Monday, February 26, 2007

Dimsum and firecrackers

Yesterday, Paris had its official Chinese New Year's Day parade in Chinatown, the thirteenth arrondissement. It was a good excuse to head over early to have some dimsum, which was a first for John in Paris. He loved it. Maylin loved it, too. We went to La Chine Massena (18, Ave. de Choisy), which is on the main floor of the big commercial center in the area which also houses the supermarket, Geant. We waited about twenty minutes, but I think it is possible to make a reservation ahead of time. It's a huge restaurant so they'll fit you in somewhere eventually. The service is good, if you can wave them down. And we were in a prime spot for waving, right on the aisle across from the noodle soup kitchen (separate from the regular kitchen). We were also next to the service station, so when we realized there were no forks for Maylin on our table (only chopsticks), John was able to grab one for her without needing to disturb anyone.

La Chine Massena does have the steaming hot rolling carts of dimsum going from table to table as we are familiar with in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, it was usually the same few dishes over and over again for about half an hour (shau-mai, pork ribs, chicken feet, and some other dumplings), but I did eventually see the deep-fried stuffed taro root, turnip cakes, and pan-fried chive dumplings (delicious!). If you want to order regular items (and other dimsum dishes) off the menu, you need to flag down the only person allowed to take orders -- an older gentleman in a dark suit (the other employees wear red vests). He has a handheld electronic device with a stylus that automatically sends your order to your kitchen, so estimated food arrival time is pretty good.

There was one employee who looked really out of place. He was the only non-Asian (very Caucasian) with receding grayish-white hair and what looked like gray sweats. When I first saw him, I thought, what is he doing going through the dishes on the cart? But then we saw him many times later, carrying tall towers of hot dimsum steamers in his barehands to each cart. We realized that he was the muscle behind the restaurant.

Towards the end of our meal, an older French couple was seated next to us. I felt sorry for them because they took forever to decide what they wanted, and then when they were ready, the "suit" wasn't around to take their order. The food did come quickly after they ordered, but what they were eating was completely unrecognizable to me. It could have been lightly deep-fried dumplings. I thought they only did this kind of cruelty to dumplings in the States. If they had asked me or even given me some friendly eye contact, I would have gladly advised them on what to order.

We finished our meal just in time for the parade on Avenue de Choisy. I was relieved it wasn't windy and rainy as it was before we got to the restaurant. For about half an hour, the parade's colorfully-dressed partipants stayed in place, fan dancing, dragon dancing, drumming. Some groups were better prepared than others. I believe San Francisco's version is on a more professional level and much grander in scale. But, it didn't really matter too much to us. It was a lot of fun. Maylin's first viewing of dancing dragons and dogs was precious. We all liked the furry dogs the best.

I had absentmindedly left my camera pack at home (with lenses freshly cleaned and everything), but I think it was just as well. I'm too short and it was too crowded (but not even half as crowded as SF). I'd have to climb on top of someone's car to get a good view. I was having a good time looking at other people's cameras and lenses anyway. Canon DSLRs were in the majority, as were Canon telephoto lenses. I only saw one film camera. Oh, there were many more point-and-shoots of course, but I wasn't looking at those. I only saw one female DSLR owner, so that was disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Woman photographers -- let's get out there! (And not leave our cameras at home!)

I wonder if I'll ever know why they decided to have the parade the weekend AFTER Chinese New Year's??

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rambling at 4:20 am

I think I've been up for about three hours. Sheesh. I actually got some research done. Had to get an address for a restaurant I'm going to today. Then, did some price comparisons on travel to Italy. We've been in Europe for three years and still haven't been to the number one destination on my list! The overnight trains to Florence sound great. Although I haven't looked at the cheapo airlines yet. Still don't know exactly when we'll be going. Probably in the spring.

My life has been rather humdrum since I've been quite fatigued (energy back today!). Reading, doctor's appointments, groceries, napping...haven't done anything really fun lately besides making paper toys for Maylin. I've got to take some photos of my paper 3-walled apartment, paper dolls, paper animals, champagne cork buddies, and origami jumping frogs.

Some things I want to blog about in the future:
- restaurant review: Bath's
- restaurant review: Chartier (in Levallois)
- tough love with Maylin last night

I was inspired by Sue Monk Kidd's book, The Secret Life of Bees. Loved it. Her first chapter was originally a short story which won a contest and got published in Nimrod. I thought, what better way to get into creative writing again? Write a short story and enter it into a contest. What have I got to lose? SHORT story means I won't get overwhelmed, and CONTEST means I have a deadline to keep me on task. Hope I can follow through on this one. I never got around to doing that opera competition last year, but some things were out of my control then.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sick as a dog

Whoah, I've been really sick about three times in five weeks! You can guess that I haven't been going to the gym (cause or effect?). There are a lot of bugs going around. Friday I was really bad. Fortunately, no fever, but it was either food poisoning, or "gastro," which is a common Parisian illness. Just imagine your body trying to expel all the nasty stuff out of the quickest evacuation routes. That was me for a whole morning. The rest of the day, evening, and following day required me to stay in bed, take many, many short naps, and begin to hold down some food (the nausea has finally ended this morning). I am so relieved it has past. I wouldn't wish this sickness on my worst enemy.

