Friday, December 6, 2013

Alberto

We just received sad news from Paulina.  Our beloved friend and teacher Alberto Dassieu passed away last night after a long illness. 

Our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies go out to Paulina and to Alberto and Paulina's family.

Alberto, we will always love you and cherish the times we had together.  May you rest in peace.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Wow...lot's of Van-Damage"

We heard that the latest Van Damme commercial has gone viral - and it's pretty awesome.

"No CGI effects at all, just Van Damme doing the most epic split between two backward moving Volvo trucks (with soothing and inspiring Enya music in the background).  Amazing!"  I was impressed.



"But Irene, that is nothing compared to this," said Man Yung:



For three minutes I couldn't even blink for fear of missing out on all that exhilarating Van-Damme Tango action!

"Thanks Man Yung! I swear, this is like the BEST three minutes ever!  You've got to love the throbbing Nuevo-Electro-Tango beat, the whipping around with total abandon, the continuous ochos, the endless posing, the errant kicking, the hair flinging, the passionate property destruction, the gale blown styrofoam bits, the head-snapping, the rose chomping - AND I DON'T THINK THERE ARE ANY KNICKERS! Reminds me a lot of how some couples still dance Tango in Toronto - especially if they had started dancing before 2003 (or was it 1993?).  When there's a few couples like that on the dance floor, we can sit on the sidelines all night just enjoying the show!"*

* "Remember that time when ______________ did a violent boleo and kicked a pillar so hard it went THONK?  That was classic!" **

** "And that time when ________________ did mule kick right into a table and all the drinks on it landed on the floor?" ***

*** "Oh, it was so funny when __________________ and _____________________ were going so fast they lost control and fell on the floor!  You'd think they wouldn't slip - he was after all wearing sneakers!" ****

**** Man Yung said, "Some minor bumps on a crowded floor, whether in Buenos Aires or in Toronto, are ok if they are truly accidental and the dancers were not deliberately doing anything dangerous or threatening.  However, dancing like Van Damme is not cool - it is unforgivable bad behavior in a milonga, no matter how much you want to impress that hot chick in the mini skirt!"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Taxi Dancer for the Taxi Dancer




Last year when we were in Buenos Aires, we kept on bumping into an strange looking couple at the milongas – a very short matronly Chinese Tanguera and her tall skinny, dour-looking Argentine Taxi Dancer.   

We saw them for the first time at Porteño y Bailarin.  Man Yung was amazed that the lady's Taxi Dancer was able to make it look like they were dancing Tango (kind of).  It was probably easier to lead a truck with square wheels in a tutu than the "Boss" of this duo.  “That’s why I like looking at Taxi Dancers on the dance floor, just to see what tricks and methods they use in leading some of their more difficult clients,” Man Yung said. 

I’m ambivalent about Taxi Dancers.  I guess it’s a way for some people to make a living.  Man Yung says that if he was a lady with money in Buenos Aires without a partner and not young and/or beautiful enough to attract the cabeceo of the tangueros at the milonga (I'm sorry, but that's sometimes the ugly reality), he’d hire a stable of Taxi Dancers and dance with them all night.  “I wouldn’t want to be in Buenos Aires and have to wait and wait all night and NOT DANCE – why shouldn’t I get me some Taxi Dancers?” he said.

Just dancing would be ok…Unfortunately, I have this horrible image in my head from one time we were at a very popular milonga in Buenos Aires. A group of women had hired young Taxi Dancers to dance with them and every time they went on the floor some of the women would try to grope their Taxi Dancer.  One lady had her mouth painted a bright greasy smear of red and was trying to “accidentally” kiss her Taxi Dancer’s face as they danced.  He had his head leaned back at an awkward angle trying to being devoured by that maw but it seemed like at any second he was going to lose the battle.   Yuck.

Back to our odd duo – the night following Porteño y Bailarin, they were at Salon Canning the night we did our performance.  Again, she danced with nobody but her Taxi Dancer all night - and her dancing still looked painful.  

We saw them getting up and leaving (hee!) seconds into our first number. I think she was disappointed that we didn't try harder to entertain her.  Maybe she would have stayed if we were being shot out of a cannon with dynamite strapped to our bodies over an angry flame and lava spewing volcano while wearing revealing Tango costumes and gasp - no knickers?  Oh well, can't please everyone...

So it was very weird to have the “Boss” come up to us the very next day at another milonga to say, “Wow, you guys did a very nice performance last night!”

Huh? We thought you left before you even saw us dance.  

We answered politely,  “Uh…thanks!”

