Monday, November 17, 2008

Little Earthquakes and Memories of Shaokao

I awoke this morning, suddenly, after turning in quite early last night, with the lights still on. Seconds later, the room was shaking and the windows rattling. I looked at my cell phone--7 a.m. exactly. I suppose actually the quake started and woke me up, and then I realized it. It registered as 4.8 according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquakes website, and came just 24 1/2 hours after a 4.7 tremor which I did not feel.

Six months almost to the day after the May 12 earthquake, many of us are still somewhat jumpy about shaking and noise that might indicate aftershocks, and apparently for good reason, 'cos they just keep on coming. 

In other quake-related news, L.A. just held a drill to prepare for the event of a 7.8-magnitude shake; and in addition to Prince Andrew's recent visit to Sichuan, Donna Versace and Jet Li recently toured the quake site. I spoke with a Vanity Fair Italy writer who was in town to cover the event and get the scoop and got the impression that still, nobody really knows what's going on, and those who do are keeping their mouths shut.

On a completely unrelated note, I just ate some shaokao, a snack consumed usually by late-night partiers due to its omnipresence on Chengdu's streets between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and loved by foreigners for its point-and-choose ease of ordering--sticks of meats, vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, etc. are laid out on the back of a vendor's cart, and customers can come up, choose the sticks they want, and hand them to the vendor, who proceeds to roast them over burning coals, adding oil, salt, pepper, MSG, and Sichuanese spices. I usually eat it about once a month these days because it's never been my favorite, although sometimes, like tonight, it really hits the spot. 

Like much of food culture in China, eating shakao is generally a social event, so as I sat on my miniature plastic stool by my lonesome at a shoddy chipboard table, I had nothing to do but reflect on times past--such as the time my then-roommate and co-conspirator Malice stole shaokao from the stand near our former apartment. We had come back late, probably close to sunrise, from the south side of town, and were starving. The only food around there at that time was shaokao, and so we made a beeline for the stand. When we arrived, the sticks were all laid out, but there was nobody to be found. After standing around for a while, shy and unsure about using our limited Chinese, we braced ourselves and tried to call out, the way the locals do when nobody is in sight. We called and called, to no avail. Finally, we grabbed a few sticks of mantou, laid some money on the table, and made a run for it, Malice trying to hold them under her coat lest we run into the wayward shaokao seller on the way. When we got home we collapsed in laughter. Perhaps we were a bit tipsy that night as well. Untoasted, the mantou wasn't very good, either.

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