Sunday, June 13, 2010

Market day in Butuo

Today was a two-interview day (my second in three days), so I'm too tired to post a real entry. Interviews are probably the most interesting but also the most exhausting part of fieldwork--as much as I enjoy speaking Chinese (well, sort of) having long, fairly technical conversations in Chinese and trying to simultaneously write a comprehensible record of the conversation makes me want to crawl into bed. Although a given interview rarely lasts more than an hour, the whole process--setting it up, getting to and from the interviewee's office, doing the interview, writing up my notes after the interview--usually takes somewhere between four and six hours. At the same time, I've gotten to meet a lot of bright, idealistic people who are doing their best to make this enormously complicated country a little better, and that alone can make up for the isolation, self-doubt and frustration that seem to be unavoidable parts of fieldwork.

I never got around to writing about the time Devin and I spent in southern Sichuan province, and I still hope to do that at some point. In the meantime, though, here are some photos from the market day in the county seat. Notice the many Yi minority women wearing "liberation hats"--blue cloth military caps. Apparently Yi women in this area used to wear extremely expensive, ornate headdresses that were so heavy they literally had trouble getting up once they sat down because the extra weight on their heads was so great. After the Communist victory in 1949, Yi women started wearing these blue caps instead. Having a particularly tall cap is trendy among teenage Yi girls, so many girls stuff their hats with toilet paper to make them sit higher on their heads. As much as I wish liberation caps were a widespread practice, it seems like they are limited to this one county--even in the next county over Yi women wore a totally different style of hat.

Also note the bizarre blanket-capes that many people, especially older people like the woman below, are wearing. These are homemade and are worn in cold weather instead of coats.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The requisite Chinglish post

I'm sorry, I know people get huffy about the Chinglish craze, but this stuff is just funny.

From Green Lake Park:

What, you don't think of 'organism' and 'recycled' as opposites?

Hotel room items are usually a good source of hilarity. For instance, I'm pretty sure this is a toilet-seat cover:

It's a bit hard to see, but that yellow sticker in the corner says "uncomplimentary." Seriously, these don't look good on anyone.

Of course, using pictures instead of words doesn't necessarily make things any better:

I take it there are a lot of things that toilet does not like to do. I can't really tell you what they are.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You should study a foreign language. No, really.

Maybe the most desperate call for foreign language study I've ever seen:

Seems true enough, if kind of depressing. Unless the language is Chinese, in which case I'd say it's more struggle than weapon...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

old city, new digs

Yesterday I was kicked out of my hotel to make room for the hordes of high school students who have come to take the gaokao, the Chinese college entrance exam. I've moved to a perfectly serviceable hotel close to the largest Buddhist temple in Kunming (see some photos of the temple here). Unfortunately it's a bit of a hike from this hotel to the provincial library, so I will probably move back to my original hotel in a few days once the gaokao madness has ended. In the meantime, though, I'm enjoying exploring a different neighborhood, one that is much less expat- and undergrad-dominated than the one I was staying in before.

For instance, here are some squatters' houses on the roof of the building next to my hotel. Someone explain to me how that works.

One of the things that I like about Kunming is the way that old, kind of falling-down neighborhoods coexist with modern, new(ish) skyscrapers. I took a walk after dinner and stumbled upon a little village in the middle of the city:

(Notice how insanely red the dirt is! One of Yunnan's trademarks). It's kind of hard to see, but this little neighborhood is surrounded on all sides by big hotels and apartment buildings. When I first wandered in, I heard this sort of alarmed, wordless yelling behind me--the kind of sound that often indicates alarm at the arrival at a foreigner and total incomprehension that addressing the foreigner with words might be more effective than just shrieking. I turned around and, indeed, was rapidly approached by the shrieker, who was either an overly concerned retiree or a neighborhood minder (or probably both). I asked her if I could go in and take some pictures, and she was suddenly very friendly and all smiles--its amazing how many people totally change their affect if you speak only a few words of Chinese to them.

We then had one of the Conversations About Extremely Obvious Facts to which I have grown accustomed in China:

"You are a foreigner!"
"You speak Chinese!"

Etc. It gets a little old. But she was very friendly, and continued the conversation when I left a few minutes later ("You are leaving!").