“Who are you?  Where are you from?  Who’s that you were sitting with last night?”  she asked.  Before we could answer she interrupted us and told us all about herself, who she was, where she was born, where she lived now, what she did back home, how long she had been in Buenos Aires, where she was staying, when she would be leaving, where she had gone since she arrived, what was her favourite colour, what chums we have become now AND (turning abruptly to me, she said) - 

"My friend F___________ (she said, indicating her Taxi Dancer) told me he would really love an opportunity to dance with you!  Would you mind dancing with him?"

I looked at her Taxi Dancer and he looked blankly back.  Nope, I don't think he was dying to have a dance with me, not really!  WHAT I THINK IS: I think YOU want a dance with Man Yung now you know he has performed at Salon Canning and you are just using your Taxi Dancer as a swop since Man Yung wasn't likely to ask you out of his own volition!

It was a surprise ambush.  I felt bad saying no, and couldn't think quickly enough of a way to get out of it.  So off she went to dance with Man Yung - and I was stuck being a Taxi Dancer to the Taxi Dancer.  Neither of us wanted to dance with each other but we had been shamelessly manipulated so that she could get what she wanted.  He had horrible cigarette breath and reeked of smoke (so he couldn't smell his partners through the smoke, perhaps?) and he danced like his only teacher was the Zotto and Godoy "Asi Se Baila el Tango" instruction video, lucky me.  No musicality, no embrace, very little lead - ALL choreography.  In between the music, we stood completely silent.  In the corner of my eye, I noticed that Man Yung dancing with the lady was, as the ancient Chinese saying goes: "Like dragging a cow up a tree". 

After this, one of the longest twelve minutes of my life, I fled to the washroom.  Fortunately, I had a bottle of liquid soap and plenty of tissues, because I really had to rinse off that disgusting cigarette smell out of my skin and hair.  The good thing is that every time something like this happens, my resolve just gets stronger.  If I haven't accepted your cabeceo, I'm not going to dance with you!  

When I came out of the washroom, the Taxi Dancer in the corridor.  His Boss let him have a little break.  He was chain smoking more cigarettes.  We didn't even acknowledge each other as I passed by back into the milonga.  At least I won't have to dance with him (or anyone else I don't want to dance with) ever again - but what about him?  He will have to dance with anyone who pays him to dance.  That's how it is with Taxi Dancing.  What a way to make a living.

* You will have to basically hold my entire extended family and all my cats hostage in order to get me to Taxi Dance ever again HOWEVER, to find out Man Yung's rates for Taxi Dancing services, please click here.







Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How to grow five inches AND lose fifteen pounds and two dress sizes in ten minutes



A pinch of salt

I was shopping at our favourite lady’s clothing retailer a few days ago with Man Yung.  The store is known for its whimsical clothing, and sometimes I can find some really great “Statement” skirts and tops for work and for Tango that are out of the ordinary.  Sometimes, however: the cute blue shift dress with the repeating kitty-cat pattern or the frilly lace pencil skirt with a peplum the colour of Pepto-Bismol only looks good on the rack - because when I put them on, I look like I just escaped the insane asylum.

I was trying on a teal draped jersey dress when the Most Amazing Sales Associate in the World started her shift. 

“That’s a nice dress you’re trying on.  What do you think?” she asked me as I scrutinized the fit in the mirror.

I frowned. “My husband thinks that it makes me look like I’m a little pregnant,” I said.

The Most Amazing Sales Associate in the World looked at me in shock and horror.  “How can that be possible, you are TOO PETITE to have any tummy issues.”  She then spotted Man Yung who still had an expression of disapproval about the dress, so she added diplomatically, “Of course, your husband is entitled to have his own opinion, and maybe someone who is bigger may show some tummy with this dress with the way that it is designed……… but really, you are so TINY and PETITE this isn’t a problem for you at all.  What size are you?

“Errrr… usually size four or six…”

“You are too small to be size four or six, you are only a SIZE TWO – this is why this size small for this dress looks perfect on you. By the way, how tall are you?”

“Between five two, five three…”

“NO WAY, you are at least five five!”

OK, you can fudge dress sizes - but a growth spurt in middle age?  I looked at her skeptically.

She nodded vigorously.  “You should get remeasured, you must have GROWN since the last time you checked. I can see that we are the same height and I’m five five – I am very particular about heights and I know my height.  I can tell you are totally five five AND with a nice pair of heels on you would look FIVE EIGHT and absolutely thin, tall and marvelous in that dress!”

Since I have “SUCKER” tattooed all over my forehead (and of course, don’t forget that now I am a VERY PETITE SIZE TWO FIVE EIGHT IN HEELS!!!! YEAH!) I absolutely had to have that dress (on sale!)

As I happily handed over my credit card, I remarked, “Wow, suddenly I feel pretty good about myself today!”

