October 5, 2006

Good times, Foot Massage and Big Plate Chicken

Michael and CaraI’ve found in our travels that talking to people offers unparrallel insight into a place. So thanks to Seth Golub, who hooked us up with his friends Michael and Cara, two ex-pat diplomats living in Beijing.

They were warm and friendly, and really went out of their way to make us feel welcome and give us a glimpse into working and navigating Beijing. What was funnier is that they both speak better Mandarin than I do, which should not be surprising since then have taken months of formal language training. Yet when the four of us went out, all of the vendors kept trying to speak to me — and I kept pointing to Michael.

Certainly, I would unlikely have even thought to have, or indulged in, a Chinese foot massage had Cara not invited us along with her. A foot massage, I found out, included a shoulder, back and leg massage, while having unlimited drinks brought to you for an hour and a half – total pampering. The massage itself was both pleasant and a little painful, yet soothing afterwards. They really massaged out foot muscles I never knew I had. And wow, are they strong! There was lots deep specific kneeding followed by foot slapping.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the entire body is mapped on the soles of the feet, and anything tight or out of place in the foot relates to the specific part on the body. Jonathan’s masseuse kept telling him about specific ailments he had – did he have phlem in his throat? Jonathan, being a smart ass, answered with a coughed out “No”.

Another truly wonderful experience was being taken out for Muslim food in Beijing, where they ordered a dish typical of the far western Xinjiang region (borders Kazakhstan). “Big Plate Chicken” is a sumptous, spicy(!!) chicken dish with mounds of red dried chilies, green chilies and potatoes in a rich thick sauce. Michael and Cara had a great vacation in the region, and had been telling us about this dish, with piles of chicken enormous enough to feed 6 people. Which made it all the funnier when the dish appeared on the table, well proportioned to feed, say, 2 people. They looked at each other, and Michael began discussing the size of the dish with the waiter. The exchange went something like this:

Michael: I thought we ordered Big Plate Chicken.
Waiter: You did. This is Big Plate Chicken.
M: But this plate isn’t very big.
W: Sorry?
M: This is supposed to be “BIG” plate chicken (motioning with his hands)
W: Well, I could put it on a bigger plate.
M: No, when we ordered this in Xinjiang, it was a very big plate of chicken (now some arm waving).
W: Yes, but this isn’t Xinjiang. We are in Beijing.

Eventually, Michael convinced the waiter to add some more chicken to the dish, and we did indeed get our Big Plate chicken, thrown in with some noodles on the bottom to soak up the sauce. Delicious, and spicy to the point of painful, it was fabulous.

So thanks to Cara and Michael, who really showed us a wonderful time in Beijing. They have their own entertaining blogsite detailing their experiences in Beijing too.

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