When Plan B is ice cream

I have a neighbor here in the same situation as me, not working, not great at sitting at home, and we hang out a lot. It is not an exaggeration to say she is a major factor keeping me sane here.

Anyway, most weeks we’re grabbing rice bowls or milk teas or library books together a few times a week, so when I read about an Ethiopian place (the Ethiopian place?) in the city, I knew she was my gal.

We metroed to Taojin, home to the nicest hotel in town, The Garden Hotel, which has hosted a number of foreign dignitaries. In the shadow of the hotel was tiny Zagol’s, two small tables out in the parking area, four smaller tables inside. We could smell the food from the parking lot and we were excited.

An utterly bored-looking young woman looked up from her phone to say something dismissive when we walked in expectantly. When we didn’t leave right away, she called into the back, and shortly an older woman popped out. “They’ll be back in maybe an hour,” she told us. Hmm… not clear why, but apparently we weren’t getting Ethiopian food that day.

Back outside, disappointed but resolving to return because really, that smell, we discussed our options. “There’s an ice cream place around here I read about…” I offered. “The Turkish place? They have food, too!” We were off.

We found MADO quite crowded considering it was already nearing 2. The courtyard we sat in didn’t offer any protection from the air pollution that has been creeping up this week, but it was charming and transporting with wrought iron furniture and white tile flooring. They brilliantly lead you past the ice cream and cakes counter to get to the seating, so we knew just how essential it was to split a few light lunch items and save ample room for dessert.

IMG_20180117_135816.jpgWe decided on a cheesy layered noodle thing, a spinach-filled pastry, and a salad–all fine and very different from anything we normally are eating. With that out of the way, we went for a second look at our ice cream options. Twenty-four flavors including two kinds of pistachio, with tell-tale streaks of hand-churning in the chocolate chip. Roughly half were fruit flavors–bold pink and purple berries and sharp yellow mango–but it didn’t look like the creamy flavors would be as rich as I wanted them to be.

Dining in at MADO, your ice cream comes in layers, not scoops, and the half-portion of two layers was the right amount for me. I had chosen raspberry and, of all things, the rice flavor. It had caught my eye at the counter, and it was fantastic, thick and sticky, a consequence of the plant-derived thickening agents in Turkish ice cream. It will be hard to try something else when we go back. Which we have to for that Ethiopian food!

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11.11

My Chinese teacher was swept up in the excitement of Singles Day, 11/11, a day for treating your single self that has been injected with steroids by online shopping powerhouses. It’s the biggest online shopping day of the year, proudly beating out Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day.

But she didn’t want us to take her word for it. She interrupted our asking for directions unit to give us interview questions about online shopping habits, which we were then sent out into the world with. The goal was to interview 10 Chinese speakers each.

There’s a lot to not like in this assignment, so of course I put it off. On the last day before it was due, I ventured out into our apartment building. With no cheerful cleaning crew around, I went down to the front desk, needing to reserve the service elevator for the delivery of 6,000 lbs. of stuff on Monday anyway. While I waited for them to be free, a Chinese teenager turned to me.

“Excuse me?” She was so quiet, she had to say it twice before I realized she was trying to get my attention with her English. “Would you be my friend? My name in Ling. My English name is Ling.”

She certainly couldn’t have expected me to not only agree but also then have questions about her favorite online stores. Ling answered my questions, put herself into my phone contacts, and then hovered alarmingly close while I repeated the questions to the unfailingly helpful woman at the front desk.

Two down, eight to go, 30 minutes before I needed to be somewhere else. Our building is shared with a department store, which I walk through almost daily to get to the metro station or the supermarket or any of the hundreds of underground eateries. The department store would be recognizable to anyone old enough to remember them, down to the bored shop girls manning their posts. I skulked around, looking for groups to get it over with more quickly. I channeled Ling: if she can approach a stranger twice her age expecting to get a friend out of it, I can find people to answer these stupid questions.

“Excuse me, can you two help me?” I asked. But I couldn’t understand what they responded. “Excuse me, can you two help me?” I tried again, trying the emphasis on different words. “Help you with what?” one said, evidently having to repeat herself more slowly and with exaggeration for the simpleton blushing in front of her. I managed out my questions and got in some good practice of pretending to understand what is being said to me while really just getting the gist. The awkward encounter repeated with two bored shop boys, one translating my attempts at Chinese to the other.

Takeaways from the interviews: people earning more money are more likely to spend more money online; women are less impressed with the quality of items purchased online than men are; interviewing 6 people is really just as good as interviewing 10; and 15-year-olds who get themselves into your phone contacts will enthusiastically text you to make plans to get dumplings together.