Monday, July 28, 2008

Huang Biao

We have a new friend, Huang Biao. He’s the head chef at the army hospital near SISU where we work, and he placed an ad to barter: he will teach a native English speaker how to cook real Chinese food in exchange for concentrated English conversation. Rachel and I agreed this would be worth looking into, so she called, and for the past week we’ve been going to his kitchen directly after our classes for our cooking lessons. So far he’s taught us how to make the tomato-egg slime that we see everywhere (with what we didn’t realize was straight MSG!), and dumplings.

The first time we met him, I thought he seemed nervous, overly polite, even scared of what we might think of him. He took us to a small diner near the hospital to treat us to an authentic Chinese meal. We didn’t know what we were in for. Here are a few of the dishes he ordered: fried spicy chicken, soft tofu with gelatin-like fish eggs on top, stomach-and-liver soup, and chicken feet. Yes, I said chicken feet. It was the first dish to come to the table, and Huang is motioning us to try them, try them. They were cold, clammy, and cartilage-like, exactly what you might imagine for chicken feet. I was horrified, but took one bite for good measure. Rachel took a second helping with Huang’s urging, and I was impressed. Could she actually like them? (Alas, she got sick the next morning.) The stomach-and-liver soup was almost as frightening, but we refrained from asking exactly which animal the stomach pieces had come from. Talk about disgusting.

He is a small man, with longish side-parted hair and endearing smile wrinkles that make you want to give him reason to smile all the time. He’s very sweet, and he’s so receptive to speaking English. I was afraid he would resort to Chinese with Rachel often to get points across, and that I’d be lost in the dust again. But he truly makes an effort, and my-- he is an eager student! Each day we go to the kitchen he says that he’s been studying new words we give him. I wish my students in Class 3 were so motivated!

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