Thursday, December 31, 2009
Yes, I’m again violating my policy of not posting any Chinglish to share with you this package of “Lonely God” potato wafer snack thingies. Chinglish is everywhere you look here, and I try not to post it, because, hey, my Chinese is much much much worse. Sometimes, however, the translations are so poetic (or strangely philosophical) that I just have to pass them on. Plus, this little cherub looks just a little like the the baby New Year, so I thought it would be seasonably appropriate. Happy 2010, everyone!!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Every college campus has tons of posters advertising student events, and Xihua University is no exception. Here, they take the form of big hand painted posters on large metal stands outside the main classroom buildings. Oh, and no surprise, I have very little idea of what most of them say. On my way back from canceling my Thursday classes on Christmas Eve, I stopped and snapped some photos of a few, which I just made into this set on Flickr. I'm a big fan of folk art in all forms, and I think these qualify. Enjoy!
Over the weekend, I started a bit of a post in my charming (translation: lazy) "make another list" style about our Christmas in China. Jane then completed and posted a much more detailed and superior version (see below), but I thought that I'd post my list as well, for posterity's sake.
Cool things about Christmas, which was, gosh, only last Friday as I'm writing this:
- Listening to the Santa Land Diaries from David Sedaris twice as we were getting presents ready until two.
- Breakin’ out the granola (we’d been saving since mid-October) for breakfast.
- Watching the kids tear into the loot! (yeah, okay, this Christmas was a bit more toy-filled than most. Blame it on the low RMB if you must...)
- Carrot muffins with ginger and star anise.
- People coming over! We didn’t really leave the apartment for the whole day.
- A healthy two-hour nap with Ysa from 3 to 5 while the boys played without arguing (as far as we know).
- Hearing Jose Feciliano sing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” on the iPod and not wanting to gag. How did that happen?
- Delivering sugar cookies with homemade kiwi and pomegranate frosting to a few select neighbors from 8 till 9:30. Felt like trick or treating in reverse.
- Jane writing out a more detailed version of what we did so that I don't have to...
Sunday, December 27, 2009
We made at least 100 jiaozi! Jiang Ayi (the one who helps my fam cook and clean every day) and Zhou Jing (a grad student here, my jogging partner) were the jiaozi masters, with Zhou Jing teaching us the special way to fold and make them up in the northeastern part of China, where she’s from. They were so beautiful! We had four different kinds of fillings:
soft white tofu and chive
smoked tofu cubes and shitake mushrooms
shredded cabbage and carrot and home-pickled vegetables
pumpkin, ginger and sesame seed - a surprising note of sweetness, and absolutely delicious.
I had hunted on the internet for recipes using star anise, since I’ve always seen it at the market, but never used it. My search revealed this: baked apples with one star anise on top, infusing the whole thing with a rich savory flavor. The apples were stuffed with golden raisins (the only kind available around here) that had been soaked in sweetened jasmine tea. Here’s the link: http://vegeyum.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/bakedapples/
I also came upon a recipe for five-spice carrot muffins. Five spice uses star anise in it, and we’ve had a container full of it here since we arrived (from previous residents, but it still smelled great). Think your traditional pumpkin pie spice, with a hint of anise. I also fortified them with lots of sunflower seeds and chopped walnuts. These muffins rocked. The 2 other Americans in attendance were so pleased to have a taste of home with muffins, and such tasty ones at that. Here’s the link: http://tnoranges.blogspot.com/2009/09/chinese-five-spice-carrot-muffin.html
Rounding it out were mulled wine - I just spied whole cloves and dried orange peels at the market, dark beer and M&M cookies (go, Mom!). Here’s what completed the scene: country Christmas music, bits of Handel’s “Messiah” from our Ipod speaker, the whole house decked out with strewn wrapping paper (Go, Ikea in Chengdu!), piles of gifts, the Christmas tree, stockings, Christmas cards from students and ourselves, our huge home-made Advent calendar, plus 3 chocolate ones from a sweet friend in the States, and lots of attention to the many jiaozi and other dishes being crafted.