Saturday, June 5, 2010

NOTD#8: ersi

I have a confession to make: I don't like rice noodles. Vermicelli have always seemed so wimpy to me, flavorless and slippery and lacking personality. Last summer, I wasted a lot of time in Guangxi forlornly wandering the streets in search of something to eat other than vermicelli noodle soup.

So I was relieved when a friend in Beijing told me that I need not worry about Yunnan--the rice noodles here were different! I could expect chewy rice noodles here, rice noodles that feel like a meal and not just a way to fill your stomach. She was right. Two of the main kinds of rice noodles here, ersi and erkuai, have a texture closer to mochi, the Japanese glutinous rice dessert, than to vermicelli.

Unfortunately, I'm still not the biggest fan. I guess it's not just about texture. The best thing about ersi and erkuai is getting to order them, which makes me feel like a pirate (er in Chinese is pronounced, roughly, arrrrrrr).

Here are some stirfried ersi from my local noodle shop, along with my single favorite thing about Kunming--the fact that you can get fresh watermelon juice for $.75 everywhere you go:

And here is a shot of the noodle shop:

Anyone else share my rice-noodle aversion?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The plant sculptor

Sometimes living in Kunming doesn't feel like living in China at all--my hotel is in the expat area, so I have granola and coffee for breakfast, pizza (made by a real live Italian) for dinner, even the occasional chai tea or glass of wine. And since at the moment I'm spending all my waking hours at the provincial library frantically retyping information onto my computer (seriously, what kind of library will not allow patrons to use the copy machine?) I've been leading a pretty solitary existence--wake up, walk to the library, walk home at the end of the day, attempt to avoid the torrential rain that is beating down on Kunming. Nonetheless, Kunming seems like a pretty friendly place, and in the past few days I've had a few nice chance encounters with creative strangers.

I was walking around doing some errands tonight and came across this guy sitting by himself on a busy street. The photos didn't turn out great, but the snakes and flowers he was making out of some sort of leaves were amazing (as was his hat).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back in the blogosphere

Apologies for my long absence--Devin was here visiting for a month, and with all of our gallivanting about (Hong Kong, Beijing, southern Sichuan, Kunming, southern Yunnan, back to Kunming) I didn't have much time to write.

I'm still in China, obviously--less than six weeks to go!--but am now based in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan Province. Yunnan is located in southwestern China, bordering Vietnam and Burma, and feels a bit like a mix of China and Southeast Asia. Kunming is a very green, laid-back city--kind of what Hanoi might feel like if the roads were better, the buildings weren't falling down and the threat of death by motorcycle did not loom at all times. It feels a bit too sleepy for my taste after Beijing and Hong Kong, but it's not a bad place to be based for a couple of weeks. There is even locally grown coffee!

I came to Kunming as a tourist about five years ago, and remember it as one of the first places I ever saw the various wacky activities that go on in Chinese parks--salsa dancing, karaoke, badminton, tai chi, usually all happening simultaneously. Yesterday I went for a walk in the park by the Green Lake, a pretty lake near the provincial library, and discovered a new (to me, at least) innovation--an activity that looked like tai chi, badminton and dancing combined into one. Here's a short video. I might want to be a retired Chinese granny when I grow up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The birds of guloudong

Until I started spending every day at the National Library, I spent an insane amount of time at Cafe Zarah, this fantastic German-owned cafe near Beijing's old drum tower. I can't tell you how many coffee shops here try to make themselves into appealing expat hangouts and just don't quite get it right--the music's too loud, or too poppy, or not loud enough; the staff is too chatty or too standoffish; etc. It's hard to figure out exactly what the problem is, but it's one I have long found frustrating--in Hong Kong I generally went to Pacific Coffee (Starbucks' prime competitor in Asia) rather than to independent cafes for the same reason.

But Zarah just gets it right (and is always packed as a result). Reasonably interesting art. Nice light. Electric outlets. Oh, and maybe the best coffee in Beijing.

One of Zarah's weird charms, however, has nothing to do with the cafe: the street on which it is located (鼓楼东大街)is home to a large and eccentric collection of birds. Okay, there are only two of them, but still.

Bird #1 is a pet goose. Seriously. He has an ID card that he sometimes wears on a string around his neck. His owner, likely a retiree, takes him for a walk up the street every afternoon. This is not a small street--it's like walking a goose, off leash, up College Avenue in Berkeley. But the goose is relatively well behaved. He walks along, flapping his wings occasionally, and stopping for attention when he gets it, which is basically all the time.