So if you've been expecting e-mail or mail from me, please forgive me but I haven't had a whole lot of healthy days lately. I hope to get caught up soon. Bonne sante a vous! (Good health to you!)

"Grandma's bread"

I marvel at the remarkable memories of little children. Last night, Maylin asked for a slice of white bread, which is rarely seen in our household as I normally only keep sliced whole wheat bread in the house (John came back with white bread when I sent him out, but probably because the corner store ran out of the wheat version as they often do at the end of the week). Maylin was so excited to receive her slice and pronounced it, "Grandma's bread!" Wow. It was about a year ago when Maylin and I went to California to visit my parents, when Maylin was first introduced to "Taiwanese toast," which is perfectly square sliced white bread, slighty sweet and buttery, and much better textured than regular spongy American white bread. Her first jetlagged evening involved her getting up out of bed several times in the middle of the night to serve herself Taiwanese toast. She also ate it throughout the day. I guess it was one of her favorite foods of the trip. No wonder she hasn't forgotten.

An absolutely silent 30 minutes

It's rare for me to wake up and not hear anything for about half an hour (7:30-8 am). It's kind of funny because last night I asked John what he missed about Berkeley and he said it was the silence. Well, he just slept through the Parisian silence of an early Sunday morning. Here are the sounds we normally hear throughout the week:
- the RER train rumbling under the building starting around 5 am
- the birds singing with the dawn (they started five minutes ago)
- heavy furniture being scooted across the floor for ten minutes around midnight, right above our heads
- electric drills in action that sound like they're going to pierce through the wall (9, 10, or 11 pm)
- vacuum cleaner being rammed into our front door by the guardienne who is likely cleaning up Leo's fur (9 am)
- the espresso machine being cleaned in the cafe-restaurant right below us (bang-bang-bang around 6 or 7 am, Monday through Saturday)
- the same evil CD mix of not-so-great American pop classics every single morning from the cafe-restaurant downstairs
- kids running down the stairs on the way to school (8:30 am)
- people going off to work (9 am)
- little jingle-bell keychain of our upstairs neighbor (Leo used to think it was a dog)
- the buzzer to the dentist's office (across from our front door) going off throughout the day

I haven't been practicing opera lately, so the neighbors have been spared of that additional sound.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Snow in Paris!

The first (and last?) beautiful, big, luscious snowflakes of the winter fell down for a little over an hour this morning. It was magical! Maylin, John, and Leo got kissed by them during their dog walk.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

An evening out with Maylin

Maylin and I decided to have a girls' night out on Friday before Daddy was going to fly home the next day. I was craving Indian food, but I knew Maylin wouldn't be able to eat any of their spicy dishes besides some basmati rice and naan. So, we went to the chain restaurant, Leon de Bruxelles, for some mussels (Maylin was actually excited to eat them!). Leon de Bruxelles is not a place where you go for fine dining, but if you want a quick meal of moules-frites (mussels and fries) in a kid-friendly atmosphere, Leon's is the place to go. Maylin sat down immediately to a sheet of puzzles and mazes, and some little colored pencils.

Maylin was not swayed by the other choices on the menu (hamburger, fish nuggets), so we both got mussels (mine was Spanish-style, "a la plancha," with some prawns and calamari). I've eaten seafood "a la plancha" in Barcelona, and this wasn't even close, but the tomatoes and garlic they cooked it in were good. Too bad it was too salty towards the end. I warned Maylin not to finish all her fruit juice, which came included with her meal, but she did and was too full to eat many of her mussels, which were simply prepared but very good.

Her ice cream was included with her meal, too, which had a toy figure from Pixar's "Chicken Little" movie ingeniously stored in a separate compartment from the rest of her ice cream in a cup. Maylin was very happy with this toy, and another surprise from the restaurant -- a denim purse with some cute buttons and the restaurant logo. She was overjoyed with the bag and stuffed all her other goodies inside.

I paid with our "tickets restaurant," our subsidized meal tickets from John's company, so I only had to pay forty cents out of my own pocket and leave a one euro tip (the norm is fifty cents per person since tip is often included in the price of your meal). I felt bad wasting so much food -- I couldn't finish a third of my mussels, and Maylin left most of hers behind. And you really don't want to be doggy-bagging seafood. (People often say that you can't get a doggy bag in France, but I beg to differ. In Asian restaurants, no problem. Just don't ask for one in a classy place.)