One of my Facebook friends summed it up pretty well when he said, “I swear, doing a big Christmas "event" with family and friends in one's home is like opening a show. You've got to have costumes, set decoration, music, props, etc. PLUS FOOD, of course! We're exhausted and the curtain isn't even up yet.”
I love to entertain in my home, but we sure do expend a lot of effort. Staying up late to wrap last-minute gifts and do food prep for the next day surely also contributed to a certain sense of, well, I just had this really aching back.
Maybe it was also the intense week of jogging, sit-ups and yoga, but my body was tuckered out after lunch! After the guests left, I hit the sack for a good hour-and-a-half.
Woke up and couldn’t even move! But after a few minutes, I recovered fully from the yoga stiffness. Ready for round 2 of the day.
After eating leftover fish soup and jiaozi, Zekey announced, “I can’t wait for Christmas to end!” What? He meant that he didn’t want the day to end. We settled on leaving the 2 boxes in the mail from Babcia unopened, as well as the grow-in-water Christmas tree, for the next day, to extend the celebrations. But it sure was cute how he sighed and batted his eyelashes, in love with Christmas.
Next, we made cut-out cookies from dough I’d made and refrigerated on Christmas Eve. Previous residents had left the traditional Christmas-shaped cookie cutters: angel, trees, stars, little gingerbread men and a candy cane. Our Western-style countertop oven comes in handy so often.
Who knocked on the door but the boys’ teacher, Chi Laoshi, whom they adore. She came bearing a gift of a little plastic tree-shaped container filled with candies. She stayed and helped decorate cookies.
I made frosting using powdered sugar from the Western-goods bakery in Chengdu. Food coloring? Not in these parts. We succeeded in making pink - not red, but close - with a pomegranate squeezed by mine own bare hands. Green was not achieved, as the kiwi juice was apparently not green enough. But it wasn’t pure white, so it stood out from the third bowl of pure white frosting. We chopped up Skittles (thanks again, Mom!), and decorated to our hearts’ content.
Then we spent an hour-and-a-half delivering cut-out cookies to 8 of our good neighbor friends. The boys’ teacher came with us, much to their delight. Up and down we went, in different stairwells, being let in, staying at the threshold, so as to not have to change into slippers at each place. Many neighbors gave us oranges or candy as we departed. But the cutest was when Zekey shouted out (and his speaking voice is already pretty darn loud), “I LOVE YOU!” to the favorite of these, our favorite neighbors. It began with Luo Bo, our foreign affairs office assistant, and continued with Ivy and Sicily, Liang Tao’s wife and daughter, Rao Bin and Lang Lang, and of course, Chi Laoshi, their teacher.
There are great perks being in a row of apartment buildings. Let’s see, there are 5 entrances in our row, and each entrance has 12 apartments. That’s 60 homes. Across from us is another apartment building, same size. That’s 120 homes within a span of 300 feet!
Wow, it was 9:30 p.m. when we finished, so the kids headed straight to bed. Dave and I somehow mustered the energy to do bunches of dishes and put away lots of food. The previous night, Christmas Eve, we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves listening to David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.”
We pulled off a great Christmas celebration in China! Yay, us! New traditions - Christmas Jiaozi, David Sedaris, and cookie delivery. I’m pretty happy with all this.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
We're off today to Chengdu with the whole family for not one but two (count them, two) Christmas dinners! One with our MPC country reps for lunch, and one with the American teachers on campus and our ever-helpful director of the foreign affairs department for dinner. Of course, lunch will be Indian food and dinner will be Chinese, but hey, you gotta take traditions where they come, right?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
(posted by - well, guess...)
Yes, after only four months here, I have realized one of my major goals - to have an IKEA product named after me in China. Now if I can just track down this Leksvik guy and figure out why his table is worth almost five times as much as my chair...
Friday, December 11, 2009
Who knows, I might even get around to getting the blog spruced up a bit, now that we can actually post to it without having to go through a third party site. Any votes on a new color scheme? I'm thinking greens and purples, except that it would clash with our bright red couch...