Shortly before I took this photo, for instance, this woman was just totally freaking out about the goose, shrieking and giggling at him. The goose used the opportunity to stare at his reflection in the very shiny black car behind him and practice flapping his wings.

Occasionally the goose gets excited and takes off at this sort of wiggling run down the street. At which point his owner also takes off at a wiggling run behind him. Unbelievable.

Bird #2 is a new addition; I first noticed him a couple of weeks ago, hanging in his bamboo cage from a street sign:

This isn't that unusual; I love going to parks in China and seeing old men hanging out with each other and with their birds in bamboo cages. However, when I went up to take a closer look at this bird, I heard someone say "ni hao" to me in this gruff Beijing accent. I looked around for an old man, but there was no one there! I've seen the bird a couple of times since then but he hasn't talked to me since.

Friday, April 16, 2010

English lessons

Many of you have probably heard me complain about the fact that foreigners in China get asked the same list of 7-10 ten questions by virtually everyone they meet: "What country are you from?" "Are you accustomed to eating Chinese food?" "Why is your Chinese so good?" "What do you think of China?" "Do you know how to use chopsticks?" "How much money do you make?" "How much is your rent?" The list is so consistent from person to person and from region to region that it led me to wonder whether Chinese textbooks contain a standard list of questions to ask foreigners (this seems not to be the case).

Even though I know that people mean to be nice, having the same conversation anywhere between five and fifty times a day gets grating. But today I think I hit a new low: having The Conversation with my masseuse.

I decided to treat myself to a massage at a very nice spa in Beijing this afternoon as a reward for finishing a pretty busy week and getting some good dissertation-funding news yesterday (more noodle adventures in the hinterland next year!). I had heard that Bodhi was very nice, and indeed it was--clean, quiet, beautiful. I particularly enjoyed my complimentary post-massage cantaloupe lassi. The massage was good, too--for the first forty minutes or so.

Then the talking started. When I get a massage, I expect to be kneaded and pulled on but not chatted with. "Does this hurt?" is fine. "What country are you from?" Not fine. I answered the standard questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Beijing as briefly as I could to try to cut off further conversation. But then the conversation took an odd turn:

"Sorry to bother you, but could you teach me how to say your country's name in English?"
I told the masseuse. He practiced saying 'America.' I told him his pronunciation was good.

"Sorry to bother you, but what continent is America in? Is it in Europe?"
"No, it's in North America. Canada and Mexico are also in North America."

"Sorry to bother you, but how do you say North America in English?"

Not exactly the relaxing experience I was looking for, but sort of oddly charming anyway. At least he didn't ask how much money I make.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beijing bicycles

Busy week! My time is starting to fill up with interviews and early preparation for the next phase of my research (two months or so in southwestern China, exact locations TBD), and I'm hoping to make the rather long trek to the National Library at least two times this week to frantically photocopy some resources I've found so that I can use them when I'm back in the States. I'm also hoping to check out to the National Archives, although I'm not sure how useful its resources will be for me. So not much time for noodles or blogging. In lieu of a noodle post, here are some photos I took last week.

Incidentally, it just took me a minute or two to figure out that lieu is neither liu (刘) nor lu (路). I worry at times that China does terrible things to my command of my native tongue.

Cars are beginning to rule the roads, at least in Beijing--I'm constantly infuriated by the way car ownership entitles drivers to ignore traffic laws, pedestrians, etc.--and especially so when the car in question is a luxury brand! Although, to be fair, traffic seems less chaotic than it did a couple of years ago when the private car ownership boom was really beginning to take off here.

Nonetheless, bicycles--both traditional and motorized ones--remain a fixture here, as do pedicabs, bicycle carts, etc. I'm always amazed by their variety, their occasional wackiness, and especially the ones that look like they've been around since 1949. Here are some examples. This one was one in a long row of bikes that were blown over on a windy day. There were even some shattered mirrors on the sidewalk from motorcycles that got blown over.

The photo doesn't do justice to the weirdly floral design of this bike:

And this one takes the prize for seniority and battered-ness:

Friday, April 2, 2010

NOTD #6: shou gan mian (hand-rolled noodles)

First of all, the best thing about Easter: The Washington Post peeps diorama contest. Check out the photos here.

