Adventures in Culture and Travel

21 March, 2009

Baozi | Chinese Dumplings


 Look for a Dim Sum restaurant. 
The way they usually work is that the servers
 come round with those bamboo steamers 
and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves on carts
 - if you see something you fancy you take the steamer
 and they stamp your car. 
At the end they tally up the stamps.
 
One of the things I love about big cities like Los Angeles, New York or London is the food. London by far has been my favorite. Almost every imaginable food is available, and generally within walking distance. One of the foods that I haven't found in this area (yet) is the Chinese Dumpling (which I  is called a Baozi). (Apparently I'm to look for a Dim Sum restaurant.) I've been longing to try one since Anthony Bourdain stated it was the "have-to" Chinese food. I was falsely advised that the English translation of Jiaozi means "heinous excursion", but Tanner Brown in Bejing laughed at what could have been a good band's name:

"Jiao literally means dumpling (specifically the non-round, smaller one made of a ravioli-type skin -- as opposed to the breaded skin). Zi meanwhile is merely a noun suffix - it might be translated as 'thing.' Zi does have other meanings, such as 'master' or 'son' but in these cases the tone, and therefore pronunciation, is different. The bao in baozi has several meanings, but they're all what you might expect: 'wrap,' 'surround,' bundle,' 'sack,' etc.")

 So you can imagine my delight when we're walking through China Town in London and just after doing the tango with a giant panda bear, we discover a little market with a young Chinese woman and a fresh batch of Chinese dumplings.

Shannon still talks about the Panda bear.
Stuffed with pork, beef, or chicken, a baozi can be very small almost bite-size (Xiaolongbao) or If you find them like we did they're about 6-8 inches round, hand-pressed closed breading (Mantou) with a Asian stew filling consisting of meats and/or vegetables. They are, for a better lack of the words... simply the most amazing Chinese food I've ever eaten. It should be, it's their comfort food. It's a recipe, I've vowed to tackle in the next few months.

There's something to be said with waking up in the morning, hitting an authentic French Bakery for breakfast in London, and then walking the streets for lunch eating a baozi dumpling. We so often forget how much taste is a sense, and providing our brain the necessary sensory input during certain experiences can make the journey so much more fun!

The vendor realized we "weren't from around here" with our American dialects, and asked "where are you from?" Shannon replied "North Carolina". We might as well been speaking to Greek, because from the look on her face she didn't recognize that country.

18 March, 2009

An American in Cardiff - If only I could Find a Job...

Great Western Station: Cardiff Central
It was probably the most incredible weeks of my entire life. I had fallen in love like some girl in a corny low-budget romance movie with a city, with Cardiff. Of course the entire week had been surreal as we made our way by train to Wales via London and accidentally brushed shoulders with John Barrowman at the BBC whom I have more than a smidgeon of a teenage crush on. Then we had a smashing time at the world's largest St. Patrick's Day party in Trafalgar Square with a few thousand other people. I cannot convey in words how much fun we had, but I can say I'll never forget the moment we arrived in Cardiff, in Wales, land of my fore-fathers (and don't forget mothers too). The first time I handed the gentleman my credit card at The Red Dragon Centre, the cashier looks down at it, reads the name, looks up at me and smiles with excitement, exclaiming: "Jones? I'm a Jones. We're all Joneses! I felt at home, it felt like family.
I dream about living here: Cardiff!

I'm not quite sure why my family left Wales originally though I suspect it's by a similar manner to which I've returned: curiosity and adventure. Unfortunately it's not as easy these days to re-immigrate three generations later, and though I've given serious thought about trying to find a job in Cardiff, (I'd love it, actually) the chances of me finding one willing to extend a visa to me, (especially a [gasp] writer) seems unlikely. I suppose the question my fellow Americans might ask, "is why would an American want to live in Cardiff?" To quote Welsh singer Amy Wadge, "I seem to fit my skin in this place I'm in." In Cardiff I don't feel out of place. As James Marster's said about Cardiff  "It's accepting, diverse, yet casual."

Cardiff is small to moderate sized city  with its 320,000 Cardiffians. While there we could walk from central train station to the Cardiff castle, central Cardiff, the Millennium Center and Cardiff Bay all within about twenty minutes of each other unlike London.

The Millenium Centre
We of course spent much of our time outside of Torchwood 3, the perception filter stone, and several film sites for Dr Who. We got talking with a local resident who recommended Strada, a contemporary Italian restaurant which allowed us to sit out and observe the various happenings of people in Cardiff Bay. We ended up having a spectacular meal, and great wine which left us in a dreamy, tipsy state, contemplating what our lives would be like, if we could only find a way to stay.