*As we all know, it is considered proper academic form in China to say "as we all know" when referring to common knowledge, even if it isn't shared by everyone in the audience. Makes everybody feel a little more valued, don't you think?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
This article is full of facts and figures that are just so interesting! I never knew, really, where nails come from, and now I know more about them and China’s steel industry than before. Check it out!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Okay, sorry all you vegetarians and vegans out there - this post should come as a bit of a palate cleanser for you. I have the great fortune to be married to the one woman who can find the only organic farm offering CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) shares in all of Southwest China within three months of moving here.
Since it never really dips much below freezing here in Sichuan, the growing season is year-round. We thus get a big bagful of fresh organic veggies twice a week, delivered to us every Tuesday and Friday by farmer Gao right to the university gate, a minute’s walk away from our apartment.
One thing that happens when you join a CSA is that you immediately notice your diet start to change. Instead of choosing what you would like to eat and then picking out groceries, your food chooses you instead. You tend to eat fewer elaborately prepared concoctions, and instead, make more simply prepared dishes with the vegetables that the season has given to you.
In China, this gets more interesting, because the “what the heck is this vegetable?” factor is even bigger. Every day, we eat a big huge batch of greens that we don’t know the name of. Jane is also now pickling radishes and garlic and many other yummy things. (If you ask her really nice, maybe she’ll write you a blog post about it.)
Another example is purple yams, which, as you can see above, are like sweet potatoes, but, yes, bright purple. So, what do we eat? Purple fries! Simply chop up your purple yams into strips, heat up some oil to smoking on your industrial-strength kitchen burner, throw the yam strips in with a bit of salt, stir like crazy, and five minutes later, you’ve got a dish featuring purple vegetables that your kids will beg for. (Okay, having ketchup also helps a bit here.)
(posted by Dave)
Ah, December, when the air turns deliciously crisp, you can see your breath outside (and in), and people’s thoughts turn to ... hanging long ropes of sausage outside their windows. (Vegetarians, my sincere apologies. You can skip to the next post now.)
Yes, up and down the streets of our campus, entire apartment blocks are festooned with hanging meat products of all sorts. Mostly sausages, but also what looks to be hunks of bacon, fatty pork, and at least one lower leg and hoof that I spied yesterday.
As we may have mentioned, our family is pretty much vegetarian at this point. Ysa and I are the late adapters, still eating some meat on occasion, so it was up to me to go out and try some for the record. I went out with Johnny and Owen, two other American teachers on our campus, and am happy to report that Chinese sausage tastes like - bacon. Or more specifically, very good Canadian bacon crossed with pepperoni. I was halfway through a dish of it stir-fried with fresh greens before I realized that that’s what I had been eating. Silly me, I had been expecting links or something, but around here, sausage is sliced almost paper thin and fried up with veggies. The sausage with hot green pepper was the best - started up some really good eyeball sweat.
This might be a good time to insert a thought or two I’ve had about meat in China. In many ways, the way the Chinese prepare it makes much more sense (if eating meat does indeed make sense, which is, of course, up for debate) than the way meat is prepared in the States and elsewhere.
Portion size, for starters. A “normal-sized” American single serving of pork, say, will here be sliced or diced or chopped into a dish that, in combination with rice and fresh vegetables, will easily feed six people. Parts are also more important here. Everything is used, not much is wasted. Entrails, feet, brains, tongues - all the stuff that is ground up into budget-brand hot dogs, or worse, fed back to feedlot cattle in the States goes straight onto the menu here.
Most noticeably, here the is meat often staring back at you. Upon reflection, I think is a good thing. You can’t keep the common American illusion that meat comes from neatly wrapped packages at the supermarket. “Throw away the head? How could you - that’s the best part!” (Did I blog about the time that I ate a big chunk of chicken only to notice that there was a beak poking into my cheek?)
Tremella: fungi with yellowish gelatinous sporophores having convolutions resembling those of the brain. That dubious-sounding dish is what our neighbors told us this afternoon they would make for us at “Chinese corner” tonight. Fortunately, what we encountered was a soup made of a mucous-y sort of broth with the long yellow soft strands of tremella, goji berries, and a sort of date thing floating all around.
And we enjoyed our Chinese corner, the second of what we hope are many to come! Last week, it was at our house, and I’d made an apple pie.