The Most Amazing Sales Associate in the World grinned from ear to ear.  “My pleasure!  You guys have a wonderful evening now!”*

* Not ready really to advance to the next level of Tango classes?  Or to take the stage and perform a nifty Tango choreography?  Or even become an Assistant Tango instructor?  All you need is a little pep-talk from a Tango instructor who is just as "talented" as our Sales Associate.  Everyone can be  VERY PETITE SIZE TWO FIVE EIGHT IN HEELS (even if you aren't) in Tango, you just need a good dose of shameless flattery! **

** For example:

"Wonderful!"

"Fantastic!"

"You are so elegant!"

"You must honestly be one of the students with the most potential in Tango that I have ever had the pleasure to teach!"


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Knickers


Yikes!

Our maestra Coca doesn't like to be too risqué... but she can't resist pretty feminine dresses.  So whenever she wears any skirt or dress with floating, transparent gossamer layers of tulle, she asks us in a loud whisper:

"Is it too see-thru?  Is it too see-thru?"

And we reply:

"Yes, we can see everything!  Whooo-hoooo, how very sexy!"

And Coca will give us the evil eye.

Paulina once told us a story about a horrible milonga she went to. "Everyone was doing high kicks on the dance floor and didn't care a jot that people were around them.  Alberto got kicked in the back and the perpetrator didn't even apologize!"

She paused dramatically and then described the most horrible thing of all.  "One couple was dancing dangerous stage tango movements right in the middle of the crowded floor and all of a sudden, he flipped her upside down and her skirt flopped over her head - AND THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT TO THE IMAGINATION!!!!"
 
I think the last thing most milongueras would want is to have her bombacha showing.  It's just not classy.  When we are in the company of our milonguera friends in a Buenos Aires milonga watching a performance by the next up-and-coming tango couple and some gratuitous underwear exposure comes up - they always turn to us secretively and give us a solemn "look" of disapproval.

We share their distress.  But not for the reasons you think!

"Like many gentlemen, I like looking at nice lady's underwear now and then - but no, not your granny panties, Irene!" said Man Yung.  "However, in traditional Chinese culture, lady's knickers have a devastating mysterious power that should not be underestimated or misused."

"What do you mean, Man Yung?"

"I'll give you an example.  Irene, you have seen many Chinese sword and sorcery movies.  You always get this scene the dueling Chinese wizards are so evenly matched, they are stuck in a stalemate and neither can win.  Of course, the good wizard's assistant saves the day by throwing a pair of (used) lady's knickers at the bad wizard which makes his magic backfire and implode.  The side of good wins the day, thanks to knickers!"

"I remember now - you are absolutely right!"

"Knickers have also been used throughout Chinese history to counter bewitchment and ward off evil spirits."

"If what you are saying is true, then any tango performance that results in a lot of panty-flashing is very beneficial for the audience.  We should try to go and see as many such performances as possible for our health, wealth and good fortune!"

How lucky we are to get to see everything

"Not so fast, Irene.  Seeing the underwear is not lucky - it is in fact very UNLUCKY.  If you are a gambler having a lucky streak at the casino, any hint of the sight of knickers will make you lose IMMEDIATELY.  Any person who wants to play mahjong, go to a card game, or even buy a lottery ticket after watching your standard furious foot flapping, jumping, spinning, flipping, kicking AND knicker flaunting tango show is doomed to LOSE."*

* I think the theory behind this ancient Chinese wisdom is that attracting luck for gambling purposes is a type of enchantment which would be instantly broken at the sight of the knickers.  This is why Irene is always considerate at the milonga.   Whenever she is wearing anything that is somewhat short, or somewhat transparent, you can be sure that she will be wearing some sturdy bike shorts underneath.  Don't worry, Paulina - no one can see anything, even if you turn Irene upside down!  Of course, you can do like the Nuevo Tangoistas and just wear a pair of pants under your skirt - but maybe, just maybe, this is overkill.**

** Ladies, if you have to flash someone in Tango, is there a way to do it that is not so bad?  For example, is black underwear somehow better than wearing white underwear or vice versa?  Are knickers that are the same colour as your dress less offensive?  Or does wearing knickers matching your skin colour "magically" make the whole knicker exposure issue disappear because you aren't supposed to see it anymore? ***

*** Unfortunately, "Nude" knickers are not really visible or invisible ... don't know what to say except when we saw this recently, our Milonguera friend sitting next to us covered her eyes and screamed, "I've gone blind!  I've gone blind!"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Alberto Dassieu and Paulina Spinoso - Performances at Nuevo Chique, October 2011

It was Alberto's birthday on Sunday and we called him to wish him a happy birthday.  We think of Alberto and Paulina often, and we talk about the times we have spent together, and the advice they have given us about Tango and about life.

