Wednesday, 15 October: The meetings conclude
At breakfast time, I found I had somehow lost my room card—not the electronic room key, but the little cardboard folder it came in, which showed my room number and which I was supposed to show at the entrance to the breakfast buffet. Drat. I asked about it at the reception desk and learned that I didn't actually need the card; I could just tell them my room number.
David had told me that the lunch buffet at the Huang Hai included fish and seafood dishes, so while he attended the morning's sessions, I addressed myself to the registration desk (which this late in the meeting had shrunk to a single registration station and a second station labeled "health care" and manned by a nurse; they must have experience with incautious travelers who drink the local water!). I hoped to buy myself a lunch ticket, but as it turned out I could have one free, just for the asking, and tried the Huang Hai's lunch.
I had just settled in the lobby to work at my computer when it started again—the drums and cymbals outside the conference hotel! I hied myself to a window and discovered that a wedding was in progress! Not only were the drummers drumming and the cymbals ringing, but the entire hotel parking lot was a blizzard of colorful confetti, and one of those multi-person parade dragons was rippling and dancing amid the festivities.
I couldn't get a decent photo from my vantage point, but at the right is one David got at a different time and place. Another fixture of local weddings, which I saw in the parking lot later and which we also ran across at other wedding venues, was a row of what I took to be stylized cannons—wooden tubes, maybe six or seven feet tall, painted red and gold and pointed upward at a steep angle. Maybe they were shooting all that confetti.
The buffet was extensive, varied, and as usual, often incomprehensible. At the left is "carb meat salad purple." I'm pretty sure it was crabmeat, but alas, the purple cabbage was raw so I didn't dare try it. Next to it was a bowl of (alas, equally raw) fruit salad that looked like a mixture of diced red papaya and diced dragon fruit.
At the right is "grinding braise greaves." Your guess is as good as mine. It looked like a soup of greens and thinly sliced onion. I did try the "braised cabbage with prawns" next to it. The prawns were whole, in the shell, but the shells were so tender that I just detached the head and ate the rest shell and all.
Here are a couple of my favorites. On the left, "fish oil spilt anhui," slices of fish braised in a tasty yellowish sauce with lots of shredded scallions. As soon as I got home, I Googled "anhui," hoping it was the name of the fish, but no, it's the name of a region and that region's cuisine, so I have no idea what the fish was. Very good, though.
At the right, "potato latkes," which were excellent. A few other western dishes appeared as well, including spaghetti with a thin tomato sauce, just labeled "pasta." These are only a few of the offerings, which included the inevitable row of kettles of congee. One was made with black rice and mixed other whole grains and was thicker than most, so I tried a small bowl of it. Next to the kettle was a small dish of a white granulated substance with a small spoon. I thought it might be salt, so I spooned a small dab into my bowl. Turns out it was sugar, and the combination was excellent, sort of like thin hot breakfast cereal, only black.
At the left here is my first plate. The congee is in the bowl at the upper right. Clockwise from the top of the plate, reddish-brown glazed braised pork belly, a couple pieces of "salt-and-pepper duck frame" on top of some green beans, a slice of the anhui fish, a big white steamed bun filled with meat of some sort, a potato latke, and a peanut in the shell (I thought it might be boiled, but it was just roasted). Just below the pork belly, some cabbage with prawns and a jujube. The duck frame was delicious, but hard to eat. It was in fact the skeleton left over after the meat had been cut off, heavily seasoned with salt and pepper, and deep fried until shatteringly crisp. Not much there to eat, but yummy to nibble on, especially if you find a piece with some skin attached.
At the right is my second plate. Clockwise from the top, duck frame, another potato latke, more duck frame, a strip of pork stir-fried with a couple of noodles and a shiitake, some scrambled eggs with clams (not such a much), a deep-fried whole small yellow croaker (great! I went back for another), and some kung pao chicken. A couple of people at the table raved about the kung pao, saying it was great to find out what it was really supposed to be like. I've never ordered kung pao in the U.S. (or anywhere), so I have no basis for comparison, but it seemed pretty bland to me.
After lunch, a two-hour closing ceremony had been scheduled, and much debate raged (although quietly, so as not to give offense) among participants as to whether they wanted to sit through two hours of speeches. As it turns out, though, the principal organizer gave a quick talk, a few awards were given out, a bunch of people were thanked, and they wrapped it up in 20 minutes flat!
We made a dinner date with a colleague of David's and his wife. He's on the faculty at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and has arranged for David to speak there in February. We met them in the lobby of our hotel, where they were checking out the items for sale in the various gift shops. Prominently displayed in front was a sailing ship, in full sail, about three feet long, two feet wide, and a couple of feet tall, carved out of what seemed to be a single block of green jade. Many, many thousands of dollars. I don't seem to have gotten any photos of the jade items on display there, but this red fish, perhaps three feet long, was displayed in the restaurant we visited the following day, and the gift shop in the hotel had one much like it, also red.
For dinner, we went back to the Qingdao restaurant, which they hadn't tried (they were staying at the other hotel). We got to talking, so I forgot to take photos of the food, but we ordered five things: braised pork belly with steamed buns, beef stir-fried with lilies (again), "stewed pork bones in thick sauce," sweet-and-sour shrimp (again), and for dessert, the fried yams with sugar. Not all were big hits. The pork bones were just that, the t-bones from thick pork chops the meat of which had been cut off for use in other dishes. They were quite good, a a reasonable amount of meat was left on them, but they were hard to eat with chopsticks, and I was the only one willing to pick them up and bit the meat off. The sauce was dark brown and not all that thick. The other dishes, I've already described, except the pork belly, which for my money was the best thing on the table. On the menu it was described as "pork," so the colleague's wife didn't know what she was getting into when she ordered it. It was very tender, but very fatty, like chunks of unsliced bacon, stewed in a stick, slightly sweet sauce that was just outstanding. I thin slices of ginger and whole star anise in it, for example. It was served surrounded by plain, unfilled steamed buns that pulled apart into two cup-shaped pieces. I put pieces of the pork belly into the buns, spooned sauce over, and ate them together, and the combination was great. I'm going to have to try to look that one up.
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