And now back to noodles. One of the things that makes noodle exploration in Beijing so fun--and probably the only thing that makes it possible to have a whole blog devoted almost entirely to noodles--is the tremendous variety of ways that noodles are made. In the States, Chinese noodles are almost always the spaghetti-like noodles usually labeled lo mein noodles. Here there are mian pian (square noodles a bit bigger than postage stamps), shou la mian (hand pulled noodles), knife-cut noodles, noodles created by flicking a single chopstick against a ball of dough...the list goes on and on.

Probably my favorite of these many types are called shou gan mian, or hand-rolled noodles. The dough is first rolled out like pie dough, then cut into thick strips about a third of an inch wide.

They are chewier and less uniform in size than hand-pulled noodles. Often served with slivers of cucumber and black bean sauce, at restaurants that specialize in shou gan mian you order a bowl of noodles and then choose a topping from a long list.

Or, if you are really hungry and really like noodles and can't decide which topping you want, you order four of them:

(Counterclockwise from top left: eggplant with pork, green beans, tomato with scrambled egg, green peppers with pork)

Then you mix your topping with your noodles and eat it all as quickly as possible. No photos--that part went by too quickly.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

waiting for rain

Today's China news: it rained yesterday in Yunnan! China's southwest is suffering from the worst drought in sixty years and Yunnan, which is normally an extremely lush, verdant province, has been hit the hardest. There are some really insane photos here--definitely worth taking a look, as they're both beautiful and horrifying. Despite the government's best cloud seeding efforts, the rain wasn't enough to make a big impact, but more rain over the next few days will hopefully improve the situation a bit.

The drought is a big deal because of the human impact--24 million people lack sufficient drinking water--and also because of its negative impact on China's relationships with its Southeast Asian neighbors (who depend on water from rivers, like the Mekong, that originate in China and flow south). More on this here.

I'm also keeping a close eye on the drought situation for selfish reasons--I was hoping to do some research there in a month or so, but the drought may make that impossible. The rainy season is supposed to start in May, so things may be better by the time I leave Beijing (or so I hope). In the meantime, not much to do other than wait, keep watching the weather reports, and hope things get better in the southwest (and make friends with the librarians at the National Library).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

NOTD #5: su chao bing

Spring has made it to Beijing! It was almost too warm for a coat today. Blue sky, even, and buds on the trees.

Fashion Week has also arrived, so the same hotels that were swarming with Lexus-driving bureaucrats two weeks ago are now swarming with leggy, intensely makeup-ed models. They are a funny addition to the usual wangfujing weekend scene: red-hatted Chinese tour groups; fresh-off-the-train peasants from the countryside gaping at all the glitz (and at the foreigners); pairs or trios of young women trying to strike up English conversation with foreign men, who are usually smart enough to flee as quickly as possible.

But enough about Beijing. I can't believe I haven't written anything yet about what might be my very favorite noodle-like substance--su chao bing (素炒饼), or stir-fried vegetable cake.

I have never seen this stuff in the States, and it's a bit hard to describe. Thin strips of something chewy and doughy--thicker than a tortilla, thinner than naan--are stir-fried with cabbage and garlic. And that's it. It's basically just stomach-filling, greasy street food, but for some reason it's infinitely more satisfying than other greasy noodle dishes. As we already established, more chewy = more delicious.

This particular plate of su chao bing was served to me in one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall places, so small and unremarkable that I don't know the name and wouldn't be able to give meaningful directions about how to get there. But their su chao bing and dry-fried string beans (干煸四季豆) are amazing. Here are the string beans, with the owner and his buddies behind them:

As you can see, the decor is, well, basic. But in China nonexistent decor and lots of customers are usually good signs that the food is decent.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

house -> home

I have been so busy working on a conference paper since my arrival in Beijing that at times I feel like I haven't really been here or started my fieldwork. But today, despite spending a lot of the day sitting in my living room working on that same paper, I had a few of those satisfying moments that make you feel like you are beginning to belong in a place, even if it is a place that will only ever be "yours" in the most superficial ways.

