Summer Travel Recap!

Yo!

So sorry for the lack of updates, but I finally have a chance to update you guys on what I’ve been up to these past months. Aside from taking the GRE and getting my application together for PT school, I’ve been doing a ton of traveling! First stop was back home to Cincinnati in the middle of July to spin a wedding for my close family friend, Carl (congrats to him and his new wife, Arwen!). Despite a little rain shower, the ceremony was beautiful, complete with a full rainbow backdrop. Set in Ault Park, the reception took place in the famous pavilion space overlooking the plaza. This was the first time I have actually ever performed for my hometown friend’s and family so it was pretty awesome sharing my passion with them in such a great setting. Definitely an awesome time!

My family at the Ault Park Pavilion

A brief return to STL and then I was off to yet another wedding in northern California the next weekend. I got a chance to see my grandparents (who were coincidentally celebrating their golden anniversary that weekend as well) as well as my adorable cousins Nicholas and Grace. After venturing up to San Francisco to I catch an IMAX 3D showing of the Dark Knight with a few of my best college buds, I bummed a ride up to Wilbur Hot Springs resort to celebrate the union of my friend Xiaojing and her new husband, Vaughn. Two hours north of Oakland, the resort is entirely solar-powered and “off the grid”. I’ll admit it was strangely refreshing to be without my phone and gadgets during my stay; I can’t remember the last time I was without technology for more than 24 hours. But I guess in retrospect I was not completely cutoff, as the greatest part of the night was that they had brought a generator in order to power the amazing soundsystem that they set up in an outdoor veranda. I got a chance to witness some amazing house/soul DJs rock a dance floor from 10pm to nearly 5am in this awesome secluded resort and even threw down a short set as well. Shout out to DJ Cali for letting me use his tech12s and Rane MP 2016 (first time working with a rotary mixer, very cool!) HOUSE MUSIC ALL NIGHT LONG!

Grandma and Grandpa Huang!

After another short return to STL (and tackling the GRE), I flew out to the big apple for an amazing weekend, visiting old friends, eating way too much food and locking down all the details for upcoming fall cruise tour! The last time I was in NYC was about 5 years ago and I was not quite of age to experience all the goodness that the city could offer. This time, I made sure I got a real taste of the city: Columbia campus crashing, shopping in SOHO, brunching in West Village, late night falafel and hookah in East Village, Times Square rooftop chillin’, barhopping across Manhattan, boating on the Hudson and so much more. Huge thanks to my awesome friends Kate and Tommy for hosting me at their apartments during my stay, love you guys! The main purpose of the trip, however, was to visit Scratch DJ Academy, the umbrella organization that hired me to DJ these cruises I’ve been talking about for this fall. Located in the heart of Manhattan, the academy houses both the offices of SCRATCH as well as an impressive teaching environment laden with no less than 2 dozen DJ set-ups, several private session rooms and a production/teaching studio overlooking the city. I got a chance to meet some awesome DJs, including the budding TJ Mizell a.k.a DopeRoots (the late Jam Master Jay’s youngest son) and observe one of the DJ 101 classes. What an inspiration it was to see proper instruction on mixing/scratching to people who were genuinely interested in the fundamentals of the craft. I decided I will have to return to NYC for an entire week to take some intensive courses later this year!

My friend Julia in one of the teaching studios!

I am so honored and proud to be part of such a group and am excited to see where the future takes them. A humongous thanks to my good friend Julia for encouraging me to apply in the first place, I am forever thankful for your friendship!

So now I am finally back in St. Louis for a solid 5 weeks before my first official cruise DJ gig! Focus is now on completing my PT school applications and prepping for some of the wildest months of my life this fall 😀

For all my favorite pictures of the summer, check out my public facebook albums here: PART 1 || PART 2

Until next time!

John

The noodle soup to top ALL noodle soups

It has been a while since I’ve returned to my hometown of Cincinnati, and what a great visit it has been. Catching up with old friends, playing video games with my fam, and, of course, chowing down on THE absolute best homecooked Chinese cuisine in the western hemisphere. After a long day of travel, nothing satisfies me more than the comfort of my Mom’s zhongcan.

