even though i brought leftover vietnamese spring rolls to work with me for lunch, i still went out for food anyway. james and i went to the noodle alcove in chinatown where for $5 you can get a bowl of authentic hand-drawn noodle soup. i went with the most expensive noodle choice they had, the beef brisket ($5.75). added to that a few teaspoons of hot sauce and it was a delicious meal, leaving me sweaty in the end (perhaps a better thing to eat during the wintertime). coming back, we got alex some fried pork from one of the butcher shops. the lingua franca of all chinatown is of course chinese, but here in boston (and much of the east coast), the dialect is cantonese, which i can't speak (i know only mandarin). a few of the more aggressive patrons cut us in line since we didn't know what was going on. the door to the slaughter room was opened and james and i watched as one of the butchers spread out a whole pig carcass on a tabletop to be divided. two bins of pig entrails were pushed out and a pair of old chinese women were quick to scavenge the parts into plastic bags, their mixed booty containing pig's feet and perhaps intestines. on another table, in a tray, 2 pig heads greeted all incoming customers. at one point a few children were playing, chasing each other around. there was a circus like atmosphere, the fact that this place is so much about the slaughter of animals for food almost an afterthought as everyone go casually about their business. the butcher working the chopping block was a real pro with the cleaver, cutting the orders with laser like precision, one wrong move would guarantee missing fingers.

reports of a serious storm front approaching the area were first reported by julie in somerville, we turned off her computer for fear of frying her electronics. although there was a slight overcast in boston, the weather was relatively calm (hot and humid day though). soon afterwards though, the sky darkened, the cracks of thundering were heard, and then it started to rain, hard. upon closer observation, what we thought to be heavy raindrops were actually small hail stones (pebble sized balls of ice).

that was my cue to go outside and see if i could get some photos. the rain was coming down in buckets and the hail stones rattled off of parked cars, bouncing around on the wet streets, melting quickly. everywhere, people were huddled in doorways and underneath canopies, waiting for the rain to stop, which it did after about 10 more minutes, just a passing weather system. i went down to downtown crossing, out to park street, before coming back. with the rain over, everything went back to normal, the drama of a downpour disappearing completely. i saw people waiting for the fungwah buses to escape to new york this weekend. behind a parking lot i spotted some people acting awfully suspicous, i suspect some sort of drug interactive was taking place. the sky was clearing up and i kept my eyes opened for signs of a rainbow (didn't find any). the overcast gave way to puffy white clouds then to a clear blue sky. i returned to the office.

on the train ride back home, i briefly thought about renata, maybe she wouldn't be busy tonight and maybe we could do something, but then i thought maybe seeing each other on consecutive nights might violate some sort of rule of engagement, and besides, i assumed she'd be busy, tonight being the start of the 4th of july long weekend and all. so instead i was happy to spent a quiet friday evening alone, come home, take a bath, read the latest issue of entertainment weekly, drink a can of soda, eat a bowl of cherries, then later cook up some ramen for dinner. i was in the kitchen washing the cherries so i didn't hear my phone ringing. i listened to the message, from renata, "tony, call me when you get this message," and i thought i was in some kind of trouble, because the tone over the nokia sounded serious. i called her back and she asked if i wanted to have dinner; my answer was "of course," renata unknowingly rescuing me from a night of ramen. i asked for enough time to shower and freshen up, and she arrived 30 minutes later.

we had decided to try sugar and spice, that newish thai restaurant that opened up in porter square (since this spring?), near the post office, in the space that used to be a brunch place. renata recited all the words she'd learned from half a week's worth of chinese language classes, common phrases (thank you, yes, no, you're welcome) and family relations (mother, father, brother, sister). i corrected her when she mispronounced (which wasn't very often), and tried to explain the literal meaning of certain phrases. i was impressed with the language hungry sponge that she's become, and delighted in the hope that she will soon forget the chinese swear words i taught her a while back. she was also more than willing to demonstrate her knowledge of chinese number signing, counting 1 to 10 with just one hand.

sugar and spice has a very cool exterior, a perimeter of windowsill boxes with various leafy and flowering plants growing out of them, and a very cool interior as well, multicolored tiled walls with little lighted niches and exotic pendant and recessed lights. the space is a little cramped, the owners obviously trying to squeeze as many customers as possible, but it wasn't bad (not elbows to elbows anyway). we each ordered a soup, i went with the tom yum, renata had the coconut creme. hers was very sweet, mine was okay, actually a little bit too hearty, and more sour than spicy. it was at this point that renata brought out her flashcards of chinese words to show me once again how well she's been learning middle kindgom speak.


tom yum soup

thai omelette

next came our two appetizers, the morning glory which resembled thai tempura and some thai omelette. the thai omelette was nothing to write home about, it disappeared without a fight, by itself perhaps not as interesting as with the fish sauce. however, the morning glory was quite excellent, and immediately i thought about all the people i was going to tell to come to this restaurant to try this dish, it's that good. our main entree was a shared "excited tiger" (i think that was the name, definitely had tiger in it though), barbecued beef on a bed of lettuce with a sauce that's a medley of different hot peppers yet at the same time not overwhelming. once again, mouthwateringly delicious. renata showed me how people in southeastern asia eat the sticky rice with their hands (i thought it was a primative custom, but i'm just a cultural bigot).

morning glory

excited tiger

sticky rice

it's been a long time since i had a meal this good. renata reached her food quota before me, and since her fridge was broken and since i don't like to eat leftovers, i had no choice (twist my arm) but to finish the rest of the food while renata waited patiently. renata ended up treating me, her excuse was once again how i always cook for her.

next, we went to the bubble ice teahouse on the other side of porter square, next to tamarind house. the place was empty of patrons except for two noisy women chatting by the front window seats. when she learned that we would be having our drinks for here, the counter girl asked us to sit down so she could serve us. the place wasn't all about tea either, they also served lunch food which could subsitute for a light dinner. renata had a non-diary green tea shake while i went with the standard bubble ice tea. renata noticed how one side of the wall seemed chinese, with various teapots on shelves, while another side seemed more vietnamese, with southeast asian artworks hanging on the wall. i found the tapioca balls in the bubble ice tea to be on the hard side. the proper consistency is like gum, firm yet soft. i still think the best place to get a good bubble ice tea (if not my parents' place) is that chinese bookstore by where i work in chinatown.

"i'm going to do something but you can't show anyone," renata told me as i got my camera ready and agreed to her verbal contract of nondisclosure (which i consent to at least once if not more everytime we meet). she proceeded to count in chinese again with her hand up to 10. i don't know how many people still use that system. it's just easier to go with both hands to denote the numerals, no confusion as to whether that hand gesture (more like gang signs) meant "6" or "7". after reviewing all the photos, renata gave me permission to post them online.










we returned to my house (agreeing during that short walk that "bufo" sounds like a swear word, and comparing the size of our stomaches to see who was more engorged with food), where renata came in just to prove to me that she can stay awake beyond 10pm. she left 30 minutes later, having not fallen asleep, but did confess that she was drowsy. we shouted good byes at each other as she walked down the street, and i opened up the television and saw there was a red sox game in progress. in hindsight i wish there wasn't, because the red sox lost another close one in extra innings. i'm still recovering from being swept by the yankees. the trauma might be bad enough that i may never fully recover, at least not the rest of this season.