As an addendum to this post, I would like to mention that I have been trying to post this blog for two days now. As with all international trips, there are customs, conventions, and other realities that we are still trying to adjust to. Most of these are interesting learning experiences, the other one is the titanic battle we have been waging to get a solid internet connection capable of communicating with home. Using multiple wifi passwords and VPNs, infinitely refreshing our phones between breaks, etc. It is all part of the experience, but may mean that this blog does not always come out when I intend it to, and that pictures are not guaranteed. Anyway, please enjoy and as always, comment if you have any questions!
The past two days have really seen Jhonny, Gerry and I get into the groove of training. I think that the scope of our task has rapidly unfolded before us, in that we are starting to get over the initial overwhelming sensation of how difficult making bao is, and we are beginning to understand what it is going to take to become the consistent and dexterous perfectionists required to one day train others to do this tasks at the same high quality as our teachers can make today. We have begun trying to break off our own pieces of dough from the long serpentine rolls. That should be easy enough, but then you have to consider that we are required to make a clean cut with only our hands, and the resultant piece of dough needs to fall between 58-62 grams exactly. Anything else is discarded.
Over the past couple of days, we have also gotten the chance to explore our immediate neighborhood a bit more. Despite the heavy construction in the area, there are also some working class neighborhoods that are positively teaming with people at all hours of the day. Due to construction, we had to take our walking commute through the heart of a neighborhood today. Not only was it one of the more packed places I have seen since getting to China, but it is also one of the most vibrant in its own way. We saw birds being feathered and fish jumping from bins, almost like a desperate attempt to escape their fate in a local chef’s hands. There were also countless stores selling ‘designer’ bags and shoes for as little as $1.50 in some cases. It is astounding how much can be packed into alleys that seem almost non-existent from the main roads of the city. As a non-Chinese man wearing an orange uniform and walking with crutches, swinging one leg through the air, I don’t think I could attract more strange looks the locals if I lit my hair on fire.
Back to making bao, today we learned more tricks and tips that allowed us to make good enough specimens to move on from using dough as ‘filling’ to make practice bao, we could now instead use one of the real store ingredients: Bok Choy and Shitake Mushroom. Bok Choy doesn’t like to behave. I found myself pushing cold, wet vegetable into increasingly slippery dough, trying to get the diced green pieces to stay at the bottom of the bao with one thumb while trying desperately to keep 20 folds of dough in place with the other. The results after about an hour and a half were humbling at best, but I have to say, I think we made a handful of bao (out of several hundred) that could actually be worthy of a steamer (maybe). Once again, carefully watching our teachers has proven to be the most effective method to learning the small hand movements. I think more than anything, seeing someone doing it perfectly while maintaining eye contact with us and asking about where we are from makes us realize that this is not an impossible task, it just takes discipline and the innumerable repetition of simple motions.
Lastly I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge the continued and amazing generosity of our hosts. My face broke out into a red rash soon after arriving – which in my case can be triggered by anything from an allergy to salt water to a light breeze. Tom noticed and asked if I had tried Chinese medicine before to release toxins from my body. Yesterday I received some Niuhuang Jiedu Wan, which is made from cow gallstones and a mix of herbs.
We also mentioned that we wanted to buy one of the uniforms we work in to take home. The next thing you know, we are being measured for our own uniforms and our colleagues at GanQiShi are refusing payment. We are very lucky to be working with people that not only want to see us learn, but are making sure we have a great experience overall.