But as much as I’d like to go through all the goodies my family stuffed me with this trip, I am going to be sharing my most favorite noodle soup (yes, it surpasses even my love for pho), which my mom prepared me the morning I left to come back to St. Louis. To me, it is the ultimate comfort food: thick, pillowy rice noodles and savory shredded pork shoulder floating in a rich, mouth-watering broth topped with fresh scallion and dried chili flake. It really is very simple, yet I can never get tired of it. The dish is a regional specialty out of my parent’s hometown in Ping Xiang (Jiang Xi Province) and my mom has been making it for us ever since I can remember. It’s one of those sentimental foods that represent so much more than simple nourishment – just like that scene in Ratatouille,  I am instantly transported back to my childhood with each bite.

Lucky for you, I managed to restrain myself long enough to take a picture:

Approximately 2 minutes before this was inside my belly.

While I have never attempted to recreate it (yet), I asked my mom to walk me through the steps in case some of my readers were curious as to what holds the number 1 spot in my noodle bracket. This recipe derives from what used to be a small hole-in-a-wall noodle shop called 杨胡子米面, which literally translates to Yang’s Beard Rice Noodles. However, up until I asked my mom for this recipe, I thought the owner’s name “Yang” was the character for “goat” and had always remembered this dish as “Goatee Rice Noodles” (probably because I thought that’s how you look whilst slurping up these white noodles?); just one of my many lost-in-translation tonal switch-a-roos, lol. Anyways, I distinctly remember eating at this spot when I visited China in 2002, and it is the type of place that screams “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. All the ingredients were prepared fresh in front of the restaurant; small wooden tables and stools cluttered the floor and loud Asian women were yelling all types of crazy while dishing out deliciousness left and right. The best part: bowls were only 5 RMB! That’s less than 1 USD for the greatest soup there ever was to slurp. I immediately wolfed down 2 bowls and demanded to come back the next day. No objections there, since it happened to be one of my family’s favorite local eateries from when they were growing up as well.

Anyways, here are the directions for awesome-in-a bowl. Keep in mind, the key to this soup, as is with most noodle soups, is a well-prepared broth. The entire process can take up to 5 hours, but the broth and pork can be prepared ahead of time and then frozen for later use. If you are too lazy or don’t have the time to procure the broth, you might as well just forget trying at all (trust me, it’s worth the effort). If you are a vegetarian, then… I feel sorry for you:

Yang’s Beard Rice Noodle Soup

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):

  • 2 lbs broad, ribbon-style rice noodles (fresh)*
  • 2 lbs pork shoulder (with bone)
  • 3-4 scallions (chopped)
  • 5-6 slices of fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • Dried chili pepper (flakes or slivers)
  • 2 tsp salt (preferably kosher)

Equipment:

  • Large soup pot w/cover
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Large colander for noodles
  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

Preparation:

  1. Trim fat off the pork shoulder and place the meat (w/bone) into a large pot, adding water to cover. Boil for 5 minutes, remove and rinse the shoulder under cold water.
  2. Clean the pot and then refill water to cover the meat again. Add the slices of ginger root, bring to boil and let simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
  3. Remove the pork and cut most of the meat off the bone; shred with hands and set aside in a small mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of soy sauce and about ¼ tsp of salt. Mix well and place, covered, in the refrigerator.
  4. Return the remaining bones (w/some meat still attached) to the pot of water and ginger. Cover and simmer for an addition 1-4 hours (longer the better) until the broth is ready.
  5. About ten minutes before you plan to eat, heat another pot of water to boil and add your fresh rice noodles. Cook for 2 minutes, remove and drain.

Serving:

  1. In a large soup bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.
  2. Add 1.5 cups of the broth to the bowl and mix well.
  3. Add noodles until the bowl is about ¾ full and then scoop in 2 tablespoons (OR MOAR) of the shredded pork. Mix well.
  4. Top with 1 tablespoon of chopped scallion and 1 teaspoon of dried chili flake (can omit if you are a wuss). Stir and ENJOY!!!

Optional Yummies:

Sometimes we get fancy and add extra goodies such as steamed (bai cai) bokchoy, roasted peanuts or a fried egg (over-medium so the yolk can thicken the soup).

