Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Of Beans and Money

Kitty's house is in a gated community in Queens (I thought only Hollywood had these cloistered spaces) -- it's what some New Yorkers call a "nice" neighborhood. I dropped off a pressure cooker-made pot of mung beans and tofu skin stew. Tofu skins look like dried-up yellow pieces of driftwood in the packaging, after you soak them in water for a hour or two, they become moist and soft. Then they're ready for any kind of dish you could think of. Frying, stewing, steaming, tossed as a salad. Mild in flavor, they are good sources of protein and relatively low-carb, one of Kitty's requests.

Why do Americans have these neatly divided squares of bad and good neighborhoods? Though some Chinese cities are starting to have them too -- often with names like "Emperor Spring Garden," which make them sound like brothels -- it's usually hard to really separate one from the city at large. Here, it seems, the richer one gets, the farther away this person can get from other human beings. What Americans disdainfully refer to as sprawl are hard-earned modernization for the rest of the world. Levittown is a good thing, give me a templated house anytime.

I normally don't use other people's restrooms unless I had to, but public restrooms are so hard to find in New York (in Beijing there are fee-required ones, and do look for non-free ones if you ever go, trust me), so I had to use the one downstairs in her house. The waste basket looked almost full, and I thought about replacing the liner, when I reached down to lift up the basket though, it felt really heavy. Would you have tried again, of course you would, like a horror movie heroine, I looked underneath. There are rolls of cash in the basket!

I have heard of some old-school Chinese immigrants being reluctant to use the banks here, or else their cash is all earned the tax-free way, via restaurant work, or some under-the-table seedy deals, so they have everything tucked here and there around the house, collecting dust instead of interest. But using a waste basket? I would have used the mattress, like that classic fairy tale of the princess and the pea, only I'd have lain awake, knowing that cash, not legume, is keeping me up.


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