The topic tonight was how to say, “First, second, then, next and last:”
We also talked about Xander’s fever, cough and runny nose. He woke up today with a fever, slept 3 hours mid-day, and is back in bed at 8:15 p.m. Who knows if it’s a flu or that shall-remain-unnamed type of special flu, or another bug... Point is, we actually had a good, mellow day together. He learned to draw airplanes in different ways. He watched a video. He ate boiled pear. We engaged in our nightly ritual of reading a chapter from the Chronicles of Narnia.
And at Chinese corner tonight (I went first, then came back to watch X while Dave headed over), I learned that I should stir fry orange for Xander. Well, I’ll give it a go first thing in the morning! Thanks for friends and tremella.
...for the weekend. We had a conference. We saw the Terracotta warriors. We did other things. We came back.
We taught all day today. I planned on blogging. We spent fifty minutes on Skype with our credit card company trying to resolve a billing issue. This warrior is now going to bed - details later!
(posted by Dave)
Jane here! I’ll add: We flew on an airplane! We stayed in a nice hotele! We shopped! We bargained! I invoked making a Chinese salary, living in China, in order to justify paying close to what I found out was the price Chinese people pay for cute hand-stitched fabrics.
We balanced out all the warrior stuff with our retreat on peace. Here’s a story: A long time ago, there lived a tailor who was also a great sage. The king wanted to present him with a gift, one that hearkened to his tailor craft. He presented the tailor-sage with a pair of diamond-studded scissors. The sage said, “I cannot accept these.” “Why not?” cried the king. The sage replied that a scissors divides. He asked for a needle instead. Why? Because a needle binds fabric together. Yes, it jolts at first when joining the two different elements. But it passes through, unites and is, in fact, often forgotten once the product is finished. But it is the needle that can bring peace by uniting.
Okay, that’s my story, one of the two aspects of hand-stitched fabrics from this past weekend.
Monday, November 30, 2009
(posted by Dave)
It just occurred to me that our faithful reader(s?) (hi, Mom!) might be missing a sense of chronology here at Slow Boat Central. To tell you the truth, as the days are rapidly blending into each other here, I think I’ve been missing one too. But here, for the record is...
A QUICK RECAP OF NOTABLE EVENTS IN THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER (beginning October 31st) ARRANGED ACCORDING TO TIME AND IN MORE OR LESS CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF THE MONTH, AT WHICH POINT I GIVE UP AND JUST START WRITING DOWN STUFF AT RAMDOM:
Oct 31: Had a Halloween Party with around 35 people at our house. Of those 35, ten were under four feet tall, fifteen came in costume, twenty could speak English with varying degrees of fluency, and only five people (i.e., our family) had more than a faint inkling of what Halloween was. Our apartment was decked out with two jack-o-lanterns, countless paper bat cutouts, and a fake spiderweb or two. We had a vampire, a construction worker, several hyperactive fairies, and a bloodthirsty zombie (yers truly) that gleefully hacked up a (watermelon) brain and served it to the guests. Much fun was had by all - even by those who were slightly bewildered by a bunch of sugared-up kids tearing up and down five flights of stairs asking for candy at a few prearranged apartments.
The Next Sunday: A quick tour of the art scene in Chengdu, in preparation for Jens Reulecke, a visiting German performance artist sponsored by our organization.
The Thursday Evening After That: Went in to the Bookworm (Chengdu’s English language bookstore/cafe) to see Jens perform and present his work. It was one of those performances that clicked somehow, and made me see everything surrounding me as Art (note the capital “A”) for the rest of the evening. Beer and conversation afterwards until late, finally making it to bed around 1:30.
Friday: A whole day touring galleries, visiting studios, and talking art with Jens and Snow, a Chinese art student who had spent three years on exchange in Cape Giradeau, MO, of all places, and acted as our interpreter for the day. The day was fun, long (8am to 7pm), and inspiring.
Thanksgiving: (A bit earlier than usual) Jane and the kids came down and met me at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu, the site of our summer language program. MPC, our organization, sponsored a weekend long Thanksgiving retreat. Besides retreating, we conversed, met, ate out, and generally caught up with the group.
