Jan 23, 2009

We're learning

[Beijing, China] Don't know if she was playing "boat" on purpose because there were all these fish (albeit frozen) around, or if "Oh look, a boat!" is just what 3 year olds think when they see a styrofoam box.

This is certainly the most "useful" Chinese New Year gift we've gotten; something we may actually use, AND will last a while since it's frozen. Certainly it'll be the first year that we'll manage to get through the CNY holiday season without some sort of produce rotting in our kitchen. Our first year in China we had a wet market stench in our kitchen for months after 2 crates of grapes AND a bushel of pears liquified and fermented. Business colleagues regularly exchange these gifts over the holiday season; I just don't know why they have to be in such enormous quantities. There was one year Mik was given a whole case of super-spicy hot pot soup mix and a whole case of spicy beef jerky. All wrapped very nicely, of course, and after a while we figured out that we were supposed to spread the bounty - which I'm sure all the girls at the office from spicy-eating provinces were quite happy about.

With produce, though, you gotta think quick on your feet. Just last year, our 3rd (or was it our 4th? Yikes!) Chinese New Year in China, we had a couple of giant boxes of LEEKS that sat in our kitchen a good week or so. Every morning, we'd have our coffee in there, look at those boxes and say to each other, "I wonder how you're supposed to cook those..." Eventually we gave up and asked our nanny if she knew a use for them and COULD SHE PLEASE TAKE THEM AWAY.

No, none of that this year. Although a day or two did elapse while Mik momentarily forgot that he even HAD a case of oranges and a crate of apples sitting in the corner of his office, he did dispense with the usual roundtrip that such things usually take. Usually, they go to our apartment for a few days, during which it dawns on us that we could never eat so many grapes/pears/mushrooms/oranges on our own, so we give away a bunch to Bella's teachers and any friends we might run into. Eventually, though, we concede defeat and Mik brings the soggy remainder back to the office, just around the time when they're ready for the compost pile. No, this year he just turned right around and marched the whole lot to the receptionist for redistribution.

Maybe this is my opportunity to share the largesse and clear half of our kitchen cabinet space: lurking in there from Chinese New Years past, before we knew the joy of rapid regifting, are a 5-lb bag of millet (which did come in handy last Christmas as ballast for our tree); 2 giant boxes of dried mushrooms; 4 giant tins of mystery something in bright red tins; and the remaining half a case of the spicy hot pot soup mix. Though I guess it would be a bit of a challenge to find a way to "share" a bag of millet or a box of mushrooms - it's not like when you bring donuts to the office and just leave the box in the coffee room. No, those things will probably just end up staying in our closets at least until we leave China, or maybe even come with us to wherever we live next. In a few years we'll be in our kitchen in Connecticut, or Delhi, or Kandahar, staring at those huge boxes of dried mushrooms that are older than Bella, and we'll say to each other, "I wonder how you're supposed to cook those..."