Tonight I attempted to cook dinner on one of those strange electric stoves that are ubiquitous here in the north. Imagine a single burner on an stove at home, compacted into a simple plug-in device (like a George Foreman grill), but instead of live flame from gas or even a red-hot electric coil, there is only a sleek black surface, daring you to place the pan there and attempt to cook.
All I had in the fridge was butter (of dubious Australian heritage), half an onion, and some eggs. Chopped those onions up and threw a bit of butter into the frying pan, the plan was to brown them. But I soon realized that the current from the electric stovetop must go directly into the aluminum frying pan, because that butter was brutally mugged and almost seared clean off the instant it hit the pan. It was a delicate balancing act to add the onions and more butter without burning the entire building down; often I had to lift the pan off that devil-stove just to prevent what felt like immanent combustion, an ominous electric click coming from the "stove" when the pan was lifted and the electricity wasn't being fed right into that foul beast of a frying pan that was clearly in league with the goddamn stove top.
Whisking the eggs, I looked down to see the somewhat-browned onions simmering in a bubbling molten vat, half onion-butter, half demon-bile; bravely the eggs evacuated the mixing bowl into the savage roiling inferno. This, my friends, is adventurous cooking.
I now know why the Chinese always cook with generous amounts of oil. Or should it be the other way around: I now know why the Chinese build these mystical pseudo-stoves/flash fryers, because they cook with so much oil ...
I ended up with a barely-edible abomination, two parts onion, two parts egg, wholly tasteless, food in a very primitive sense, something only a cynical man would call a meal.
But I ate it anyway, washed down with generous amounts of tea.
How long have I been here? More than a week? Good god, has it been that long? Or equally: has really been that brief? It feels like a month, in every way, good and bad.
Things are moving slowly in Jilin. Chinese class continues, and I feel the language stirring deep in my brain, synapses flashing, new characters being remembered, understood. The weather is holding at a mid-Autumn mild, and I can't tell if my throat is sore from the pollution or the dry, dusty air. There's a feeling of vernal decompression and autumnal preparation, of sloughing off America (again) and embracing China (again), and the natural (and unnatural) mix of emotions and feelings that go with it. There are too many things to do and see here to think about home, except for those long stretches where there's nothing to do. No use but to sit back and live the contradiction.
I won't be giving classes until the twenty-fourth. So for now, it's a mad dash to the equinox, getting things ready for the inevitable routine, making yet another place feel like home in this fantastically weird country.