For instance:

As soon as I got up I opened the curtains in the living room to watch the unfolding Battle of the Small Yappy Dogs continue in the courtyard. My across-the-courtyard neighbor has had a small, yappy dog the whole time I've been here, but in the last few days a new, smaller, yappier dog seems to have moved in to the adjacent house. Each dog is highly offended by the presence of the other, and makes this known by barking and growling ferociously whenever the two are outside. The totally ineffective solution has been to put a teeny tiny gate (maybe a foot high) between the two houses. So now the courtyard is divided by a tiny fence and the dogs can still bark and growl at each other, which they do every morning. The best part is watching each dog get dragged away and scolded by its respective middle-aged, female owner, while the dogs continue to bark and growl.

(Incidentally, for an interesting and somewhat disturbing look at the lives of dogs in China, check out this photo slideshow).

Also, I know that sometime every morning my Chinese hipster neighbor (tight pants, mildly greasy ponytail) will stand outside his house, smoke a cigarette, and play video games on his cell phone, all at the same time. This happens two or three times a day.

Also, the local waitresses at at least three establishments on my street know me either by name or by past orders ("Last time you sat on the left and ordered green beans and tofu."). One of them, who fits the stereotype of the bored teenage waitress better than anyone I have ever met (last week I watched her put on seven different types of mascara, one after the other), invited me to her birthday party tonight. Her restaurant serves kind of mediocre food--except for the Chinese equivalent of French fries (thinly sliced potatoes deep fried with chili and cilantro), which I had for the first time tonight and which were VERY VERY DELICIOUS--but I keep going back because she's friendly and fun to chat with, as are the various other waiters who have started coming around when I eat there. The stuff we talk about is pretty inane--tonight's topic of conversation was "Is Sara's Chinese handwriting better or worse than a four-year-old's?"--but it's still probably more conversation than I've ever had with, say, the people who work at my local bakery in Oakland in all the years I've been going there.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I woke up bizarrely late this morning, probably because even at nine the light coming through my window looked like sunrise light. My whole apartment was sort of dark and yellow, as was the sky. This is sandstorm season in Beijing--loose sand from the Gobi Desert, which has been advancing eastward since the 1980s, blankets the city nearly every spring--but I've never been here in mid-March to experience one. I walked outside my door and found a layer of orange-brown dirt everywhere--the whole gray stone courtyard sort of looks like an old sepia photograph. My photos didn't turn out well, so just take a look at this one instead. Insane.

More on sandstorms and desertification in China here.

NOTD #4: Shaanxi noodles (biang biang mian)

Apologies for the long delay--worst blogger ever. I even have wireless at home, so there's no excuse for my long absence (other than a conference paper that I'm frantically trying to finish, a trip to the National Library, aka The Most Confusing Building In China, and my first round of interviews...).

Last summer, my friend Sarah promised to introduce me to biang biang mian, a type of noodle notable not only for its deliciousness but also for the absurd complexity of its written name. The character biang is so complicated and contains so many strokes (and, probably, is so infrequently used) that it doesn't even exist in most electronic lists of characters; while the restaurant that serves biang biang mian has the kind of laminated, type-written, Chinese language-only menu common in a lot of hole-in-the-wall places, the character biang has been written in by hand.

Biang biang mian are not the easiest noodles to eat--they're at least two inches wide and probably six inches long. A few of them come folded in a bowl with some greens and a lot of this rust-colored chili paste, and that's it. Simple, spicy, chewy--why is it that China has mastered the art of the chewy noodle and has not yet exported it to the States?--and (as I think I've written about other noodles) addictive. I've been to the restaurant twice in ten days and am already planning my next visit.

Friday, March 5, 2010

NOTD #3: Spicy Potato Starch Noodles

One of my favorite things about Beijing is the fact that China's many (and extremely varied) regional cuisines are all on display here. On my first day here, I had lunch at a Hunanese restaurant around the corner from my house. Hunanese food (湘菜)is spicy and delicious--beyond that, I don't know much about it, so just read the Wikipedia article linked above.

Potato starch noodles--transparent, slightly gelatinous, chewy--are hard to find in the U.S. I wish this would change, as I find them totally addictive regardless of how they're prepared. Thursday's preparation was 沙锅薯粉条 (sand pot sweet potato powder noodle? I understand why the English translations in Chinese restaurant menus are generally so absurd...), which consisted of noodles, strips of egg, and ground pork in a chili-spiked broth:

Also, that bowl is about a foot across. I am still working on the leftovers.