Other things I’ve done: (can you tell that I started writing this post three weeks ago and now am writing down stuff at random to justify posting this?)
Lectured to an auditorium full of about 150 English majors about the American media. Started an a cappella music class. Played some ping pong and realized that I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.
Realized that next semester we’ll be getting more classes, and resolved to spend more of our time in the mornings learning Chinese. Can now understand the name of our local bus stop. Went to several post offices to pick up and send off various packages.
Broke out the Christmas decorations. Made an Advent Calendar with Xander and Zekey. Tried my best to distract the kids and put them to bed while 15 students are in our apartment during Jane’s Thursday night baking classes. Enjoyed fresh-baked apple pie and baguettes with Gouda. (thanks, Jane! thanks, students!)
Realized the incompleteness of memory. Tried (and failed) to think of witty closures to blog posts.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
(posted by Dave)
The summer after fifth grade, we took a six week family vacation to the United Kingdom. It was there, in the gift shop of Westminster Abbey, I believe, that I cemented my lifelong interest in heraldry, funky logos, and all things systematically symbolic.
My ability to remember graphic symbols has helped me along here - as you can imagine, I get obsessed with Chinese characters from time to time. I've learned about four hundred of them! Only about 4,000 more till I can read the paper... That’s the subject for another post, however.
What I wanted to write about is a much easier system of symbology - Chinese automobile logos! I’m not particularly interested in cars per se, but I have to admit that I get a geeky thrill in finding a logo that I haven’t seen before on my walks around town. The names are great, too. Geely! Freeca! Click on the above photo to get to a Flickr set of some other logos I’ve uploaded.
My uber-nerd favorite has got to be the logo above. Give yourself five geek points if you immediately thought of Star Trek, and an additional twenty if you thought “hey, blue - that’s Science or Medicine!”
(And no, so far I haven’t spotted a red-colored Star Fleet car. Which only makes sense, if you think about what happens to those red shirt security guys when they beam down to strange planets...)
Saturday, November 28, 2009
(posted by Dave)
...or Bruder Jakob, Fray Felipe, or any of those other European Brothers who are sleeping in while morning bells are ringing. You may not know this, but when one-fifth of the world hears the tune “Frere Jacques”, they think of two mutilated tigers running around in circles. Now that our boys are in Chinese kindergarten, we have no choice but to think the same.
Liang zhi lao hu, liang zhi lao hu
pao de kuai, pao de kuai.
yi zhi mei you yan jing,
yi zhi mei you wei ba
zhen qi guai, zhen qi guai
Two tigers, two tigers
Run so fast, run so fast
One has no ears
One has no tail
Really strange! Really strange!
For an (appropriately cheesy) sing-along version, you can check out our friends at Chinese Pod at the link below, though they do get Frere Jacques a bit confused with Alouette in their intro.
Friday, November 27, 2009
In my many months in China, I have, through exhaustive research, come to an astounding conclusion: China has more people than the United States! The latest evidence came to me while standing in line at the ATM just now. (For those of you who aren’t in the same time zone as I am and reading this post the moment that I wrote it, it’s about 10:30 on Friday night).
My first thought was, “Wow, this is a pretty short line - there are only about six people ahead of me.” (note: it’s very common to see up to 30 people in line at the ATM by the university gate near our apartment...)
My second thought: “Wait - before this June, was I ever in a line of six people waiting for an ATM?” Followed by: “Was I ever in a line at an ATM?” Which led to... “Hey, it’s 10:30 at night! On a Friday! Wow, there ARE a lot of people in China!!”
Brilliant logic, eh? One of you can get in touch with the MacArthur Foundation any time now - I’ll be able to accept my Genius Grant when I get back to the States....
(posted by Dave)
Ivy, our eight-year-old precocious neighbor who speaks better English than some of our students, came by to play with our kids and get a bit of help with her English homework. Here, in their marvelous entirety, are the lyrics to the song she wanted help with:
“We're together arm in arm. Over mountains and seas our songs spread.
We're together. We're heart to heart. Television reflects the
Television agarland of friendship You bring us hope
and splendid futrure.
