Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chongqing Flashback - Part 1

I really miss China:(  I lived in Dalian, China for a year with my partner Mindy, and it was one of the best years of my life.  There's a special feeling you get when you spend a substantial amount of time in China immersing yourself in the culture.  It's a sense of belonging. A sense of timelessness. A sense of connection.  My partner told me she also felt that sense of homecoming while in India and in Tanzania; two of the places I can't wait to explore.  But it's also more than that.  Witnessing people in true financial poverty, who have very little in the way of material belongings, but who are happy, and unbelievably wealthy in the realm of human relationships, really helps to put life into perspective.
I spent most of last month in Chongqing Technical and Business University; teaching a Clinical Social Work class, spending time at an elderly community, and conducting cross-cultural research with students regarding sexual anxiety, the fear of intimacy, and body image issues.  I also spent a great deal of time simply exploring and making human connections.  It was the first time ever visiting that particular area of China, and I loved it!  By far, it was the best experience I've had in China thus far.  It had all the historical and cultural enticements of the North, but also a sense of ease and contentment unknown to me throughout my adventures in this "Middle Kingdom."  Describing the food as "spicy" would be an understatement, and when I happened to sample a "typical" Sichuan dish found my eyes and nose watering, and my lips burnt and tingling. But it was GOOOOD!!  
Eating gluten-free in Chongqing was only slightly challenging, due to my GF-Awareness dining statements I carried around with me.  The biggest challenge was when we were taken out by our hosts to huge pre-ordered meals at nice restaurants.  It was pure torture to sit in front of a banquet of amazing looking and smelling food, watching everyone gorge themselves with beaming smiles on their faces, only to know that even a single bite may lead to sickness. However, for the most part, and with the help of our hosts, GF dishes were eventually brought out for myself and my friend with the same dietary affliction. We didn't have the array of choices that everyone else enjoyed, but we enjoyed every single gluten-free chop-stick-full!
Eventually I found a handful of canteens (what the Chinese students called their cafeterias) and a Dalian-Food restaurant outside of campus, that became familiar with my face, and my unique dietary restriction.  I would frequent the same places to eat every day, bringing with me a list of dishes written in Chinese Characters with English translations, and asking if they could prepare them without gluten.  Most of the time they could with no problem, and if they couldn't, I'd just go down the list until I found something.  Life with Celiac Disease, at least for me, involves being much less picky about what you eat, just as long as it doesn't poison you!

Every day I started off by walking out of the International Dormitory, half a block down the street to a little shop that sold Dzonza and vacuum-sealed cups of sweet and light, instant-coffee.  Dzonza are rice-triangles steamed in Banana leaves.  I had to order a variety before finding out which ones I could eat.  Each kind was wrapped in a different color string to indicate the filling.  I ended up sticking to the green-string dzonza, which were filled with sweet bean paste.  For lunch I would hit up the one of three student cafeterias where I'd order Dan-Chow Fan/Ji Ro (Fried eggs, chicken, and greens with rice), Chinese cabbage with beef or pork, Tang-cu Jia Pianr (sweet & sour chicken), and whatever else they could make GF.  I also brought a small bottle of gluten free soy sauce with me wherever I went.  It ended up being a wonderful culinary experience.  I ate well (and cheaply) every single day.  Man do I miss the food!!!

Well, that's it for this flashback:)

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