doesn't have at least one of these close by. Sometimes we would choose this option, even though the only time we consider eating in them at home is when we are travelling on turnpikes and have little choice. We chose them because they were easy. Usually they were close, we knew what the menu was, and it took little effort to obtain food. On some days, you don't have the emotional energy to deal with more unfamiliar things and you just need easy.

The third option is to go out and find a restaurant nearby. This was usually our favorite option. The food is usually quite good and pretty inexpensive and it just feels more real. The other two options always felt a bit like cheating. It is a bit more effort, though. We ordered more than a few meals by looking at pictures on a menu and pointing, never being quite sure at what we would get. Rarely, though, did we end up with something we just couldn't eat, and we have decided that R. and Y. are right in loving lotus root. It's pretty good. In one restaurant (one we chose only because it smelled good as we walked by and many people were eating in it), the pictures and menu printed on the wall was a bit washed out and we couldn't really tell what things were. In that case, we looked around at what other people were eating, chose a few dishes that looked good and ordered by pointing to what they were having. Part of the effort involved in eating out is coming to terms with the fact that you will stand out, you are clueless, everyone else knows your clueless, and accepting that you just have to go with it.

One interesting thing is that this time we ended up eating in quite a few Muslim restaurants. This was especially true in Urumqi which has a fairly large Muslim population. In talking with our guide, Muslim restaurants are very popular with the Han Chinese. They are good, tend to be clean, and everyone trusts their meat. We also ended up in one in Guangzhou. (It was the one that smelled so good we stopped in.) It was doing a booming business and the food was very good. We kind of wished we had found it a bit earlier in our stay. I don't remember being as aware of this when we were there four years ago. Just an interesting bit of trivia for you.

I also happen to think it is a very good thing for adoptive parents to have to experience the uncertainty of what food you are getting, wondering if you will like it, and adjusting your tastes to vaguely unfamiliar ones. Plus, it is important to experience that mild longing for something familiar and the vague discontent with the current options, because this is what our new children will experience once they are home. It will be a long while before they are truly comfortable with the food options available.

We've had a lot of rice around here the past four days and it is what Y. has been most happy with. (R. is a more adventurous eater and I think has been exposed to a wider variety of foods than Y. was.) We have found one thing in our Western kitchen that appeals to Y. Ketchup. She love ketchup. For the past few days, at least once or twice a day, her food of choice has been a ketchup sandwich. Are you familiar with the book, Mrs. Pig's Bulk Buy? It is the story of a mother pig who, tired of her children always wanting more ketchup, buys a huge amount of the stuff and feeds it to them for every meal. In one scene she is heating it up as soup for them; I'm almost tempted to try it myself. Anyway, the ketchup sandwich is amusing me and will probably be one of those things I miss a little bit once she is able to become a little more adventurous.

Today is J.'s first day back at work, and to fill in the afternoon a bit, I think we are going to try heading to the library. This could either be a terrific idea on my part, or a disaster of epic proportions in the making. I'm hoping it's the former rather than the latter.


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