It was at this point I had completely fell head over heels for Cardiff. The merry-go-round turning on the boardwalk. The children feeding the ducks, the families out spending time with one another. It was idyllic.

I know Cardiff hasn't always been a vibrant cultured city. I'm aware of the "Clevelandish" reputation with those on the east coast of the U.K.. I've seen pictures of Cardiff during its bustling port days with dirty warfs and fisheries. This Cardiff though is not that Cardiff, though it has been built firmly on the back of its own history. Cardiff is what happens when a city positively re-invents itself and I'm so glad I got to witness the outcome of it. A city that can start as one thing, and transition into a whole new thing... that's my kind of city.

Now I just need a job and I'd move there in an instant.

15 March, 2009

Saint Patrick's Day in Trafalgar Square - Giving notice to Seriousness.

Shannon was a wee bit drunk that day.
Perhaps one of my greatest weaknesses, what could even be my hubris, is my inability to let go of things. On vacation, I not only take my baggage, but also my "baggage." I'm someone who takes on a project and focuses solely on the task of finding a way to make it work. I won't insist I'm a perfectionist, (because that's a hard label to live up to) but I do tend to have the inability to set things aside as failures. If it doesn't work one way, I'll try and try and often futilely try again until either I succeed or destroy everybody and everything around me in the process.

That's a tall leprechaun!
You may wonder why I would post such an ugly truth about myself, however it came about as I thought about the perplexing style with which we apply for jobs here in America. As if some covert, and very un-creative group managers, within every company in America, got together and decided the most important question that they could ask of you to confirm you're eligibility for the job is: "What are your weaknesses?"

What a completely idiotic question to ask! As if anyone in there right mind is going to say "I'm a neurotic dreamer who continually tries to shove the square peg in the round hole, despite everyone else's screams in horror to the opposite." No we all say the same thing. "Hmmm... let me think for a moment,  (as we pretend to think of something good to say) my biggest weakness is I may be too hard working." It's at this point, both you and the interviewer are screaming "bull shit" in each of your minds. You're thinking, "I hope that's the right answer," and the interviewer is thinking "Wow, have I heard this before." If we were actually honest and told them, "I drink too much, and have a weakness for men and women with accents", we might reserves some space for ourselves to be normal in everyday life. We don't however, at least not here in America. So it took me escaping my corporate America and landing in Trafalgar Square on Saint Patrick's day, before I too was able to confront how miserably stuck up I was, conforming myself, rather than finding myself.
Saint Patty's Day in front of the National Gallery

We had just met our friends from Bristol under the clock-tower in Paddington Station when we headed down to the largest party of the world in front of the National Gallery. It's rather difficult to adjust, given the gravity of flying around the world, and being tossed into the world's large social event with tens of thousands of people who couldn't care about anything but drinking and having fun. Especially when you're an individual of efficiency and process. Across the pond? I was a fish out of water, and I'm not so sure I knew how to have this kind of fun any more. My last high-school party resulted in a self nose piercing and me vomiting in the street after chasing habanero peppers with beer.  My college history wasn't much better, and involved breaking hearts then finding my car the next morning at an ex's house after abandoning her to leave with another woman. In contrast, I was now grown up and serious, I repeated to myself like some brainwashed, corporate slave. One does not conduct themselves with such behavior, I told myself looking around with clear evidence to the contrary.

Somewhere I there is Bono and U2, I think.
As I queued in the mile long line, awaiting my pint of Guinness for the second, (or third time) in a sea of rock music, leprechauns, Guinness dogs and Irish green, I think it dawned on me. Who I am, and my weaknesses in life are no different than those of the thousands of diverse, dancing, vomiting strangers around me. Being an adult isn't about being serious and overcoming our weaknesses, it's about embracing them. Perhaps my younger self had it more figured out than I ever do now. Perhaps responsibility, jobs, and sadistic, self-mutinying interview questions turned me into this monstrosity of seriousness and logic? If I could just embrace myself, failures and all, regardless of what others think, then I'd be able to lay down my emotional baggage and leave it at Trafalgar Square forever. To confront the ultimate job interview, the job of living life, and respond by saying "I have lots of failures, and undoubtedly I will make lots of mistakes, but they're apart of who I am, and while I may not be perfect- there's no place I'd rather be, than right here- right now." As Elbert Hubbart once said "Don't take life too serious, you'll never get out of it alive."

