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The Man Who Thinks I'm Beautiful

It's been a charming set of days here at our hotel. We spent a pleasant Thanksgiving walking through the Financial District and into Chinatown, through surreal, quiet streets devoid of locals, tourists, cars and taxis. I pass by Chinatown a lot these days on the way to lunch, but have never quite developed the mettle to step through the arch. Too many tourists and touts, really. It also bothers my deep seated neurosis about a considerable lack of Cantonese-ness in my being, linguistically and otherwise. I often feel like I might step on someone's toes by being not Chinese enough. Chinatown, on a quiet day where most of the truly touristy shops are closed, and the diehard shops for locals are open, with a trusty guide in the form of Seth, is a rather different boost to my self-esteem. With Seth, and following Seth through the still-unfamiliar territory, I am allowed to turn into the dork of dorkvania sort of flapping my arms about while incoherently babbling about the menus on HK-style cafes (all the big dim sum places were closed). We walked a lot, since Seth wanted to locate his old apartment there and a sad little noodle shop he remembered. I must have stood in front of, and incoherently babbled at, about ten different little restaurants, raving about three-egg steamed egg custard, combination egg spinach, baked gratin rice and crab sauce greens, all the while looking out for that staple of a nice day out -- preserved egg porridge. I sniffed longingly at BBQ duck noodle stores, stared at tiny hole in the wall lunch bars serving lesser dim sum, but featuring tall piles of leaf-wrapped stick rice dumplings. Most of these were alarmingly loud and full of people, with menus all in Chinese (which I can't read) pasted on the walls. I did not have the thickness of skin required to walk in.

We think we found Seth's old apartment. The sad noodle shop was gone, and the spouse identified about three different shops that might have been it. This took us through the local supermarket hub, where generations of women jostled and elbowed each other over boxes to pick out the best bunches of grapes, bok choy and fish. It was a nostalgic trip for me. This Chinatown may as well have been the Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur at that point, or any number of other market districts I remember. The whole sight made me wonder how I ever survived shopping as a kid. I suspect this is why as an adult, I deliberately avoid crowded markets and shop at my own leisure. When I was a child, I was often drafted on shopping bag and/or cart duty, while my mum wandered off to jostle and elbow other ladies for the best fruit and the best crab and the cheapest bread. I saw plenty of the next generation of kids in waiting, with the requisite bored husbands playing with their phones close, yet not too close, to corresponding shops.

There were Chinese medicine halls, the smell of which still tingles my nose and fills me with strange, musty comfort. I even saw two tall kettles of bitter herbal tea base for sore throats and other ailments. I don't know if Seth saw them too. He may well have decided to stay quiet and hurry me along. The last time he was made to drink herb tea, he spent the whole day washing out his mouth with coke. Big glass jars full of scallops and wooden crates of fish maw called out to me, "Stew! Stew!"

We finally whittled down our walk to three neighbouring restaurants. The basement restaurant, Kam Lok, had big tables and family-style serves, which would have been nice if we weren't booked in for a fancy Thanksgiving dinner that night. The ground floor restaurant, Washington Cafe, was clearly a HK-style cafe, with happy hour specials involving all my favourite porridges and vegetables. The top floor restaurant was a hot pot place whose photo-menu involved normal family-style dishes of veggies coated in seafood sauces and three-egg steamed egg custard, instead of hot pot. We chose Washington Cafe, my glee levels rising the entire time. It was minimalist in every decorative way, the waiters were all frazzled and loud, happy families were eating all around us. The menu was gigantic with specials, claypot rices, baked rice, rice sets, noodle sets, sets mixed up with other sets and family-style servings -- I'm pretty sure it had something in the range of 200+ items. It had iced Horlicks. I squealed like a little girl. It had fish and preserved egg porridge. When that came, the bowl was big for one and just enough for two. The spouse doesn't eat porridge unless he is sick in bed. Nevermind, I was determined to finish ALL PORRIDGE. He had pretty good Cantonese fried rice. My porridge was amazing. The porridge was plain, but the fish was well-seasoned and smooth, and there was a whole fillet chopped up in there plus maybe two century eggs in large chunks. I ate porridge till I was blue and I think I will still have cravings for that porridge. I am craving that porridge right now. The only thing they didn't have was crullers. Maybe I can lure the spouse back to Chinatown this morning for crullers and custard tarts, but this is unlikely. I shall just have to brave Chinatown from now on. Just checked. Yeah, he wants American or Italian or seafood for lunch.

After lunch, we wobbled unsteadily back to the hotel, which is quite amazing. I've put in my vote to make this a new yearly tradition. The king sized bed is smooth and non-lumpy, like a ginormous mochi. The pillows, of which there is a veritable hillock, are plump, sturdy yet soft. There is some luxurious threadcount going on. I had trouble saying goodbye to it this morning. The bathroom, easily the size of our bedroom at home, has the best tub and best shower ever. It beats my traditional clawfoot tub. The wee non-slip beads lining the bottom offered traction while being unobtrusive. The stainless steel bath faucets were seamless and away from tangling into feet. The water heated up almost instantly. Oh, and the shower is godly. Most showers, rain or otherwise, are frankly just showers. This shower, you walk in, and you're like, "It's just a shower." Then the water comes on, and all your sore back muscles are very massaged, and by the time you come out, you're all, "Wow, um, that was not just a shower." Also, we are on the 45th floor, and our room is entirely walled with glass except for important structural bits, so we have gorgeous fog over both bridges in the morning, and Oakland looks pretty at night with a low carpet of lights undulating over very gentle, flat hills, with jagged city lights covering the ground all around us from downtown. Seth got us flower service when we came in. The flowers aer all the colours of fall, with deep purples, softly scented pink roses and bright yellow sunflowers.

Thanksgiving dinner was fulfilling and delicious, but the best part of all was the gin and tonic, which is a specialty of the S&P Brasserie on the ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental. They offer a fine selection of house-made tonics. I had a ginseng and gingko infusion with a bit of lemon, angostura bitters and a ... generous dash of Old Raj. It was the best drink I've ever had in San Francisco. Richly flavourful, they captured the slight bittersweetness of the ginseng and gingko, balanced well with citrus. Seth, going through the apparently quite excellent Californian wine pairing and a Hakushu whiskey, eventually walking back upstairs with me and a fragrantly orange-infused tonic mixed in with this weirdly and fantastically meady honey-based gin.

We said our difficult goodbyes to awesome bed, bath and shower. Now, I must frantically stuff things into other things, in that we may return to our fluffy cats. My husband is swank, whether in jeans or in a suit. We are in love, and we remembered why we love this city. The holiday was very good.


Nov. 24th, 2012 07:36 am (UTC)
Such a lovely post!
Nov. 25th, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
Thank you!

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