Home sweet home, Beijing

I've been getting complaints about the long blogging hiatus--now that I'm settled in I'll try to blog more regularly!

I arrived here on Wednesday night, welcomed by a fireworks display near the airport as we descended--a beautiful and somewhat alarming sight to see from a plane!

I am staying in a traditional courtyard house in a hutong (one of the small alleys that still fill much of central Beijing). It's quiet (except for a yappy dog) and totally beautiful. Here is the hutong:

And here is my house:

My arrival coincides with the arrival of China's VIPs for the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the National People's Political Consulation Conference, and there is a steady stream of black Lexuses and Audis with tinted windows pulling up to the 5-star hotels not far from where I live. Chang'An Jie is lined with volunteers in blue and white tracksuits--one every twenty feet or so--who must be freezing even though many of them are toting large hot water thermoses, as it's been blustery here. It's a bit unclear to me what they're supposed to be doing; I haven't seen any of them do anything other than stand, and people appear to be directing questions to police officers (also out in force) rather than to the volunteers. But it is an amazing display of how many people can be mobilized quickly here. If only we could do the same in the States and, say, send an army of (track suit-clad?) volunteers into underserved schools.

Noodles to follow.

Monday, February 15, 2010

NOTD #2: The noodle as backup plan

As some of you know, I am obsessed with pickled foods. At the moment, my fridge and pantry contain the following: olives, sauerkraut, kimchi, bread and butter pickles, Moroccan preserved lemons. Probably there are some other pickled items hiding in the back as well.

About a month ago, my friend Sara and I took a class in which we learned how to make Moroccan preserved lemons (So delicious! And easy! Put slices of lemons in a jar. Add one tablespoon of salt per lemon. Fill jar with lemon juice. Add spices if you want. Close jar. Let sit for 30 days. Add to couscous, stews etc. and make yourself very happy.). Today was roughly the 30-day mark, so I decided to make a Moroccan-ish stew, sans recipe, as an excuse to use some preserved lemon. I was going to serve it with wheat berries (like rice, but tastier and chewier!) but became so excited about the existence of guacamole that I burned the wheat berries and had to make pasta instead. Hence Moroccan-ish stew/stew-made-of-things-that-were-lying-around-my-house as pasta dish.

Directions: throw onion, garlic, stewed tomatoes, butternut squash, canned beans, a little chicken broth, slices of preserved lemon, green olives, cinnamon, paprika, and a bay leaf in a pan. Cook on low heat for a long time. Yum. Once again, the photo is ugly, but not as ugly as last time:

In other news, I leave for China two weeks from tomorrow (eek)! I am finding myself consumed with pre-departure chores (buying a VPN service so that I can access the internet unencumbered by the Great Firewall, doing Institutional Review Board-mandated revisions to my research plans (those of you who don't do research on humans are lucky not to have to deal with this), finding an apartment in Beijing, etc.). None of it is particularly fun, but it all helps make the trip feel less abstract, which I think is probably a good thing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hello, readers!

In preparation for my imminent departure for the noodle motherland across the Pacific, I thought I would get my new blog up and running while I still have reliable Internet access.

While I'm in China, I plan to blog about my travels, things I'm reading, people I'm meeting, and, of course, food. Let me know what you're excited to hear about and what you wish I'd stay away from! You can also read blog posts and articles I've found interesting by following me on google reader (just search for my name using "sharing settings" under the "people you follow" section).

There's unlikely to be an actual noodle of the day (NOTD) while I'm still in the States, but I thought it was appropriate to start things off with a very California noodle dish: orecchiette with rapini and goat cheese, from the this year's Saveur 100 (my second-favorite yearly issue of any magazine, after the NYT Magazine Year in Ideas).

Citrus fruit grows like weeds around here in the winter (I love you, California!), so I zested a Meyer lemon from a friend's lemon tree and added it to the pasta, which was tastier than this unflattering photo suggests:

Seriously, get your hands on some rapini and make this stuff. It's tasty and fast.

Also, if you have never had a watermelon radish, GO OUT AND GET ONE AND ROAST IT AND EAT IT RIGHT AWAY. I don't even like radishes, but I just did this and it was amazing--nutty and not at all spicy the way radishes normally are. I might bring a suitcase full of them with me to China.