Wednesday, August 16, 2006

East meets West

Another rendezvous at Chez Pauline with my resourceful friend Zoe has led me to the Instituto Universitario de Linguas Modernas (IULM) in Barrio Norte.

I had always had private one-on-one lessons with a Spanish teacher. It was great in the beginning because my progress depended entirely on how hard I worked and how fast I absorbed new information. With my basic Italian, I grasped the grammar quickly but had my own set of frustrations when I confused the two languages. At the time, the arrangement suited my needs perfectly. However, lessons became boring quickly because the conversations always revolved around my life. I had become familiar with a set of vocabulary relevant to my life and interests but felt I regressed whenever confronted with situations new or unusual.

This concern had prompted me to seek out group classes. Most of my friends go to the Laboratorio de Idiomas in the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras on Avenida 25 de Mayo, downtown. It has a great reputation and the materials are structured, plus it is not far from our apartment. However, at the back of my mind, I had always felt the place is too well known among tourist and short term expats; I had wanted something a little less advertised, maybe a bit more local.

Zoe and I read the information leaflet together and decided IULM is the right place at the right price. Three hours a day in the afternoons, Monday to Thursday, is a structure which suits my life at this particular moment. Had I come across this course even a few months ago, I would have declined due to the intensity but our plans for the future are changing rapidly so I have a sudden incentive to polish my Spanish as much as I could while I have a bit of free time.

Guillermo was excited when I told him this piece of news. He never pushes me to better my Spanish; the most he ever says is that I have a great capacity for languages and it would be a waste not to perfect this new one while we are living here.
I even showed Guillermo the leaflet since I told him the IULM is also part of Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) so the course materials and the quality of teaching should be comparable to that offered by the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. To my surprise, he didn't just give it a glance over but read the information with much interest. He found under "otros idiomas", chino.
There are three levels for Chinese; the classes are also three hours each, twice a week for sixteen weeks. He decided that he would enroll with me; so while I attend classes in Spanish, he would be trying to roll out words in Mandarin. Upon further reading, he also found out that he is entitled to an alumni discount from UBA; it sounds like a great start for him already.

Maybe we should start eating more Chinese food at home to help Guillermo understand the culture, in preparation for his upcoming course.
This is a vegetarian dish but it is different from most vegetarian dishes which are either too bland, too salty, or too cheesy. This one has fire and a real kick to it thanks to the chilli and Sichuan pepper.

Spicy Eggplants:
¼ cup fermented dried black beans, rinsed
¼ cup light soy sauce
¼ cup Shaoxing rice wine
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 fresh long red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper, dry-roasted and crushed
8 small Japanese eggplant (about 500g), halved lengthways and flesh scored in a crisscross pattern
Chopped spring onions
Chopped coriander
Roasted sesame seeds and sesame oil, to serve

Place black beans, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, chilli, sugar, ginger and Sichuan pepper in a bowl, add eggplant, mix to combine well, then stand for 15 minutes. Transfer eggplant to an oven tray and cook under a hot grill, basting frequently with marinade and turning halfway during cooking, for 5 minutes or until tender and brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature, scattered with green onions, coriander and sesame seeds, and drizzled with sesame oil and any remaining marinade.

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