We would like to share with you the videos we took of Alberto and Paulina's performances of Tango, Vals and Milonga at Nuevo Chique in 2011 - even though someone else has put their video of the event on Youtube as well, it's nice to see their performance again:







Osvaldo and Coca came too and we had a wonderful time.  This photo brings back happy memories of that night:


We miss our friends in Buenos Aires very very much and wish them all the best.

Monday, October 7, 2013

We gave up Tango for Nuit Blanche

 Toronto is beautiful - City Hall all lit up for Nuit Blanche

....well, only for one night.  Man Yung was not happy though, he'd rather dance.  "I don't have any expectations about the 'art' on display, and it would be too crowded to see anything!"  he said.

"This year, we have to go - I insist!  Every year we Tango instead of going to Nuit Blanche - it's the eighth year, surely we can give up Tango for one Saturday night ONCE!  And I'm not saying we are going to 'savor' art because I don't have very high expectations either - I just want to experience what the atmosphere of Nuit Blanche in Toronto is like."

So off we headed to Nuit Blanche.  We went during peak hours, so we got to experience what it was like 1) being stuck in a traffic jam going to the city centre and 2) driving around for forty-five minutes looking for a parking space, finally parking like, twenty blocks from the event, and 3) walking slowly with great effort and difficulty towards Nathan Phillips Square against a crowd of people streaming the opposite direction ("See, told you there was nothing to look at - all the people are already going home!" said Man Yung).

"Haven't seen so many people out so late at night for a long time!" I said.

In Hong Kong, apparently, this is a nightly occurrence because it's more densely populated and there's more night life.  "Reminds me of the Hong Kong night markets like on Temple Street, Lady Street and the now long defunct Dai Dat Dei." said Man Yung. "Here in Nuit Blanche, you have non-official performers everywhere setting up stalls and speakers and putting on shows, performances, singing, etc. and crowds gathering to watch.  I remember going to Dai Dat Dei and experiencing similar entertainment - but even more amusing, like Cantonese opera performances, acrobats, and strongmen smashing cinder blocks on their chests with sledgehammers and bending spears with their throats. Not to mention really great Dai Pai Dong food!  Here you only get corn on the cob ("BUT IT'S OBSCENELY HUGE BUTTERED UP CORN ON THE COB," I said, staring at a lady who was looking lasciviously at her enormous stick of 'corn'), hot dogs and tiny donuts the size of oreo cookies at a FREAKING EXPENSIVE $5.00 per DOZEN!  And you have to line up for over half an hour to buy food. Doesn't really compare, sorry."

"Oh well, just look at this as the North American equivalent of Dai Dat Dei - since it's not like I can travel back to all those fun times that you had when you were young," I said.  "Let's give Nuit Blanche a chance shall we?"

This is what we saw:


Unmanned cars circling in the dry skating rink in "Crash Cars".  I really kept on waiting for them to crash.  I was to be disappointed - car destruction wasn't part of the art installation.

Ai Wei Wei's "Forever Bicycles" sculpture.  I was disappointed that they weren't functioning bicycles but just metal in the shape of bicycles.  Man Yung was disappointed that there wasn't more reference to Tienanmen Square Massacre. 

Crowds.

More crowds.  Looking at the lights (an artwork called "A rose is without why") we are nearly blinded.

We escape to the Peace Garden on the podium roof.  We wouldn't go there usually at night or during the day but because there were people everywhere we felt safe.

Fantastic view of the Toronto skyline from the podium roof - people, people everywhere, including the guy in the red jacket dancing a merry jig.

"Clothesline Canopy".  We were amazed that they used so many clean socks. "It would be more realistic if they used worn-out socks, socks with holes, and socks with indelible dirty patches," said Man Yung.  "But then people would be kind of reluctant to 'interact' with the artwork, I think," I said.

Man Yung is also amazed that I managed to ruin the photo by making sure there was a sock shadow across Man Yung's face.

This mountain of fabric is actually the "Parade Queen's" butt.  Man Yung wanted to take a photo of the security guard but I argued that it was not "artistic" (I think the guard was there making sure no-one took a peek under Parade Queen's skirt because you don't know what she/he/it would be hiding under there.  Maybe a HUGE CORN ON THE COB?????).

The "Ferris Wheel" was kind of small.  Reminded Man Yung of the neon "Fish, Lobster, Crab" signs outside many Toronto chinese restaurants.

Even though Man Yung is known to dance for five hours at a milonga without stopping, just two and a half hours of walking made him totally exhausted ("But it was very draining fighting against the crowd most of that time!" he explained) and we went home.

