2006.04.02 Urumqi

Cap, Cheese, Carpet
Cap, Cheese, Carpet
Up until yesterday, I hadn't played a game of baseball since I was a boy. There was once a period when Pee-Wee, Little League, and collecting baseball cards were the focus of my life. Then, sometime before hitting adolescence, I lost interest in everything sports-related.

So, how did I find myself playing first-base on the campus field? I share my Chinese calligraphy class with two foreign students: Colin and Tyler. Colin invited me to a Saturday competition with the Xinjiang University baseball team--foreigners vs. locals. I had no idea that anybody played hardball this far from the Americas, let alone in my own backyard. I immediately accepted.

Despite that snow swept Urumqi two days prior, yesterday was a perfect day to be outside running around. The sun was out, ice had all but melted across the city. I wore a light, long-sleeved shirt, topped off with a knockoff New York Yankees cap I'd picked up some years ago.

I don't know why I so enjoyed the experience. Perhaps the fun came in finding my body still had some athletic finesse: I played well, tagging runners out before they could get to base. Perhaps the fun came in re-connecting with motions and routines that were once so ingrained, yet ignored for decades. Perhaps it was just a fine day to be outdoors, or perhaps it was passing an afternoon with good friends, among them Kitami and Nisagul. Whatever the reason, I had a great time, despite that our scrappy congregation of foreigners were beaten 10-8.

Yesterday evening was pleasant as well. I've been seeing more of Bahar in recent weeks, but hadn't seen much our mutual friend Zhi Shuang. The three of us got together at another recent place I've become a regular at: The Caspian Restaurant.

I happened upon the Caspian last month while wandering around the Russian ghetto just east of campus. The food is good and reasonably priced. I find much of the appeal is simply that the menu is so different from other fare I've found around Urumqi. It's not that there's a lack of selection around town: there are lots of places serving up international cuisine. Urumqi has variety, including a couple sushi restaurants, several Brazilian barbecues where waiters go from table-to-table with huge skewers of meat, and a couple places serving up fair versions of Pakistani dal and chutney--just to name a few. However, the Caspian Restaurant has a completely different menu, run by an Azeri woman who makes a mean cheese-bread and has several Turkish items on her menu. After becoming a regular, I found that they had reasonably-priced hookahs available as well, cementing its status as my new, default place to eat.

After we sat down to order, Bahar handed me a plastic bag containing a heavy, round object. I wasn't quite sure what it could be. "Is it an apple?" I asked dubiously? "Yes, it's a really big apple," Bahar shot back with sarcasm. I unravelled the bag and extracted a large lump of something I couldn't identify. After several seconds of bewilderment, I made the connection.

"It's cheese!" I exclaimed.

"My mother made it--I promised you I would bring some when you shared your cheesecake with me."

After dinner--and a hookah--the three of us took the rest of the evening at my new flat, sipping Kashmiri chai and polishing off another cheesecake I'd baked. Along with the frequent cheesecake baking, I've often been brewing up my secret recipe for Kashmiri chai. The recipe is completely improvised and fairly simple; all my friends seem to love it. Here's what I do:

David's Kashmiri Chai

Boil up 1/2 kettle black tea
Dissolve several spoonfuls of sugar
Add ground-up seeds from 5 or 6 cardamom pods, several dashes of black pepper
Add milk, bring tea back to boil, be careful to avoid scalding