ENJOY!

John

p.s. If you ever find yourself hanging out with me in Cincinnati and are invited over for dinner, don’t hesitate to ask for this! My mom usually has all the ingredients on hand b/c she knows we all love it so much. Can’t wait for the next trip home!

*you can find fresh rice noodles at your local oriental market; these are the ones that are vacuum sealed in plastic and may come in a wide sheet that needs to be cut (but definitely NOT dried). You can substitute using rehydrated dried rice noodles, but if you have the option, definitely go fresh.

My Cousin’s Big Fat Chinese Wedding, pt. 2

Yo!

Sorry about the late follow-up to this post! Been busy being a dragon this past week: just joined a gym, classes started back up and my new DJ residency is taking off; so a pretty good start to the new year!

Anyways, let’s rewind about 6 weeks and head back to Humen, Guangdong, where my lovely cousin Li Xi and her new husband Wu Hai-Feng had their BOSS wedding. Like I mentioned in the last post, my cousins are pretttttttty wealthy. The day of the wedding was both exciting and exhausting for everyone, especially our family (both my uncle and grandma came down with the sickness the night before!) After the morning ceremonies and pigging out at lunch, we all booked it to the hotel where the evening reception was to take place and came down with the ITIS for a bit (gotta rest up before the next feast!)

BALL SO HARD

Finally, it was time to make our way to the ballroom; my mother dressed in her traditional red & gold chi-pao while I suit-ed up in a matching red tie. Sidenote: you’ll notice in the pictures from the slideshow below that most of the guests did not dress up for the wedding. In China, it seems that only the bridal/groom party and the parent’s of the betrothed wear formal clothing while other guests wear whatever they choose. Given the black on black two-piece, my spiky fauxhawk and shiny studs, it was pretty clear I wasn’t a native of the area. I am pretty sure guests started snappin’ pictures and asked my family if I was a famous celebrity from the states, lol.

Rather than describe the magnificence of the venue, check out the following slide show. I can’t begin to imagine how much time it took to put this all together:

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The ceremony itself was unlike anything I’ve been to before; it really felt like a red carpet event and pretty much played out like one as well. It opened up with mingling and pictures with the bride and groom at the ballroom threshold (when you see it in the slideshow, be sure to check the hilarious typo in the back drop – why must they use English phrases if they can’t read it???). After getting seated finally (900+ guests in 88 tables!) the lights dimmed and a cute slideshow of the wedding couple commenced (played to the song ‘Beauty and the Beast’ lol).

Wu Hai Feng gettin' all emotional and ish

Finally, after half of the courses were served, they began the wedding march. Similar to western weddings, the bride is escorted by her father down the aisle, however, instead of meeting the groom at the altar (in this case, canopy?), the groom approaches them to proclaim his love and ask for the father’s blessing. You can see in the pictures that Hai-Feng walked across the catwalk (to the tune of his favorite band) to face them and say his vows. It got pretty sappy here and he made everyone cry with a very sweet and sincere speech (I’m not gonna lie, I teared up a bit). My uncle, who is not the most eloquent speaker, responded in his typical jokester fashion saying something along the lines of: “Hai-Feng, you are a good dude and I like you because you have no bad habits” (snicker snicker).

My uncle crackin' jokes

After that, I was ready to get back to dominating the feast in front of me, but not 2 minutes into my lobster tail, I was ushered up by Li Xi’s mom to be part of the toasting party. I guess I was honored, but have you ever toasted 88 tables before? IT TOOK OVER AN HOUR AND A HALF!!! Later I found out that my aunt said I had to represent our family b/c  no one else on her side dressed up, lol. There was this toasting “master” who led us to each table, yelling random nonsense and filling our cups with iced tea (from a cognac bottle, haha). Finally after 5 glasses of faux Remy Martin, I returned to a table of cold, but nonetheless tasty dishes, which I pigged out on as the guests began to leave. You sure do work up an appetite pretending to get drunk.

