Of elections and other heartwarming tales 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — As elated as I was to see Barack Obama elected president, the full emotional impact of the event did not hit me until my class this afternoon. I got choked up enough I had to stop for a minute or two to pull myself together.

I was giving the freshmen a short lesson on the election, on Obama’s background, and what he still needs to do before taking office in January. I started giving them a rundown of the inauguration, including the part where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist (NOT one of my favorite people) John Roberts swears in the new president. The mental image of that scene stopped me in my tracks.

For someone in my particular age bracket, the image of a black man actually ascending to the White House finally puts to rest the acrimony and hatred we remember growing up through the 1950s and ’60s. I watched the news with my dad, and saw the riots in Los Angeles, the racist presidential campaign of George Wallace, the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. While I was not directly affected, living as we were in a gerrymandered-white school district on the North Shore of Long Island, those scenes still had a big emotional impact. Simply put, my parents didn’t raise me to hate people because of their skin color.

Since I actually like reading about history, I later understood more about the struggles for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s, when I myself was just a mere child and oblivious to such matters. (I was 8 when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.)

So, picturing Obama, who is just a few years younger than I am, taking the oath of office — of the Presidency, for chris’sakes — was just too moving for continue speaking. I can only imagine the emotions that millions of African-Americans will be feeling at that moment in January.

[I expect a cute Disney movie about the black president’s teenaged daughter falling in love any day now. You wait.]

The day before the election, I spent the day home sick. Whatever was bugging my stomach over the weekend had kept me up all night, so I knew by morning that I would be good for nothing if I tried to teach, assuming I could actually walk across campus. I called in sick, leaving messages with Frank, the assistant dean of our college, and with Nancy, a fellow teacher.

The texts and phone calls from worried students started an hour later, and continued throughout the entire day and evening. Some apparently thought I was on death’s door, wanted to know if I was in hospital, or wanted to know if I needed to go to the hospital. Nancy called around lunch time and sounded so worried that I half expected her to come to my flat and drive me to the doctor herself.

In actuality, I was fine by mid afternoon, after a few hour’s sleep, some aspirin, some oatmeal and yoghurt, and two cups of green tea. I decided to save any more substantive eating for the next day.

Which turned out to be pretty substantial. David, the newly hired foreign teacher from the U.K., finally arrived in Jishou, which provided the occasion for a sumptuous luncheon at the school hotel with Frank and the three seniors from the Office of Foreign Affairs. The students took David and me out again later that evening for dinner at a traditional restaurant just outside the school gate.

The hotel restaurant meal is a more authentic version of what US diners in good domestic Chinese restaurants experience. In the center the table is a large lazy susan (some might have a burner or chafing dish in the middle). The various dishes and the rice are placed around the perimeter, and the dinner guests grab what they want using their chopsticks, spoon, ladle or whatever. Family meals operate the same way.

The traditional restaurant has low metal tables over charcoal pits. A wok with the main dish (or soup in our case) sits over the charcoal, and the other platters sit nearby to keep warm. We sat on low rustic wooden chairs typical of the region, and tucked into the food as we did in the restaurant.

Since last Thursday, I have had five big restaurant meals, including a Hawaiian pizza in Zhangjiajie. In addition, my daughter shipped me chocolate, coffee, Cheez-Its, Nutella and a few other goodies from France. Really crappy time to have a bad stomach, but I managed. Here’s a quick rundown of some what I have sampled: chicken, goose, duck, baked eggplant, some kind of local mushroom or tree fungus, sweet rice cakes made with grated local vegetables, pickled daikon radish, pickled spicy cucumbers, deep fried bee larvae, shrimp, beef, pork, tofu, and fish-head soup.

If I can learn the recipe for the last item, I swear I can start a chain of restaurants in the US just based around that one recipe. It was that good. I might have to remove the fish heads before serving it, though. Americans don’t seem to like their food looking back at them.

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5 thoughts on “Of elections and other heartwarming tales

  1. Reply PK Nov 7,2008 3:23 pm

    The Obama victory is absolutely staggering the more I think about it. What a great stride forward. I too remember those same times in the 60s, especially that turbulent year of 1968. And I was struck today, somehow, with the happy thought of William Shockley spinning in his grave. It’s a new dawn for this country, and, speaking from a city that voted well over 80% Democratic, I couldn’t be more excited.

  2. Reply Darcy Nov 10,2008 9:03 am

    Have you been able to enjoy your edible goodies yet? What do you think of them? I’m jealous of your tofu experiences. I find your deep-fried bee larvae quite odd, but interesting. I could go for fish soup, but sure as hell take those heads out. I’ll be lucky to stomach it just knowing it’s fish head broth haha

    Everyone here in France is super excited about Obama winning the presidency. It’s on the radio all the friggin time, which is good.

    Also, I just told Kasurly the addy of your blog. Hope you don’t mind 😀

  3. Reply wheatdogg Nov 10,2008 9:52 am

    I hope ol’ Bill is rotating at 78 rpm, PK. I wonder how he would wave away Obama’s Ivy league education.

    The Chinese are also excited about the win. Obama’s ethnicity and life in Indonesia make him the most international of our presidents, so I suspect the French, the Chinese and everyone else see him as a man of the world, and not just an American.

    Bee larvae have virtually no taste. All I could taste was the crunchy batter on the outside. I am slowly working my way through the Nutella and the chocolate, and limiting myself to one good cup of coffee a day. The French cheese crackers were good, but the Cheez-Its are so busted up I have to eat them with a spoon!

    Pas de probleme with Kasurly. She may enjoy reading my babbling here.

  4. Reply D. P. Robin Nov 13,2008 9:37 am

    One small quibble: John Roberts is the Chief Justice now. Otherwise, I am right with you, as I remember the same things. I remember being in Atlanta a few years ago and my shock at seeing a sign for “Lester Maddox Drive”. All the old time racist politicians are spinning in their graves.

  5. Reply wheatdogg Nov 13,2008 11:22 am

    My bad. I forgot about the new guy being made Chief Justice. I’ll correct the post.

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