We didn't see a lot of the art on display at Nuit Blanche so we can't comment on the whole thing, but what we did see we didn't find all that extraordinary.  We like, however, seeing so many people of all different ages, races and backgrounds coming out and enjoying the night in a safe*, peaceful, joyful, optimistic, hopeful atmosphere, and local businesses getting a boost from all that increased activity downtown. However, we aren't planning to go again soon - it was a little too much 'crowd' and not quite enough 'art' for us!  ** ***

* Safe - mostly.  Unfortunately, someone did get stabbed and killed at Nuit Blanche - the newspapers say it was part of dispute that started at a impromptu rave party in the festival area. 

** Yes, we are all complainy about the art at Nuit Blanche - and you know we are complainy about Tango too.  Martha and Manolo are better people than we are - they always say, "So long people are dancing Tango, it will be ok!" and they are forgiving most of the stuff that would get the Evil Eye from us. I guess the "art" equivalent is "So long people are promoting and producing art, it will be ok!"

*** Man Yung almost got into a fist fight with a Tanguera about differing views on Ai Wei Wei's artwork at the Sunday night milonga after Nuit Blanche!  Ok, I exaggerate, there were "raised voices" and "deadly looks" and no actual punching.  And it turned out they weren't even talking about the same thing - she was talking about Ai Wei Wei's exhibition at the AGO, and he was actually talking about the beekeepers meditating at the AGO during Nuit Blanche. Doh!







Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Abalone

We went to a friends' house for dinner recently.  We don't really like to go to this house to eat because the house REEKS of cooking smells, and after we go there the smell is in our clothes, our hair, everything!  But we can't refuse, it would hurt our friends' feelings if we turned them down. 

This time when the invitation to dinner came, we tried to be smart.  "Look, let us cook dinner and bring it over!" we said.  So we made a couple of dishes (and we had to be super rush, since it was on a weeknight after work) and went over.

"It really seems like there is less stench today!" I whispered to Man Yung as we served our hot food to our friends.  We spent a pleasant evening eating and chatting and having dessert and coffee afterwards - without that dreadful sensation of "Ick, I can't wait to get home to take a shower right now!"

However, as we were driving back home, Man Yung sniffed his clothes, rolled down the windows, and said, "Irene, there wasn't any cooking in their house this evening, so why do I smell like a stale fried pork chop!"

Yep, me too.

We didn't notice it when we were sitting in their house, but the cooking smell was permeating our skin minute by minute!

"Oh boy, even when they aren't cooking, the smell is still there, seeping out of the walls, floor, ceiling and even the furniture.  That's what decades of roasting chicken, pan-frying fish and stir-frying pork with peanut oil without proper ventilation will do!"

And our friends are completely oblivious to the problem because they have been living with that smell for so long, they can't even smell it anymore. 

"This reminds me of an ancient Chinese saying," said Man Yung, who always has edifying Chinese sayings on the tip of his tongue (lucky me!).  "When you are dwelling among fine cultured gentlefolk, it is like living among fragrant orchids - and after a while you aren't aware of the perfume.  However, when you are dwelling among ignorant lowlife louts, it is like working in an abalone shop.  After a while you don't know it's stinky."*

"Wow, delicious and expensive!  
Who knew that abalone used to be one of the top disgusting smells in China?"

*And when you dance grotesquely in a community of other tangueros who also dance grotesquely, you would feel completely at home and you wouldn't know that you suck!   But here in Toronto, we also get this strange phenomena: People who dance like they are the love-child of Quasimodo and Elaine Benis at venues where all the other people are dancing quite nicely - and they don't feel out of place at all!  Are they immune from the influence of good dancers because they are encased in a magical invisible bubble of self-sucking obliviousness?  Sometimes they are so confident they even put on PERFORMANCES for all the other dancers who are scowling and not pleased - remember dear Toronto Organizers, please do not spring this SURPRISE on us and warn us well in advance so we can decide NOT to come to the milonga and stay home!

"I thought abalones were supposed to be prized delicacies! You can't get any decent ones unless you paid like, hundreds of dollars for an ounce these days. I didn't know they had a reputation for smelling horrible," I said.

"This saying comes from hundreds of years ago, when people probably didn't know how to preserve abalone.  Abalone smelled so bad, when the Emperor Qin died on his travels in China and his ministers wanted to hide the fact of his death in order to prevent unrest among the people, they pulled down the curtains in his carriage and put a load of abalones in the carts next to his carriage.  They continued to travel for weeks, stopping and cooking three meals a day for the Emperor so that no one would realize he had died.  Even though the Emperor's corpse was decomposing badly in the hot weather no one suspected he was dead.  If anyone commented on the smell, the ministers would  point to the smelly abalones and say there was no way around it, the Emperor took them with him everywhere as they were one of his favourite foods."