Television a link of friendship you bring love
to the people all over the world, all over the world, all over the
We sent her back to the kids’ room, where she and Xander had a marvelous time reading “Go Dog, Go” in English and Chinese instead...
Saturday, November 21, 2009
(posted by Dave)
...is mostly green, and doesn’t involve tea bags at all. As may have mentioned, I’ve been drinking lots of lots of it to keep warm. (Did I mention that it’s cold here, by any chance?) (Yes, most of my posts will be cold-themed for the near future...) Here, then, is the Dave method of enjoying a perfect cup of tea.
1) Drop 2-3 generous pinches of dried green tea leaves at the bottom of your cup. This cup will usually have a lid, though you may also get a tall clear glass at some of the tea houses around town.
2) Wait five minutes or so and gulp down the first cup. Hint: if there are still tea leaves floating at the top, wait a bit longer. Is it super bitter? Does it make you shudder involuntarily as it goes down? Good, you added enough tea and waited long enough for it to steep.
3) Add more hot water and repeat the process every hour or so, or whenever you start to feel chilly. When the tea starts to taste like green colored hot water instead of tea, it’s probably a good time to switch to plain hot water. (Unless you like tossing and turning for three hours after going to bed until you realize that yes, green tea does indeed contain caffeine.)
4) Speaking of caffeine, enjoy the resulting buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Note the differences between a coffee buzz and a green tea buzz, and think that it probably expresses profound differences between the West and the East. Resolve to write a blog post about this, but never get around to it.
5) Hope your kidneys are in good shape!
6) Repeat steps one to five daily until mid-March. When it gets warm out, switch to cold water after your tea - unless you happen to be Chinese, in which case, keep drinking hot water year round. (It’s better for your stomach, don’t cha know...)
Friday, November 20, 2009
(photo: The kiddos and Jiang Ayi looking sharp with their matching branded "XiYangYang" sweaters. This was before the recent cold snap, so the sweaters are now underneath a couple of layers, but still coming in handy...)
(blog post by Dave)
Astute readers of my last post may be asking themselves, “Okay, so if it’s so cold, why not just turn on the heat?” Ah, excellent question. To answer it, maybe I should tell you a bit about traffic in China.
Now, in the United States, when it comes to driving, (with the possible exception of speed limits on the interstate) the law is the law. People may push the envelope a bit - speed up through a yellow light here, cut into an exit lane in rush hour there - but generally, lights are lights, and lane markings are lane markings that everyone agrees to follow.
In China, not so much. From what I’ve been able to see, traffic lights, lane markings, and so on are viewed more as polite suggestions than unbreakable barriers. People do stop at red lights - well, most of the time. Unless you’re on a motorcycle. Or there’s nobody there. Or you think you can swerve around the pedestrian crossing the road.
As for lane markings, well, if nobody else is around, you mostly stay on your side of the road. However, if there are two lanes of traffic stopped at a red light and you need to make a right turn, well, why not floor it down the left (oncoming traffic) lane, swerve past a few oncoming trucks, and then make a sharp right in front of those two lanes of cars right before the light changes green? (Yes, I was in a taxi where the driver did exactly that.)
In addition to traffic, there are many other areas of society that can be a bit more permeable than in the States. Pricing in the markets, or personal space, to name just two examples off the top of my head. Or, to go back to the topic of heat, buildings. We Americans tend to have this idea that there is a clear distinction between inside and outside. Inside, you are warm (or cool, if it’s summer), and outside is where all of the weather is.
In China, again, not so much. Buildings are more of a suggestion of indoors than an actual barrier against any kind of temperature change. Windows? Walls? Good for keeping the roof up, maybe, but not for keeping heat in. Cold? Put on another sweater! Drink some tea! And open that window - it’ll get too damp in here, otherwise...
Fortunately, there are a few remedies. Layers and layers is the first one - we’ve all got our long johns on and they probably ain’t coming off until March. (Sorry if that’s TMI, folks.) Also lots of tea and hot water, and these really great electric heating pads that go right on top of your mattress and make you feel like you’re sleeping on a George Foreman grill (without the ridges). Oh, and three portable electric radiators and our window A/C unit, which also doubles as a space heater of sorts, but we haven’t turned those on yet. We’re waiting until it gets REALLY cold for that...
