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.