Sunday, August 14, 2005

Don't send me to heaven
It ain't where I should go
Cause the Devil's got a charcoal pit
And a good fire down below

This snatch of Robert Earl Keen's ode to 'que came to mind recently after I came close to committing a major religious/cultural blunder in a search for the holy grill.
Shambling from my digs at my usual bright and early 12:30-1pm rising hour, I noted recently that the apartment management had set up some temporary grills. Halved metal barrels were laid lengthwise across saw horses on edge of the sprawling patio, entrance area. Inside there were what appeared to be metal grates of sorts and the bottoms were lined with sand.
"Yowzah!" thinks I. A little late in the summer perhaps, but nice of them to put in some grills. I had the evening off and immediately made plans to bust out some 'que. A "Mongolian T-bone" steak - thin but serviceable - was found, as was a small bag of charcoal, cigarette lighter fluid, some corn to grill and some sauces, spices, garlic etc. I was salivating thinking of the final result as it's been about a year since I last had any proper contact with The Summer Grill Experience.
About 6pm I trotted out, two bags of fire starting equipment and fixings in hand, sauntered up to Barrel No. 1, lifted the grate and began to pluck out burned incense stubs that some idjit had thoughtlessly burned there (maybe the Chinese version of hickory chips?) and rip open the charcoal. That's when a Chinese resident, who'd been nursing a beer at a nearby bench suddenly lurched up and ran at me gesticulating and yammering.
"No eating! No fooding! No!"
I backed off, thinking perhaps it was a sanitary warning and then made eye contact with a security guard who was also headed my way. In slightly better English he told me it was a no-no and then escorted me politely but firmly to the apartment entrance corridor where he pointed to the notices bulletin board.
It's a board I rarely read, though admittedly it does provide helpful information about elevator closures, toilet tank water shutdowns and such that I sometimes manage to catch after the fact. More often it's a wealth of topical information on items such as the security guards' neckties. According to one, they aren't wearing ties due to summer heat from 0600 hours June 1, 2005-2400 hours September 1, 2005 but the dress code change "is not expected to have a negative impact on the performace of their assigned duties."
Imagine my relief.
But I had missed a crucial one. Reading it I learned it's currently "Yue Laan Festival" (Hungry Ghosts) and the apartment had set up temporary incense burning altars (the halved barrels) for residents to burn joss sticks in rather than doing so in stairwells and hallways. I later asked a Chinese coworker about Gwai Jit and was told it means "Ghost Festival." It's a month long period when ancestors from the underworld get a "summer holiday" among the living. A Dead Man's 30-day Party wherein incense and paper replicas of clothes and possessions such as lap tops, autos, homes, cell phones and even servants are burned to keep them amused and occupied. More convenient than real kegs, I guess.
But what I had almost done was akin to some halfwit going into a Catholic church to toast marshmallows and roast hot dogs over votive candles.
Still, I thought, I bet those Sino-specters would love some grilled 'que. It's just not the same pan-fried.
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