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Okay, starting Sunday evening, it just turned cold cold cold. If the weather gizmo on our laptop can be believed, it’s now around 37℉, and is only supposed to get up to the low forties all week. Now, I can hear all of you anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line start to chuckle, but before you get too smug about how “warm” the low forties is, I’d like you to do the following: 1. Turn the thermostat down to, oh, zero. That’s right, not 68, not 65, but all the way off. 2. Open a couple of windows. Wide. Anybody warm and toasty now? Right. Didn’t think so. More in a bit after I get another cup of tea...
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
(posted by Dave)
I've been recruited to give a lecture this coming Thursday on The American Media - or some aspect thereof. I've been online looking for images for the powerpoint presentation, and more than just a little bit weird looking through stills of American commercials from my childhood (anyone remember "stuck on Bandaids, 'cuz Bandaids stuck on me?) and charts of corporate media ownership while here in this country. (Who's being brainwashed again?) Think I've got to turn off the internet while I can still escape...
(photo: Chinese mantou and my friend and Chinese teacher, Wang Tong)
Baking Class #1: Chocolate Chip Cookies (posted by Jane)
November 5, 2009
This is not a country where people show up late to events. People show up early, consistently. At 6:05, I got 2 phone calls and the door buzzing, with the 12 students already here for a 6:30 start-time! I had to say over the door loudspeaker, “You’re early! It’s not 6:30 yet!” I continued to help the kids finish their dinner, clear dinner up, put papers away, etc. When my friend Zhou Jing arrived at 6:23 (also early, but acceptable, as she was my friend here to help me with the whole situation [Dave’s in Chengdu for the night]), I let her in, and she said there was the whole group waiting downstairs, outside. I then let them in.
Xander had made name-tags, basically little strips of paper, with a line and the word “Name.” Each person wrote their English name and used a safety pin to fasten it onto their clothes.
Next, Xander showed them how to wash hands. Ever since we saw the poster in the bathroom of Chicago grocery store Caputo’s, he’s been quite thorough. Why don’t Chinese people seem to use a towel to dry their hands? I pointed to the 3 or 4 clean, folded towels there, and urged them to use them, but they just wouldn’t.
Explaining the rules: Xander sat by my side as we all sat on couches or chairs in a circle in the living room. The first, main rule was for them not to take pictures of my children, explaining that then it wouldn’t be a baking class anymore and that in our house, our children are not miracle wonders of the West. I forgot to mention for them not to play the piano, so that came up twice later when students began to fiddle around on it. I pointed to where we have the 2 bathrooms, one a squat toilet (which I called the Chinese-style bathroom), and the Western-style bathroom in the back bedroom. One student later told me she wouldn’t characterize the 2 bathrooms into “Western” and “Chinese,” for most Chinese people have the “Western-style” bathroom in their house! I haven’t been here long enough to know if this is true, and I’m sure there’s a big difference between the country and city, but touché.
The students (who now numbered 14, as 2 came late) went around the circle and gave their English names to each other. I asked a few of them why they signed up for this class. Answers ranged from “I’m already good at cooking, so I wanted to learn more” to “I no very little about cooking, so I wanted to learn,” to “I’ve seen you around campus and wanted to have a chance to talk with the Western teacher.”
The students seemed to express that they like whole wheat over white flour; however, the whole wheat bread here is quite Wonder-Bready. Wait ‘til they have a home-made whole wheat loaf of bread! They have a taste for sweet things, which is a growing trend among Chinese people. They all, except one, like walnuts, and, according to Chinese thinking they’re good for the brain and even visually resemble a human brain. Why don’t we Westerners believe walnuts are especially good for the brain? Here, children especially are fed walnuts for their developing brains. You’d better believe I’ve got a stash of walnuts around most times.
The students learned about measuring cups and measuring spoons. I believe that quite a few students’ eyesight is bad and they’re not wearing any or proper corrective eyewear (actually, this is something I’ve thought in passing, but want to bring up with them sometime), so they had a hard time seeing the ¼ or ½ etched into the metal measuring spoons and cups.
