Jake Kramer '13
Despite some students rushing to the lobby and missing breakfast to make our check-out time after a late night on the streets of Xi’an, we still departed from the New World Hotel promptly at 9:00. On the bus, Professor Brown silenced us to teach us a new Chinese song consisting of just one line said repeatedly: “Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le.” He then began to sing the words to the easily recognizable tune of “Happy Birthday,” and Derek quickly showed his appreciation by thanking everyone as we all sang to him, celebrating his 20th birthday.
After about a 45 minute bus ride, we arrived at Xi’an Cooking School, where the tuition is 10,000 RMB per year, or about $1,500…only slightly cheaper than Colby. We first went to a kitchen where two of the master chefs, each of whom had performed on a Chinese version of “The Iron Chef,” were waiting for us. One of them demonstrated a cooking “magic” trick converting a long, thick stick of dough into about 30,000 thin silk-like strands of dough used to make a food similar to cotton candy. The other master chef showed off his skills with a cleaver by slicing a vegetable on top of a balloon without popping it, then blindfolding himself and slicing a cucumber so that it could coil and uncoil like a slinky. We were then brought to a room with a collection of cooking implements and utensils from different Chinese dynasties and another room full of the awards that students and the school have received.
We returned to the kitchen and the chefs showed us how to cook a “Kung Pao Chicken” (which Professor Brown translated as “Defend the Castle Chicken Cubes”). As the dish neared completion, a delectable scent began to fill the room, and our mouths began to water when we were given chopsticks to taste the chicken. Students pushed and shoved, especially those who missed breakfast, to get to the plate of steaming chicken while Professor Brown cunningly snuck behind the table for easy access. Our next lesson in Chinese cooking transformed Professor Brown into an eager schoolboy with a wide smile on his face. He claimed that the dish is “one of China’s greatest inventions. It’s like sugar coated french fries.” He was right. Despite the mouth-burning heat of the sticky potatoes, we couldn’t stop eating them.
Next, it was our turn to cook. Brad, who claims that he is a “cooking nerd” jumped at the opportunity and joined the birthday boy and Erik in the first round of students to cook. Many other students followed and with the help of the master chefs, we cooked our own dish of the sugar coated french fries. Although the chefs rejected Petya’s first plate of potatoes and Rick sent a projectile chunk of potato flying into the burner, all of the food turned out to be delicious.
In the afternoon, we visited a school in Hu County where 240 students, grades 1-9, attend. We first learned about the school by talking with the principal. Interestingly, the students are graded on their morals, civil responsibility, learning ability, cooperation and communication, and health as well as their academics. Then, in groups of two or three, we taught a class of about 25 students for 40 minutes. We showed the students pictures of our families and homes, and taught an English lesson, discovering how difficult it is to teach in a foreign language, as one of the groups even had a student fall asleep.
We were given tours of the two local houses and learned about their families’ lifestyles. One family’s mother was gone for a year, working as a laundress in Japan to earn more money. The unheated, scarcely decorated, and barely furnished homes were an interesting contrast to the elaborate houses that we saw in Shanghai.
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant with a new style of dining called a hot-pot. In the center of a table for four people, there is a giant pot of boiling water separated into two sections—a spicy soup section and a bland soup section. As the water boils, the four people at the table add different courses of the meal to the pot. Our ingredients included cow stomach, duck stomach, fish, several kinds of tofu, lamb, noodles, and veggies. After the added ingredients sufficiently cook, chopsticks are used to “fish” through the pot for the food.
After safely making our way through the chaotic crowds at the train station and boarding our train, it was not long before the lights were out in each of our rooms, as we were exhausted after another tiring, eventful day.