Whenever I’m at my hip hop class, I feel like I’ve missed my calling.
I love it so much. The class is about an hour-and-a-half long, two times a week. I look forward to it every weekend. My instructor, Bradley “Shooz” Rapier, is this super chill dude in his early 30s (or late 20s?) with a mid-sized afro, a pinched, concentrated frown, smooth ebony skin, and big hipster glasses.
He dances even when he’s standing still to talk. He dances as though it’s as natural and comfortable as breathing. He almost became a doctor, but chose to be a professional choreographer and dancer instead. He’s frequently on tour, which means we get plenty of guest instructors who dazzle us with their array of hip hop specialties, from locking to breaking to krumping.
The class is huge—about 40 students, maybe—so it’s not the most comfortable dancing situation. Most of the time I’m inching my head to view my instructor, trying to carve out my own space without hitting anyone in the face (accidentally). Sometimes I’m lucky and I score a front row spot right behind the instructor.
Other times, I have to slyly sneak my way up front: step, step, gliiiide up front. Step, step, shooove it. Step, step, step, oops, how did I end up here? Hee hee. Ah well, might as well stay in this spot.
The hour passes by so fast during my hip hop class. Just when I think I’m about to “get it,” the class is over and I have to sprint my way to my Advanced Chinese class, looking all disheveled and icky. I truly feel like I could dance for 12 hours straight without feeling tired or sick of dancing.
Unfortunately, I suck at hip hop. Seriously, suckity suck. Somehow, the image of swagger and flow I have in my head just doesn’t translate into my limbs. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t look…cool. I just look like I’m in pain. Or as if I’m a poppet handled by a maniacal, drunk puppeteer. I either look awkward, stupid, crazy, or plain sad. I dance with my brain instead of letting my body take over and mold with the music’s beat.
But that’s okay. Because I LOVE it. I love the sway, the attitude, the energy, the holistic feel of the dance. I’m just glad I missed my calling to dance, because then I can just learn to enjoy it instead of futilely attempting to be good at it.
That feels awesome. To be able to suck at something and…well, still have fun. To relinquish the need to be perfect at something, yet gain a strange confidence in the way my body moves and feels. There’s magic in dancing. I almost wonder if I could have had a more stable ego if I had grown up dancing. Eh…maybe not.
Check out this kid here:
Baby Boogaloo is a 7-year-old kid with an afro bigger than his face, and he moves his tiny limbs better and badder than I ever will. I got to know his name via one of my hip hop instructors, who personally coached the little kid when he was 5.
Cute as hell, isn’t he? I wonder who came up with the stage name “Baby Boogaloo.”
Okay, let’s chat about something I do well. I can’t be a cute dancer, but I can sure eat a lotta cute food. And is there any food cuter than a little pork dumpling?
I think not. Look at those little pleats, scowling up at you. Look at that tight pinch at the tip, like little clenched baby fists. Look at the dumpy bottom, sagging with steaming pork broth and juices.
I squeal and sigh every time I see a row of pork dumplings squished and squatted on a steamer. They are shaped like little creamy turds, I know, but they look soooo cute!
People fawn over puppies and babies, I fawn over pork dumplings. They are cheaper and tastier, too. They drool a bit, but unlike babies, their drool tastes like pork and ginger and garlic with a spurt of black vinegar. Mmm.
These pork dumplings were devoured at Wang Xing Ji, a Wuxi restaurant at San Gabriel Valley (aka Little Taipei) that I’ve been eyeing ever since Jonathan Gold wrote a fantastically humorous review of their food. The eatery is tucked in some kind of strip mall or mini shopping complex. I probably would not have given it a second glance if Mr. Gold hadn’t written about their mutant dumplings.
Yes, mutant dumplings! Like, the size of my head! Quite literally!
As you can see, their huge ass fills up a whole steamer plate, heavy and burbling with broth and crab/pork filling. They are so huge you’ve gotta have a straw to suck out its juices, and then dig in with a spoon and maybe some chopsticks to wring off its chewy skin.
Wait, backtrack. I went with my second favorite couple, Marilyn and Wes (most favorite couple = my parents). They are sometimes nauseatingly cute. I mean it in a good way, of course.
Marilyn’s on the right pretending to be a walrus with her chopsticks. I guess she’s an Asian walrus? I’m not sure what Wes is supposed to be…He looks more like an Asian dad does when his favorite son gets a B on his math test. As you can see I never have a moment’s boredom with them, and when I fear I’m becoming a third wheel I just entertain myself with more dumplings (or xiao long baos).
And gosh, yes. We had so many dumplings. You can order it sweet or salty, and we got the unsweetened kind.
We also stuffed our faces with other dishes, since Wang Xing Ji is a branch from a popular dumpling house in Wuxi, a city by Lake Tai close to Shanghai. Wuxi people must love their sweets, or they must be very sweet people, because their style of cooking is distinct for its sweetness.
Take these Wuxi-style spareribs, for example:
These are sticky and sweet like candy, their caramelization tingled with soy and pork meat. It’s a must-order at Wang Xing Ji, because they truly make them near-perfect: meltingly tender, mild charring, imbued with old wine, soy sauce and syrup. I love that raspberry-chocolaty color.
As for the star of the table, the mutant dumpling, it was practically all mine, since Wes and Marilyn had already tried it before.
It’s filled with sweet crab meat and pork. Honestly, it’s a gimmick. It’s just an overlarge xiao long bao for people who thrill after ostentatious display of gluttony. It’s good, but it’s not great. But it’s definitely fun—a messy, slurpified affair.
More dishes. We also had silver fish in steamed egg “soup,” which was served in a porcelain mug:
NICE! It came all wobbly and quivering, like soft flan. You dig in, and you pull out a clear broth and some white-fleshed fish.
My only minor criticism is that the broth reeked of sesame oil or something. Perhaps to drown out the fishy smell?
The most popular dish, perhaps, was the eggplant casserole:
God, this was beautiful. Glistening with oil, looking all regal and gold yet pruney because it’s been stewed for hours, soaking up juice from ground pork and soy sauce and probably sugar. There’s a lot more juice leftover for slathering over steamed rice. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
By the way, if you sit next to the kitchen, you get a close-up view of the chefs crafting rows after rows of dumplings at lightning speed:
I love the concept of a clear-view dumpling station. Kinda reminds me of Din Tai Fung, a famous xiao long bao chain.
Wang Jing Xi’s menu is sorta limited, but I would be back for their eggplant casserole and spareribs. And their pork dumplings, but I order those at almost every Chinese restaurant that offers them, whether they’re known for them or not. I’m sure you have your pork dumpling too.
By the way, I’m turning 25 next week. I’m like, 5 times the age of Baby Boogaloo when he busted moves at America’s Got Talent. Maybe if I try very hard to ignore my impending age, it’ll go away.