Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 | 2 comments

1 May 2011

After our morning of shopping at the antiques market, we had made plans to meet DouDou for lunch. She had chosen the place, which was a sushi restaurant. DouDou is very shy and unassuming, and takes a while to warm up to people. On the other hand, she knows the city very well, has impeccable taste, and a very generous spirit. She loves being a tour guide and sharing her favorite spots with her friends.

We met outside the restaurant. The place appeared to be very popular, and we had to wait quite a while for a table. When they finally called us, we were taken upstairs to a semi-private room, away from the crowds, and seated at a very wide and very long table with a black stone top.

The food was presented in a very stylish manner. This was sushi as a work of art. It was all very fresh and delicious. I was even served a glass of ice water, a rare thing in Beijing, and something I really appreciated.

DouDou had decided that I needed a Chinese name, and she had chosen one for me: 老顽童 (Lao Wan Tong), which can be roughly translated as “wise fool”, or alternatively as “venerable urchin”. Apparently I am simultaneously old and child-like.

DouDou had invited us to spend the evening with her at her apartment, which is about a half-hour drive north of the city. I volunteered to cook her a real Western dinner and bring the wine. But first we had to go shopping for some groceries. We went back to the same upscale shopping center where we had been last week, when we had gone to see DouDou’s office. I had decided to make pasta, and we managed to find a good selection of ingredients at the grocery store, including bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and a tin of Spanish piquillo peppers.

Finding transportation was our next challenge, as it was quite a long way to go and we didn’t have a car. Yuan led the way as always. At first we were going to try to take a bus, but the competition was fierce. Every bus that came by was filled to capacity, and yet more people continued to squeeze their way aboard.

Then Yuan flagged down a car that was approaching us. It didn’t look like a taxi, and it already had a couple of passengers. The car stopped, and Yuan exchanged some words with the driver. Next thing I knew we were getting into the car and driving away. We had just joined an informal carpool.

Eventually we reached our destination, a suburb of Beijing. It was an area that was actively under construction, and in front of us we could see two brand-new high-rise apartment buildings, with a third building still unfinished.

It took us a while to figure out how to actually get to the building, though, as all we could see was a giant construction zone filled with equipment and debris. There was no sidewalk, and not really any kind of path at all. Other people were making their way across the open field, so we just started following them. The terrain was quite inhospitable, with gravel, puddles and mud to navigate around, but eventually we made our way through and came out at the finished part of the complex. What a contrast! The grounds were immaculately maintained, with tall green hedges and clean, curving sidewalks. The architecture was very modern and industrial. Inside, the building had a very upscale feel to it.

We rode smoothly up in the quiet elevator and arrived at the apartment. DouDou opened the door, and when we walked in I was surprised by how warm and inviting the place was. It was decorated with an attention to detail and a sophisticated sense of design that was very impressive.

From the furnishings to the wall hangings, everything appeared to be thoughtfully and carefully chosen and placed. There seemed to be a story behind everything, and a sense of whimsy and liveliness that made the place feel welcoming and intriguing. There was a genuine expression of DouDou’s personality to be found here, and new worlds to be discovered.

We brought in our groceries, and proceeded to get set up in the rather small kitchen. The space was well equipped and designed to be very efficient for one person, with everything being within easy reach. It was a bit too crowded for more than one chef at a time, though. Yuan proceeded to put together some appetizers, including crackers with goat cheese and fig jam, and some roasted almonds. We opened a bottle of sparkling wine from Domaine Carneros, and later a bottle of Havens Merlot. I made bowtie pasta with a classic Italian sauce of garlic and olive oil, Kalamata olives, fresh basil, toasted walnuts and parmesan cheese.

As the wine kept flowing, everyone was loosening up, and we turned down the lights and lit some candles. DouDou had an interesting light fixture that was behind a panel with circular cutouts, and it cast an eerie yellow glow over the room. She also brought out three metal Buddha statues, who were cast to represent the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” trio. DouDou had never heard this maxim before, so I made an attempt to explain the origin and meaning behind it (for the rest of you, I recommend looking it up). The three Buddhas (together with a larger wooden Buddha carving) seemed to be taking on a life of their own and joining in on the festivities.

I had brought my iPod with me, and after dinner Yuan wanted me to put on some music we could dance to. I did my best to pick out some lively tracks, but it seems that my taste is not quite modern enough, leaving her somewhat disappointed. Nonetheless I got up and started dancing to the beat, with Yuan and DouDou both cheering me on. DouDou had her iPhone 4 at the ready, and took quite a few photos. She is very observant and has a good eye for creative composition, and she managed to capture some memorable moments of Yuan and me.

We stayed up very late, and the rest of the evening is a blur, but the next morning we were greeted with bright sunshine streaming through the window, and the world seemed like a very happy place.

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