Maylin was very content the entire meal and that's all that really mattered to me. We both had a relaxing time. The fun even continued on the way home. Maylin insisted that we sing a small motif from the French musical, Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Ladies of Rochefort), with Catherine Deneuve. Over and over again. Until we got home. I had a blast doing it with Maylin, hand in hand. We probably sang that same bit about fifty times. She quite likes to sing now -- so different from those days when she'd beg me to stop singing. I'm so happy she's finally showing some interest in music.

Friday, February 02, 2007

What's happenin'

I've been a bit under the weather lately, but I'm feeling pretty good right at this moment, so I'm going to tell you as much as I can -- because I don't know when I'll be posting next...

- We've survived another week without John, who has been on a business trip to India. Actually, Maylin's at a great age -- she's quite manageable. Leo's been pretty good, too. Although maybe I've been spoiling him too much and now he hovers around the coffee table, where our snacks and dinners usually are residing. He's been smart to hover around Maylin, too, who likes to give him bread crusts and any other goodies she can't finish.
- Maylin was a nightmare this Friday morning, not wanting to go to school. Somehow, through all the crying and jostling, I got her clothes on, combed her hair, and she brushed her teeth. The key was that she was coming out with me to walk Leo. She couldn't stay home alone. Maylin was very upset when she found out we were walking in the direction of school, continued to cry, and continued to beg me to let her stay at home today -- she even OFFERED to stay with a babysitter so I could go out and get things done. I told her it would be too difficult to find a sitter last minute and that I wouldn't make any decision on the situation until we got to the door of the school, hoping that once she saw her other classmates, she'd hop right in along with them. Unfortunately, when we arrived, she didn't see anyone she recognized and continued to bawl. The principal, or directrice, came to my rescue and gently took Maylin into her own arms while Maylin was still strongly grasping my coat. I peeled off her fingers and saw my poor girl being carried across the courtyard into the building. She was still crying, but she managed to wave at me. The directrice put her down as they went up the stairs together, and Maylin turned around and blew me her habitual air-kiss. Oh, I felt such love for my girl my eyes began moistening. Luckily, I had Leo to distract me from breaking down, and we hurried off to finish our walk.
- I had scheduled a visit to see the doctor two weeks ago, but Maylin got sick, and then I got sick. And now, I'm just procrastinating. I'm going to try to see a new doctor who was referred to me, but when I called her receptionist, I got nothing close to a warm reception. I'm hoping she'll be better than him.
- Every tenant in the building immediately got new keys to our caves (basement storage rooms, pronounced KAHV) after the building association sent out a letter complaining about the constant break-ins and requesting solutions. But I don't think the keys are going to do much good. There were two guys dressed as construction workers/painters around the staircase to the cave. I didn't think anything of it because there is often work being done around the building. Maylin was funny to say that they were stealing from the caves. I don't know where she got that idea. But later in the evening, I found out from another cave user that someone had not properly closed the entrance to the caves. Maybe those two men were thieves. When John gets back, I'll let him check out our cave. I'm too freaked out to go down there myself. It's dark, stinky, and full of rats! Fortunately, we don't keep anything of value down there, and come to think of it, we hardly own anything of value, period. Too bad for any potential robbers.
- Things I want to do real soon: take Maylin to a Parisian circus (since she didn't get to see lions and tigers at the zoo last time), go to Pierre Herme for their famous (and famously expensive) macarons, eat at L'Entredgeu (popular bistro in the neighborhood), and check out Zen Zoo, a TAIWANESE restaurant just a few metro stops away. Why haven't I heard of this place before? It's near metro Quatre Septembre, line 3, serves Taiwanese snacks and drinks, and offers my favorite meal, beef noodle soup, on Saturdays. Although, I made a pretty good beef noodle soup the other day myself. Once I perfect my recipe, I will post it in my blog.
- You know what a bad housekeeper I am, right? Well, I decided to bite the bullet when one of my friends said her housecleaner was desperately looking for more work. Hey, why not help her and myself? Initially, I was going to have her come every other week, but she talked me into having her every week, and you know what? I think we really do need her that often. With my fatigue, I have been doing next to nothing around the house. We were getting tumbleweed-sized Leo hairballs dancing across the floor.
- I'm going to write about that Japanese restaurant, Kunitoraya, again, because I've eaten there twice since my last review. I have some recommendations on ordering. The udon's still top-rate!
- Maylin drew her first butterflies yesterday. So pretty! I think her artwork is quite marketable. I definitely have to get around to photographing more of her work and posting them on flickr. You'll be impressed.

Okay, that's enough for now. Keep warm!