Had to toast 88 tables... don't worry, not real booze

So here’s a quick and incomplete tally of all the absurd displays and expenses:

  • A ridiculous laser-light show opening with acrobats
  • Custom sand animation depicting their love story (couldn’t post the original but the link shows pretty much what it was like – it was definitely my favorite part!)
  • The master of ceremony was apparently a celebrity TV host from Guangzhou
  • Really piercing performances by Peking opera singers
  • A professionally shot music video performed by the bridesmaid and 24/7 photography & videography documenting the entire weekend
  • 12-course meal that included shark fin soup, giant abalone, dragon-tail lobster, roast baby pig and many other delectables
  • Times that by 88 tables!
  • And wedding gifts included a 2012 Audi TTS 2.0, set of Cartier watches, traditional solid gold necklace and bracelets, and over 500,000 in cold, hard RMB (that’s one huge hong bao)

All in all, I was told that the entire ceremony (including gifts, hotels, performances etc.) totaled to around 8 MILLION RMB (that’s about 1.3 million USD o_O). Good thing in China, it’s the groom’s family who pays for the wedding, lol

FOOD

So after digesting all of that extravagance, I began to think about the institution of marriage between East and West. Obviously, there are the cultural traditions that separate us as well as the lack of religious context. But why was it so necessary to be this grand? Though I had a blast, I couldn’t help by think how wasteful and over-the-top the whole event was (they threw out the entire CAKE!). I learned that showcasing your wealth is just something that is done in China. To display success and fortune is a part of Chinese culture; and contrary to Western values, it isn’t really considered arrogant to do so. I guess you could say that Chinese people place high esteem in material wealth; so if you got it, you might as well flaunt it. It think this traces back to China’s focus on valuing family lineage and honor through tangible measures of success.

Let me remind you again that this not your typical Chinese wedding, so forgive me if I may be over-generalizing. One thing is for sure: my cousin is never going to have to worry about money the rest of her life!

Still dreaming of that crispy pork,

John

p.s. My grandparents asked me if my wedding was going to be like this, to which I respond, 哎吔! 不会! (rough translation: AW HELLLLL NO!)

My Cousin’s Big Fat Chinese Wedding, pt. 1

Welcome to my first feature post of BANANA LIFE!

As you all know, I traveled to China this past December to attend the wedding of my dear cousin Li Xi and her boyfriend of 8 years, Wu Hai Feng. Now, having only been to a few traditional western weddings in my lifetime, I really did not know what to expect with this one. All I knew was that there was gonna be A LOT of food, and A LOT of red & gold.

There was a "hong bao" with every invitation!

Well, I was certainly correct on those two accounts. What I didn’t realize until a few weeks before traveling to China was that my new cousin-in-law is an RMB-illionaire (seriously, his family is DIDDY-loaded). I learned that Hai Feng’s grandfather was a very famous chief of medicine and founder of one of the biggest hospitals in Humen (his hometown in the Guangdong province) and his father owns a very successful glass manufacturing business (which he will one day run). In addition, my uncle (Li Xi’s father and my mom’s older brother) has risen to be one of the top business managers of a corporate and residential interior design firm in Dongguan, Guangdong and is doing quite well for himself as well. Put these two families together and what do we get? I’ll let the following picture speak for itself:

I can tell you with 99% confidence that this was and will be, the most extravagant wedding I ever go to.

But before we get into the details of the actual evening ceremony, I wanted to share some of the customs that occurred prior to the extravaganza depicted above. I was overwhelmed when I heard how much had to be done to prepare for the wedding. As Li Xi said to me when I arrived a few days early, “太多麻烦!” (translation: way too much trouble!)

NOTE: Some of the traditions I am about to describe are specific to the Guangdong province, so they should not be generalized with all of China. And obviously, this is not a typical wedding since the two families are each BALLIN’ status. I just don’t want to get your hopes up when you get invited to a Chinese wedding and expect the same level of craziness, haha.

