Friday, July 14, 2006

Tea II

Since declaring my love for Chez Pauline, I hardly needed any excuse to visit her again today. I met with a fellow settler there; Zoe, who also transplanted herself from Hong Kong. It would have been a proper "Yum Cha" if it wasn't for the lack of "Dim Sum" on the table.

I chose a Ceylon black tea blended with French lavender at this Maison de Thé. How could I resist the alluring promise of "Su aroma es una invitación a un paseo bajo el sol de Provence" (Her aroma is an invitation to a stroll under the Provençal sun). The scent of lavender was subtle and the black tea was strong. So strong, I had to resort to the Chinese tea house practise of asking for more hot water.

My friend Zoe ordered a mini Gâteau Basque. I have read a recipe for this pie in my new Basquaise cookbook, a gift from another friend Renee, and after seeing it in life form, I am determined to make it. With our Cha and western Dim Sum laid out, we proceeded to the important task of shooting breeze.

Since spreading the gospel of Diana, my mighty masseuse, to like minded friends, Zoe has become the latest disciple. Our discussion soon broadened to the Chinese language, the culture and how it impacts the national psyche. These are just bigger picture issues, while we were living the gerbil-caught-in-a-treadmill lifestyle of Hong Kong, had not the time to contemplate.

For example, in occidental terms, a strong person is generally taken to mean someone with physical strength or a strong personality. A strong personality is certainly not a virtue in the East. On the other hand, the same words, a strong person, in Chinese may denote an admirable person with inner strength, stoic when faced with life's challenges. And stoicism may not necessarily be an attractive trait in the West.

My PoPo (maternal grandmother), like a lot of people in Hong Kong, is the word "strength" personified. This lady moved from Wei Hai Wei, a tranquil sea port in Northern China, to escape Chairman Mao and his plebeian mob. She arrived at the then British Hong Kong, the southern tip of modern day China, in her twenties, without a word of the local dialect. She then managed to raise an impressive family of four children and just when she was looking forward to a peaceful life after her husband's retirement, she had to up stake and move again.

She arrived in Sydney in her sixties just as Mrs.Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, was writing almost the last and definitely the most shameful and cowardly page in British colonial history. Again, she had not a word of the local tongue and this time, little understanding of a culture which was completely alien to her.

More than twenty years on, she is living happily, but alone, in Sydney. My Gong Gong (maternal grandfather) had passed away nine years ago and her children, despite frequent visits, are scattered in Hong Kong, Singapore, United States and Sydney. However, PoPo who has mastered only a few words of English, is close to her English speaking neighbours and leads a busy social life at the grand and glorious age of 86.

Like her, the people of Hong Kong have this “just get on with it” attitude when faced with difficulties and disasters, man-made (1997 British Handover and the 1st Chief Executive, Tung Chee Wah) or natural (bird flu and SARS).

Facing the betrayal of their coloniser, they didn't burn any flag, graffiti any monument, loot any shop, they just quietly orchestrated a massive brain drain to the US, Canada and Australia; popular destinations for the fortune they have made in Hong Kong, their wives and kids. Those who stayed continued to motor this prominent financial centre of the World.

When I remind myself the strength of this people who are all architects in building the "Manhattan of the East", "Pearl of the Orient", I have found myself a role model for adapting to life in Buenos Aires. However, I am also all the more painfully aware that Argentina is probably going to stay forever a developing country because of the human factor. It was a vibrant emerging economy in the 19thC, a hot emerging market investment story in the 1990s and an unattractive emerging market risk in the 21stC. I fear it will still be trying to "emerge" if or when I get to my PoPo's age!

All this talk of Cha and Hong Kong is making me home sick for good Dim Sum, and spring rolls being the most famous of all Dim Sum in the West. They are a cinch to make but because we all live in the health conscious age, unless you are Argentine, my version is baked.

1 packet of spring roll wrappers
1 cup of bean spouts
1 cup of shredded carrots
1/2 cup of dried shitake mushrooms, soaked and shredded
1 cup of green bean vermicelli
1 clove of garlic, minced
a pinch of grated ginger
100g minced pork/ chicken (optional)
2 tsp light soy
salt, to taste

Soak the dried mushrooms 1 hour before you want to start cooking. When soften and plumped up, cut them into thin shreds. Do the same for vermicelli. Shred carrots and bean sprouts.

Heat oil in the pan and add ginger and garlic, turn the heat down if necessary to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Fry the pork mince, if using, until it is just done, set aside.

In a separate pan fry carrots and mushrooms for a few minutes until the carrots have soften, add bean sprout and soy sauce. Blanche the bean sprouts with boiling water. Mix in everything together and let it cool completely.

Take a spring roll wrapper and place on a board with a corner facing you. Brush edges with corn starch mixture. Place about one and a half tablespoons of mixture across bottom corner of wrapper, fold corners over filling and roll wrapper around filling.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in shallow baking dish at 200C; it takes about 3 minutes. Remove from oven and place spring rolls in dish. Roll to coat in oil. Bake at 200C for 10 minutes, or until golden, turning halfway through cooking. Drain. Serve hot.

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