"Hee hee, that's a fun fact about abalones.  I'll keep that in mind the next time they serve abalones at a banquet - I'll tell that story and when everyone would rather barf than eat any I can eat as many servings as I want!"


Sunday, September 22, 2013

They don't make shrimp dumplings (Har Gow) like they used to

One of the main Cantonese culinary rituals we enjoy is the weekend brunch indulgence of dim sum.  It's something we could look forward to after a late night at a weekend milonga - waking up late, going to our favourite dim sum restaurant, and eating several piping hot bamboo steamers of fluffy white bbq pork buns, har gow, shumai while sipping rich dark pu erh tea to aid in digestion.  Heaven!

This is the best photo of har gow we have found so far on the internet - the wrapper is translucent, the dumpling is plump and the shrimp is a faint visible pink...Just one thing no good - the dumpling are outside the paper insert and touching the bamboo steamer.  This would be a FAIL back in a Hong Kong dim sum restaurant in the sixties and you will have to throw the dumplings in the trash!*

* Man Yung would like to comment: "Actually, we didn't use a paper insert in the sixties - this would be an automatic FAIL because the dumplings would be stuck to the paper.  We used a stainless steel perforated plate, coated slightly with oil to hold the dumplings in the steamer.  They don't do it any more because 1) the stainless steel plate costs money, 2) oiling the plate and putting the har gow onto it takes time and effort.  This photo shows that the chef didn't care about presentation or the food he was serving - he just threw the dumplings in and expected people to take it or leave it!"

Unfortunately, the standards of our neighbourhood dim sum restaurants have plummeted in recent years.  The dim sum chefs who had been rigorously trained in Hong Kong are getting older, so many have retired without passing on their dim sum secrets to the next generation.  There's always a shortage of young people who want to enter into the dim sum profession, so anyone who wants to be a dim sum chef can go and apprentice themselves at a restaurant, learn a couple of things - and then they would easily be able to find employment anywhere without really being proficient at making dim sum.  On top of this, so many restaurants have opened that there is too much competition.  Restaurants everywhere have lowered their prices to compete, and in order to still make their bottom line, they cut corners on ingredient quality and also the quality of their chefs.  Many have even reduced the quality of their tea - as one of our friends complained, "Is this really tea, or brown coloured water that tastes like cockroach insecticide?"

At many dim sum restaurants, instead of great food and good service, we find terrible food and rude service.  Yet people still line up at peak times because the prices are cheap, and restaurants try their best to attract their customers with thing like "free soy milk while you wait", "shoe shine while you wait", or "free gifts and coupons if you eat here often"!

Man Yung knows a lot about dim sum.  He used to be a dim sum apprentice in his teens.  When he tells me about the authentic, delicious dim sum they used to make, it makes me want to cry.

"Just take this har gow, for instance."  He picked one of the shrimp dumplings up with his chopsticks from the bamboo steamer.  The wheat flour wrapper was stuck to the steamer and it promptly tore apart with the shrimp filling falling out.  "They have steamed it for too long, and this makes the wrapper soggy and easy to tear.  The wrapper should be elastic, thin and transparent and shouldn't fall apart or stick."

"What was har gow like in the sixties when you worked in dim sum?" I asked.

"All us dim sum apprentices used to go to different dim sum restaurants on our day off just to see the quality of dim sum at other restaurants.  One thing we must try was the har gow.  You can tell the quality of the whole restaurant's dim sum just by trying this one dish, so dim sum chefs took a lot of care into making sure that their har gow was perfect.

In order to prepare the filling, you need fresh peeled and deveined shrimp.   These days I often find shrimp in my har gow with their INTESTINES INTACT.  This is a very nasty surprise, it shows that the kitchen is understaffed or not paid enough to care about deveining their shrimp. 

The chopped shrimp has to be lightly "thrown" against the side of the mixing bowl in order to make the texture of the shrimp more springy.  These days many chefs add harsh chemicals to the shrimp to improve the texture - some of the chefs refuse to eat at their own restaurants because obviously, the chemicals are not good for your health.

Now, many chefs just stuff a whole lot of shrimp into the wrapper, steam it, and that is that - and people say, "Oh, what great har gow, there's so much shrimp!"  They don't know what a har gow is supposed to taste like.  A lot of shrimp, or entirely shrimp is not the hallmark of a good har gow.  A good har gow is a balance of several ingredients.

The har gow we used to make had fresh bamboo shoots - and not just bamboo shoot, but the tenderest TIP of the bamboo shoot.  That is boiled, chopped and then put into a wooden press with a twisting mechanism so to squeeze out all the water.  If the bamboo shoot water was not completely pressed out, there would be a pungent vegetation taste in the bamboo shoot and the bamboo shoots would go rancid easily.

