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Chicken Feet’s King at home… in which Chicken Feet’s King flies to a snazzy new dovecote and (nearly) hosts a Chinese banquet

19 Dec

Over the past few months, my home-sweet-home in China aka the apartment of death has made several appearances in the roost of the CFK. For those who haven’t been following quite so avidly, just some of the delights of flat 1307 include:

– Doggy bags beside the toilet in case you want to go beyond a number one (I now have the most highly-trained bowels in Asia).

– Toenail clippings in the back of the sofa (not mine).

– Cupboard doors that would fall off without so much as a “heads below”.

–  Woodlice (both dead and alive) in the drawers

– A permanent coating of filth that would not go away however hard I scrubbed.

One bonus of Hovel no. 1307, however, was that it had an oven – a dodgy oven, with no temperature gauge, meaning it had to be left open for 10 minutes every 20 to allow it to cool down, and with a manual lighting system that involved unavoidable burns on one’s fingers every time you wanted to whip up a pastry – but an oven nonetheless.

I was discussing said oven with my boss about a week ago re the famous Chingmas jiaozi and baozi. “Oh, how wonderful,” she said. “Maybe you will host a Christmas party for your team? What day would be good for you?”

It took me a moment to realise that I had been roped into Doing the Office Drinks.

Still, I resigned myself to it. After all, not only did I have an oven, but I had also spent the past few weeks idly creating a “Chingmas playlist” on iTunes featuring crimbo crooners from Bing Crosby to Wham.

I sent out a cheery email to all my colleagues:

“Dear all,

“As you may have noticed from the hysterical carol singing coming from the dirtiest desk in the room (i.e. mine), CHRISTMAS is coming up! And so Li Shuo and I, along with Tanya and Holly, the interns from the College edition, would like to invite you all for a few cosy, Christmassy drinks at my flat.
“Holly, Tanya and I will provide some drinks, some Christmassy cakes and snacks and nibbles, but (as my mother would say in one of her drinks party invites) “it would be wonderful if you could bring a plate of finger food” – and maybe a couple of drinks as well. Anything you like – sweet, savory, Chinese, Western, even Japanese if you’re feeling really adventurous.
“Hope to see you all there! Love Ellie x”
A couple of days later, my msn started flashing. Albert. Who else?
鲁翾 说: it sounds like your party is becoming something big.
ellie 说: really???!?!
鲁翾 说: ms yu (my section boss) just ask me to bring a dish to the party
鲁翾 说: she ask me to bake a fish.
With horror, I realised that, like Little Jack Horner and his plum pie, the “finger” had been removed from my “finger food”. Ms Yu had, it emerged, been doling out a course to each party attendee. What had been a quiet little drinks ‘n’ nibbles event was hurtling out of control into a Chinese feast. I predicted baijiu.
The next few days were spent beating this potential disaster into submission, especially after a warning from my friend Nathan, who has spent some time in China.
“When a chinese person bakes a fish,” he said, “that’s when the party gets fucking crazy. It’s like their equivalent of when someone puts on a lampshade in the West. Someone’s definitely gonna get naked.
“When I picture the fish,” Nathan continued, “I start hearing a Lil’ Wayne song in my head, because that’s what Chinese people usually play when they bring it out.”
P-Day was swiftly approaching, and more and more things started going wrong with the old flat. The hot water died. More woodlice appeared. Wind howled through the windows. Another cupboard door fell off. I told Ms Yu that this party was going to have to be state-of-apartment dependent. That didn’t stop her from surreptitiously sending round a guest list via Albert.
P minus one day – Thursday. Li Shuo, my other boss, appeared on msn asking if I had a minute. I was hysterically subbing articles (my extended lunch break had caused a bit of a pile of proofreading amid the chewing gum wrappers and empty coffee cups on my desk) and so rattled back a “very busy” response.
“It’s just, I have some good news about the apartment,” Li Shuo said. “A new place has opened up in the China Daily building. We will come round tomorrow and move your things there.”
Before I start to express my sheer unadulterated euphoria at this message, I should explain the background disparity between 21st Century and main China Daily viz. Whereas China Daily employees are taken off on periodic weekends away in posh hotels, 21st Century employees tend to be left off the guestlist (unless, as has happened on a couple of occasions, our boss coughs up out of the company coffers). Whereas China Daily employees are put up in snazzy apartments with a cleaning lady and the newspaper delivered on a day-to-day basis, 21st employees wrestle with sinks that run brown water and dubious green detritus growing in every corner.
The next morning, Li Shuo and her assistant, along with two handy page designers and a huge cardboard box, arrived at my door to cart my rubbish over to the new place.
I could have sung. I could keep singing now. It has everything – oven, washing machine (with BILINGUAL INSTRUCTIONS!), a TV (with CCTV in English!), a huge double bed, and a toilet with suction so powerful that it seems the Giant Squid itself is nesting in the u-bend.
And the party itself? There was, thankfully, no fish and no lampshade. A small bowl of beef cooked by my boss’s mother-in-law was the only modest culinary offering that emerged – small enough to be termed finger food.
Rather disappointing, really.