13 March, 2009

In the BBC with John Barrowman's American Accent

BBC Television Centre
Someone once told me the secret to succeeding in America is a British accent. Our dialect is perceived as "uncouth and rather unpleasant" according to several of my friends around the world who have chosen to be brutally honest with me. So much so, that most Americans might unknowingly prejudice their own dialect for the more melodic British version. One only needs to watch the twenty-four hour news channels to realize that this is true, and that we're slowly being invaded by their cheeky enunciations. So why would John Barrowman, a Scottish actor choose to speak in an American accent?

Of course you're probably wondering who John Barrowman is if you're reading this from North America. An actor, and singer, a part of the longest running (since 1963) science fiction franchise in television history, the shows "Doctor Who", and "Torchwood", have a small, but growing cult following in the U.S. Let's put it this way, if you saw John Barrowman on the streets of London, it would be like George Clooney showing up at your son's soccer game. Complete chaos. Barrowman, who spent time in the States as a child when his father was transferred abroad, decidedly chose to use an American dialect to prevent his fellow classmates from bullying him. "You can choose?" I silently questioned myself upon first learning of this fact. Of course that doesn't explain why it works for him as an adult, why he isn't ridiculed like Madonna was when she was caught on camera with a British accent, and she of course had every right to because she was living in the U.K. at the time with her husband. As is the case with Hugh Laurie (Gregory House M.D. from the show 'House'), perhaps it's because they're actors, or perhaps it's because most people don't know they're not American. Perhaps it's because John Barroman is just perfect? While I'll admit my futile (he's gay) crush on John, may sway my opinion, you can't deny his commitment to changing the world's perspective on being "out" in showbiz. John Barrowman's omni-sexual character, Captain Jack often even reflects this with lines like "You people, and your quaint little categories!" In real life, a billboard campaign quoted John, "It's the 21st century, some people are gay, get over it." While I'm certain there must be something wrong with him, like compulsive farting or something, you can't dispute that he's a truly intriguing individual. He's interesting, peculiar, and different. All the things I like in a person.

So you can imagine my complete loss of adult conduct when I found myself inside Television Centre at the BBC (a virtual city unto itself), standing five feet from John Barrowman. We were near the fountain of the central question mark (the shape of the inner courtyard) near the VIP entrance where the stars were arriving for the Red Nose Day charity event, when the BBC employee who was escorting us interrupted her typical monotone speech with "Look! There's John Barrowman!" In that moment, time stopped. I was speechless as my jaw dropped in slow motion like paint dripping down the wall. My brain now forced to deal with the lack of oxygen from not breathing, was telling me to scream, to do something, as I mentally cheered myself on "Come on Liv!!!" Yet I couldn't make any words come out, my body's muscles refusing to react to the complete shock and awe of the moment. "John..." I called out in the silence of my mind, but it was too late, he was gone and in his dressing room. I was left star-struck, stuttering, one arm reaching out, in front of a group of people I had never met before in my life. They, just as surprised that I knew who John was, didn't judge me for my infatuation, but replied with a sympathetic "awe." Our chaperone putting her arm around me and advising me "If I would have known you liked John, I would have introduced you. Perhaps we'll find him inside?"

Of course it never happened. John went into make-up, and we were never meant to see each other again that day. Yet out of nine million people in London, what seemed like impossible odds, coincidences collided that day, and I can say for a short moment in time, I shared a side-walk with this incredible man.
John Barroman touched this.

After playing around in a Tardis (a time travel machine)  for a bit, we ended up leaving the BBC that day, passing through security, and on to the street where hundreds of English teenage girls stood outside the gate screaming, and waiting to get a glimpse of the stars as they arrived. Many of them turned in disgust to me as if to ask "who does she think she is?", some trying to figure if I was anyone important enough to befriend. Like the vampires of stardom, they hungered for the fantasy of television to fill their life of reality.

Nine months later, three thousand miles away in rural North Carolina. A lifetime away from the BBC and John Barrowman. I stood at the edge of my snow covered drive-way as our mail man's car came to a stop, its tires crunching on the fresh snow in the silence of the winter morning. That's when he handed me a large letter, post-marked from Cardiff, Wales. I pulled one glove off with my teeth and opened the envelope, and there before me was Captain Jack in all his glory. This time I screamed all the way back to the house as I ran to show Shannon. I think she even screamed a bit before we both realized such behavior wasn't befitting of two grown adults. That said, I quickly purchased a frame for my autographed John Barroman, and he now hangs in my hallway as a reminder of that day at the BBC. It also serves as lesson to me that the coincidences of life are often cloaked in the language of reality.