In addition, we would add fatty pork belly to the har gow.  We would take a slab of pork belly, boil it until the fat was translucent, and then cool the fat down and chop it into fine cubes to be mixed with the shrimp and the bamboo shoot.  Yes, there is pork fat in great har gow.  The fragrant fat from the pork belly melts when steamed with the har gow filling.  The bamboo shoot absorbs some of this flavour, and the melted fat makes the har gow filling juicy.  When you bite into the har gow, this juice runs out and fills your mouth, and you experience the textures of the smooth and elastic wrapper, springy shrimp, crunchy bamboo all at once.  Har gow supposed to have a multi-dimensional taste."

"I don't think they make har gow - or any other dim sum - the way they used to." I said.

"Even the way they cook it is different.  In order to save time and effort, they just steam a whole lot until it is cooked and let it stand by.  When an order came in - they would REHEAT a steamer of already cooked har gow and serve it.  Oh, this would totally ruin the har gow, the wrapper would certainly break apart like the one I showed to you.  In the past, they never steamed more than 20 steamers at once - and those would sell out almost instantly.  Only if they ran out would they steam another batch.  This ensured that the har gow would always be hot and optimal in taste and temperature."

A couple of simple short cuts here and there - and they have ruined the mighty shrimp dumpling.  They might use more shrimp, or decorate with bright orange flying fish roe, or dye the wrapping bright green with spinach juice, or they might top with gold leaf and truffle shavings and charge a premium for the "fusion-inspired" offering.  Some people might think that all this new fanciness is great.  Who cares about the traditional way, this is even better! 

Only people who knew (or cared to inform themselves) how it used to be will know the difference.  Will you be the ones who would be easily fooled and dazzled by the new-fangled tricks and gimmicks, or will you be able to tell that what you are being served is a bunch of substandard crap?





Saturday, September 14, 2013

Improved by Tango?


A Barrio Milonga in La Boca - the sweet old couple in the front has been together and dancing tango for over sixty years!  They are in love and very happy - and still dancing every Saturday night.

Sometimes Man Yung wishes we never took up Tango...that is, when we we want to kill each other over a disagreement about steps!  However, for me anyway (oh look, Man Yung is still muttering to himself that if we didn't dance Tango, we would never argue - ha ha, good luck!), I think Tango has vastly improved our lives and I'm glad that we are dancing Tango.  We get more exercise, we are happier, we are more social, we have made great friends, we are more mentally balanced, we are less stressed...

When we see examples of miserable people in real life, we always think that their lives could be improved if they took up Tango.

We have a neighbour in his late fifties who lives alone.  He seems like a friendly, normal guy - but we have never seen him with any friends over, nor does he ever date.  He doesn't have to work anymore, but apart from visiting his mother at the retirement home nearby three times a day, he doesn't go out except to shop for groceries.  He only eats healthy food, mostly vegetables with little oil, little salt, no sugar.  He also worked out religiously - but all that healthy living didn't help because he got very very sick for a while.  Thankfully, he has recovered, but life is still monotonous because when we talk to him, he says the highlight of his day is seeing his mother and all the other old people at the retirement home. 

I know someone in my profession who is stressed out of her mind with work.  At the office she is constantly freaking out - yelling, slamming down the phone, throwing things, storming out of the office because she can't take it anymore.  However, she can't just leave her work behind, even when she is home she is talking to her clients and replying to emails.  If she is able to sleep, she jolts awake because she has just remembered something urgent that she has forgotten to do in the office, or she had a nightmare about something going terribly wrong with work.  To compensate for the stress, she takes jet vacations and cruises every two months - however she never quite lets go and by the time she stops thinking about work she has to come back to it.  Instead of being refreshed, she is exhausted by her vacations and it doesn't take half a day before she is yelling and throwing things again.

There's a couple who is obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses.  Every time we see them, she's got new luxury handbags and shoes that cost thousands of dollars, and he's got the latest trendy electronic gadgets - and they want everyone to know about it.  They also want everyone to know where they have been eating - their Instagram and Facebook pages are filled with photos of upscale food from upscale places.  They are constantly "upgrading" to new houses and new cars but they are never satisfied.  When they aren't feeling high anymore from all the status symbols they have acquired, there's always more shopping that they can do - but I don't think that it helps.

A friend of mine hasn't exercised since high school.  She isn't fat but she is frail.  All day she stares into a computer screen and types and she whines about back pain and arm pain and wrist pain.  She is always going to the doctor and even though she is only forty-five she carries around a large rectangular pillbox with sections and labels which remind her which cocktail of medications she should take at what time to alleviate her heart problems, her stomach problems, her intestine problems etc. I tell her, "Instead of taking all that medicine, why don't you go out regularly for a walk?  Take up some gentle exercise like Tai Chi (or Tango)?" but she complains that she never has time.  As far as I know, all she does after leaving work is go straight home and sit in front of the TV for hours.