The Twelve Days of Chingmas – Lyrics

14 Dec

On the twelfth day of Chingmas my true love gave to me…

Twelve subway lines

Beijing subway map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleven 7/11s

Ten Shenzhou shuttles

Nine netizens

Eight babaofan

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding - traditional Chinese New Year dish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Beijing ring roads

Six chicken feet

Getting tasty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five year plans

Four troublemakers

 

 

"Decisively Throw Out the Wang-Zhang-Jiang-Yao Anti-Party Clique!" - unpopular team who ruled China after the Cultural Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three laowei (team Holly, Tanya and Errie, obv)

Two Scotch pandas

And a one child policy!

Chingmas cards

13 Dec

The good folk of 21st Century Senior Teens, the subsection of China Daily where I work, asked me to write an article about Christmas cards. I had brought it upon myself, to be fair. During a news meeting, I had launched into a display of outrage that would have put any Daily Mail letter-writer to shame when someone mentioned “Christmas e-cards”. I couldn’t help feeling a slight pang of guilt as I bashed out my 350 on “Why I always handwrite and post cards to my nearest and dearest and use the cards I receive to decorate my house with Christmas cheer and why e-cards are such a travesty…” that I hadn’t got round to either cards or presents this year.

A heartfelt note courtesy of my Great Aunt (with the assistance of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute) was the final spark that turned my guilt into action.

It was Christmas card time.

And, at the risk of being called a hypocrite (my own use of the word “hypocrisy” in a previous China Daily comment has already been roundly criticised), I would have to do them properly.

To begin with, however, the only actual Christmas cards I could find were those at Western shops like Jenny Lou’s or at the German Embassy Christmas Market. They were not only disappointingly plain, but also ludicrously expensive.

Oddly enough, the chemist across the road from me seemed to have put out a basket too, but they were fairly dull, and at 12 yuan a pop, serving the whole community of Chicken Feet readers was going to hurt my wallet.

It was then that I spotted a small, inconspicous box in the corner of my local supermarket.

Your one-stop shop for all sundries just around the corner from CFK

The local supermarket itself needs a bit of introduction.

As far as I can tell, this run-down shack of a shop doesn’t have a name – or if it does, it is written in Chinese characters that are almost completely obscured by years of accumulated filth on its sign. However, it will always come up with the goods when you least expect it. As well as (not very) fresh fruit and veg and all manner of frozen bits of bone and offal, you can purchase a freshly-cooked pancake or sponge cake or a stick of caramelised hawthorn (think toffee apples and add manna from heaven, and you are halfway there).

The Supermarket is also home to the two-bottles-of-almost-drinkable-wine-for-30-RMB deal.

And now it had a selection of Chingmas cards – and I mean Chingmas. All were endowed with a healthy dump of glitter and an assortment of colours bright enough to burn the backs of your eyeballs, as if a small, hyperactive child had been let loose on the craft kit.

YOU HAVE MERRY JOLLY CHRISTMAS NOW!

The plainer ones were little pop-up jobs – Santa, surrounded by woodland animals, with an accordian and a present labelled “good” springing out of the front of the card.

Others bore fabulously Chingrish slogans:

“Best wish: Although we have been separated for so long and we are so far apart, my yearning for you never decreases. Instead, it overflows my heart into every corner.”

Chingrish wishes

“True friendship is like sound health the value of it is seldom know until it be lost”

“Happy time: Best wishes for my friend”.

For more discerning relatives, I chose a design featuring two attractive green baubles with gold and blue glitter, sparingly decorated with the words “Merry Christmas” and the “Lorem ipsum…” placeholder text.

There was even one catering specifically for the i-generation: Christmassy love from Angry Birds, conveyed in the simple message: “YOU TOO”.

They were only a couple of yuan each. I bulk bought.

Next stop: the post office. As far as I can tell, China doesn’t do stamps.

Needless to say, I had apparently fallen at every hurdle.  My cheap card envelopes wouldn’t stick down, and the woman in the post office was having none of my sellotape. She sternly handed me a pot of glue and jabbed a finger at a ledge to one side. I slunk off to re-stick all my envelopes.

Then there was a problem with the way I had addressed the envelopes. The woman apparently did not agree with me that red pen was “festive” enough to sidestep the rule that addresses must be written in blue or black ink, and thrust a biro at me. Back I went to my ledge. By now I was flustered. My lunch break had technically finished ten minutes ago. I planned my excuses as I scrawled black over red.

For the third time the woman took the cards. She snarled as my botched glue job leaked all over her fingers, weighed them and – hallelujah! – got out her stamp and shoved them into a box behind her. I thrust 50 yuan at her and bolted out of the post office.

So come, all ye faithful readers in GB. If my efforts are worth anything, a card in return would be nice. You know the address…

Miss Chocolate Pudding Beautiful Naughty Man

Just Around the Corner from Chicken Feet’s King

BEIJING


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