Pre-Wedding Customs:

  • The bride must buy 6 new outfits that must be packed in a red suitcase and taken to her new home to be worn during the week following the wedding. The clothes are then never worn again and discarded.
  • The bridal party must drink a sweet herbal soup consisting of the following: lotus seed, white wood ear fungus, lily bulbs, and dried red dates sweetened by rock sugar (tastes better than it sounds!)
  • The groom’s family gives the bride an herbal bath mixture that she must use the night before the wedding. The bride must also eat a roasted chicken prepared by her grandmother that same night (I have no idea what this symbolizes).
  • The bride’s hair must be brushed and done up in a bun –the style of chinese married women– by another female member of the family who is both happily married and financially successful (in this case, my mother). During this time, my mom must also drop some knowledge on her about how to be a good wife, lol.
  • The groom’s family must decorate and prepare the couple’s new home (in this case, an entire floor of their 5-story mansion o_O) with new bedding, furniture, and shiny things.
  • A bridal dowry of cash (a whole lot of it) is placed in two red buckets and strung across a pole to be carried in the ancient tradition. One of the elder members of the bride’s family must carry it to the groom’s home on the day of the wedding.

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Wedding Day Rituals

On the morning of the wedding, Hai Feng, whose family lives about 40 minutes away from Dongguan, caravanned over with his groomsmen to take us all back to his family’s mansion in Humen. While Li Xi was being prepped by my mother and accompanied by her nine bridesmaids in her newly bedazzled bedroom, I hung out with my aunt who filled me in on the wedding day customs:

  • Before the groom’s party could take Li Xi away they had to engage in a traditional “wedding door game”. Basically, the bridesmaids must block the door and prevent the groom and his party from entering. The only way the groom is allowed to enter is by correctly answering questions asked by the bridal party and offering hong bao. In ancient times and apparently some regions now, the groom’s party will force their way in by breaking down the door or windows; but given that my uncle just finished furnishing the home he said he’d kill any one who tried, lol.
  • Once in the bedroom, the groom must kiss the feet of the bride and find a hidden pair of red shoes before carrying her out of the threshold. Only then can all the parties leave for the groom’s home.
  • While traveling, the bride and groom must carry a red umbrella in order to ward off evil spirits as they cross the gates of their new home.
  • Relatives shower them with confetti and rice as pass by, which apparently is to attract the attention of the golden chicken, a symbol of health and success.
  • Lastly, the newlyweds must perform a ceremony where they burn incense and offer food and tea to their ancestors.

And FINALLY, we got to go and pig out at LUNCH 🙂 YUMMMMM

MID-DAY FEAST!

Whew! And that takes us up to around noon, lol. After food coma-ing for a bit and resting up at the hotel, we then got ready for the evening ceremony, which as you could probably tell from the picture above, was a tad insane. But I guess you’ll have to wait until next time to hear about that!

再見!

-John

My new cousin-in-law…

As you may already know, the main reason for my return to the motherland this past December was to attend my cousin Li Xi’s (Sissy’s) wedding. She emailed me out of the blue about a year ago with the news of the engagement and I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to travel back to China.

The last time I saw my cousin Li Xi was during the summer of 2002. Even though we’ve grown up on opposite sides of the planet, I’ve always felt very close to her. But having not spoken to her in almost a decade, I was pretty nervous to finally see her again after all these years. Nevertheless, once reunited, we were joking around and reminiscing as if no time had passed (even with our semi-broken language barrier). Meeting her fiance-now-husband, however, was another story. For one, my mandarin is pretty rusty and two, since he is a native Cantonese speaker, even his mandarin was not that great o_O.

Trying to connect with him was awkward at first, but we quickly made it work. After fumbling over conversation topics, I finally struck common ground on the subject of music. I could see he was trying extremely hard to make me feel comfortable as he attempted some painfully-broken English. Here was my first exchange with my new cousin-in-law, Wu Hai Feng (a.k.a. Hamilton):

Him: “Do you like blog ice peed?”

Me: “uhh, 什么 (what)?”

Him: “Umm, the… uh… hei- (runs off to his room)”

Me: (to myself) “blog… ice… peed…?”

(He returns and hands me THIS)

Me: “Ohhh… lol”

Apparently they are his favorite music group right now. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that BEP is the armpit stain of all modern music, so I just responded with: “他们还可以” (translation: they aiite). Also, no joke, the song he chose to have played while walking across the stage to deliver his wedding vows and ask my uncle for his blessing was “I Gotta Feeling.”

At least it wasn’t Nickelback.