"See, Man Yung?  Wouldn't all their lives improve if they danced Tango?  People who are stressed  will feel more relaxed.  People who are obsessively materialistic would gain a better perspective on their lives.  Lonely people will get to meet others and feel the warmth of the embrace.  And my friend would finally get some exercise and heal that body that has been disintegrating from disuse!" 

"Ah, Irene, the world would be a better place if everyone danced Tango - that is, everyone except you!  Your reluctance to dance nothing but boring traditional steps is holding me back from achieving Tango superstardom.  I want to do triple spinning leaping back-kicking colgada enganche ganchos!*  Now we never do anything but WALK, and I want to fly! Look at how GREAT we were in 2006.  Waaaaaaaaaaah!"

* "Hey Man Yung, if you were doing your triple spinning leaping back-kicking colgada enganche ganchos, maybe YOUR world would be a better place - but it would be the APOCALYPSE for the dance floor!"

Friday, September 6, 2013

Miscellany

We went to have dim sum with a friend today.  Within minutes of sitting down, two acquaintances of Man Yung also showed up at the same restaurant and came over to say hello.  One even sat down to chat with Man Yung - AND REFUSED TO LEAVE, even though our friend and I are hinting strongly "GO AWAY!" - like trying to order food with the waitress, looking bored and checking our email on our smartphones, giving him the evil eye, etc.  FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later the guy finally leaves to join his wife who had been waiting completely alone at their table with a huge black cloud emitting thunderbolts over her head. 

"Can I help it that my conversation is so interesting and amusing?" said Man Yung when we complained to him that he didn't do anything to get rid of the guy.

When we left the restaurant we bumped into another acquaintance of Man Yung.   We quickly whisked Man Yung away before he could be engaged in another witty conversation.

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We went to Koreatown to buy some chinese herbs.  We found a store in Koreatown last month selling better quality and cheaper medicinal herbs than those we have found in Chinese stores.

We go straight to the store that we went to before - and got large quantities of Cassia Seeds (good for eyesight and to reduce Yang energy), Wu Jia Pi (increase energy and strengthen joints) and Magnoliavine berries (also good for eyesight and to strengthen heart, lungs and kidneys) at very reasonable prices.  We decided to walk around Koreatown to see if there were more stores selling herbs. We drive by once or twice a week after going to a milonga and it always seems that there are lots of herbalist and health stores in Koreatown that we haven't checked out yet.

We look up and down, and discovered that the six other stores in Koreatown were all "Natural Health Food" stores selling pills promising to heal every kind of ailment known or unknown to humankind.   Strange how the first herbalist store we ever stepped foot in in Koreatown and the store right next door to it were the only two selling herbs in the whole of Koreatown... and the rest were all selling snake oil.  We are lucky that in many areas of our lives, even in relatively unimportant ones like this, we end up straight to the point and not in some kind of runaround!

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During our evening walk in the park, we heard the Canada Geese flapping in the pond and honking at each other.  One goose would give the "Let's fly this way!" command... and then another goose on the other side would give the "Let's fly that way!" command... and then the first goose would look pissed and honk louder, and then the whole gaggle of geese would look confused.  A few geese would start to take off, but they would stop, and a few others would try to take off, but the lack of coordination meant that all of them stayed put.

"See, see!" said Man Yung.  "It's just like Tango, you have to have ONE PERSON to give the command and all the others* have to FOLLOW.  It is NOT a DEMOCRACY.  If everyone is trying to lead at the same time the dancing won't get anywhere!"

* Meaning "Irene".

"Can't I just say my opinion? I just want to be heard!" I said.

"No!"  said Man Yung.

"OK then, I will follow...for now.  But by my body language and my aggressive auto-adornation you will know that I secretly resent the dictatorship of Chairman Mao.  One day by golly you will have a revolt on your hands!"**

** Your socks will all have "mysterious" holes in them, your coffee will taste salty instead of sweet, your steak will totally be overcooked, all your favourite CDs would "disappear", you won't be able to find your towel when you emerge dripping wet from the shower..... Mwwwwwaaahahahahaha!!!!

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Osvaldo and Coca are in Italy on a five week tour!  Many many videos have been posted of their performances on Youtube.  We talked to them before they left on their tour and they were very excited even though as they are getting older it gets more difficult for them to travel.   They have always enjoyed the warm welcome of their hosts and students in Italy and were looking forward to seeing all those familiar friendly and enthusiastic faces in Italy again.   No doubt they are having a very good time!

Here's one of their magnificent performances - dancing to D'Arienzo's "Color Cielo":







Alberto Dassieu

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