Thursday, April 7, 2011

Homesickness ≠ foodsickness, but it may as well

"There are you—you drive like a demon from station to station [...] It's too late to be grateful; it's too late to be late again." — David Bowie, "Station to Station" from Station to Station, 1976†

From my dormitory window I can see a portion of the neighborhood of Wudaokou, and from my vantage point the the buildings seem to quake down from a high rim to a low center, a conical slide from the tips of the Microsoft and Cernet towers to a low point near the subway station, and this dip—this fat, low dip—like an enormous sinkhole, drains right down to an epicenter where the energy of Wudaokou trembles and erupts. You can walk to this epicenter, this lowpoint in the staggered concrete, and there you'll find (sandwiched between a restaurant and a lingerie boutique) a two-foot wide window and a long, thin kitchen where they sell hot dogs. 
The place is called Holy Fries!, either an exuberant statement about the nature of the blessed french fries or a 1960s-era-Batman-TV-show Robinesque exclamation, either of which works for the little 饭馆Holy Fries! suits the neighborhood, a university-dotted area known for its terrible pedestrian-laced traffic and its high level of diversity (due to the amount of foreign students pouring in). Holy Fries! is owned by and operated by a husband-wife/girlfriend-boyfriend duo (I haven't done my homework) of Australian or German (him, and again, I really haven't done my homework) and Chinese (her) descent. Like Wudaokou and its residents, theirs is a marriage of two hemispheres (unless he's from Australia, d'oh!), and the American or Italian style dogs and the "French" fries are enough to remind any worldly student of their greasy hometurf food. 

I went to Holy Fries! at the suggestion of a friend who once lived in Beijing, and the real reason he suggested it and another friend and I went was to quench our thirst for that rarest of sodapop gems, nearly impossible to find in China: Dr. Pepper. Hujiao Boshi, in the parlance of our region, isn't processed here (like Coke or the Chinese variety of Mt. Dew). Rather, it is imported by daring restaurateurs like the folks at Holy Fries! or the owners of Grandma's Kitchen††. It is a sweet/sharp reminder of home, and, when returning from Kunming (to Beijing, as noted in an earlier post), I strangely longed for such a taste. On that plane, that three-hour jaunt across the country, I felt my first real pang of homesickness, and the first thing it directly latched onto in my mind wasn't friends or family but food, oddly enough, and I craved a deli sandwich or a plate of nachos, and finally this craving for recognizable food led to a desire to see friends and family, to tell them stories, to hear what they have been doing, to listen to them simply speak, and finally to simply be home, to be in an open grassland where there is near-silence and solitude, to bike along a gravel road in the Midwestern countryside and be at peace, with what I don't know, but to simply be at peace. And this longing, as real as it may be, can be curbed by drinking an imported can of soda.

What I need to say though, is that in about three hours I leave for Huangshan (黄山), and though homesickness may hit me from time to distant time, there is entirely too much to see in the world to return home at the slightest tinge of desire. Until then, I'll drive like a demon.

†A twofold footnote here: 1) I will be leaving for Huangshan, Nanjing, and Qingdao very soon and won't return until April 17th, so I won't be posting anything for at least a week and a half. 2) David Bowie's Station to Station is not only the man's greatest album (IMHO) but boasts his largest and deepest-diving lyrics possibly in his career. Each song has catchy hooks and Bowie wailing, of course, but he packs some amazing punches beneath all the production. Check it out, maybe.

††Grandma's Kitchen, yes. When my friend and I first went to find Dr. Pepper, Holy Fries! was closed due to a power outage, so we ended up going to the only other place we knew of that sold the stuff: Grandma's Kitchen. Unfortunately, they sell the imported goods for 20 kuai a pop (pun unfortunately intended). The cost one must pay for perfection, though, is great, so we grabbed a few cans despite and enjoyed them for all they were worth.

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