Another by the by is that I corrected their pronunciation of the word “supermarket.” Chinese tend to pronounce it with a “sh” at the beginning. Argh! The students tonight explained that it’s because the British say it that way. I’ve got to check up on that. Well, I asked them to say it with just the “s” sound.
Now, on to the main business at hand, that of chocolate chips. I held up the bag of Hershey’s chocolate chips (mailed here by dear Mom), showed that there was a recipe on the back, and passed around the photocopy of the recipe. I showed them a bag of chocolate chips from Sabrina’s, the foreign foods import store in Chengdu. Regular ol’ bag of chips, actually, milk chocolate, and not that great. RMB26. THEN, I pulled out the humongous, bright-yellow, 1.5-pound bag of Nestle chocolate chips that my mom had also mailed, and got the expected “Waaaaaaaahhhhh” response. “Everything in the U.S. is big,” I always say.
I read the list of ingredients, then had Xander run into the kitchen to get the unknown ones like baking soda and vanilla extract. We talked about what they are.
The students then divided into 3 groups of 5 each and headed into my kitchen. There I had 3 stations, each with 2 bowls (one for dry ingredients, the other for wet), a stirring spoon, and some random measuring cups and spoons.
A couple of notes about their actual cookie-making process: First, they stirred in what I realized is a Chinese way. In China, they use chopsticks to whisk things quickly. They were attempting to use chopsticks to mix heavy dough. I had to emphasize using the big wooden or plastic stirring spoons. To the whole group, I explained gluten, and why we don’t want to mix cookie batter (like muffins) too much. (It activates the glutens in the flour and makes everything heavy.)
Second, they didn’t follow the directions like I expected they would, but I learned my expectations were unrealistic. One student dumped the brown sugar into the dry-ingredients bowl (flour, baking soda, salt). While this may seem to make sense, as brown sugar isn’t a wet ingredient, what trumps this line of thought is the explicit line in the recipe saying to mix the sugar with other ingredients (butter, other sugar, vanilla, then egg). It was fun explaining sentence order and how, actually, recipes do assume that you know that something like “Add eggs” means to add it to the stuff in the previous sentence.
Third, we 3 different types of doughs created, since I had butter enough only for one batch. The second batch used oil and the amount of flour that the recipe called for. The third batch used oil and more flour than the recipe called for. I predicted the cookies with oil and less flour would spread out too much.
The cookies made with butter spread out the most! During baking, the butter melts, the dough spreads out, and voila! You have what we Americans know as those round, flat, soft things called cookies. The cookies made with oil and more dough were most perfectly puffy and rounded when they came out of the oven. The oil must bind chemically with the flour mix in such a way that it doesn’t melt, or spread out flat. The students ooohed and aaahed over these! Indeed, they looked like mantou or baozi, which are flour-based puffy little breads sold everywhere. Makes sense that Chinese students would think the most familiar shape would look the cutest. Also makes sense that the Chinese students go for CUTE. This is the land of cute!
In-between batches coming out of the oven, we chatted. The time was well-spent, with students munching from the snacks I had available: broad nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flower tea and milk (actually, I only had one container of milk, so a student ran out to get more).
Tuition for each student was RMB70 for the 4-week class, and was based upon my calculations of the cost of ingredients. Sometime in the evening, the leader gave me a big wad of money. I was surprised to receive this directly, and said I wasn’t sure if I should take it. The leader replied that the teacher liaison had said I should. I pointed to the big wad of money and loudly announced, jokingly, “The money’s right here. Nobody steal the money!”
We took a group photo, upon my suggestion, and, upon their suggestion, I gave enough money to one of the students to develop 15 copies, one for each student.
Somebody asked me about how I manage my time, what with all the books in the house and my children and my teaching. I saved answering it ‘til later on in the evening. Towards the end of the evening, when they were all helping wash and dry dishes, I answered that their help is part of how I managed my time, by asking people to chip in help. I also said I have a schedule, dividing my time into what I need to do: learn Chinese, grade students’ work, plan lessons, teach my children, etc. Hmm, I need to teach time management to them and my other oral English students sometime.
I explained the lending library towards the end. Four students each borrowed a book. Demystifying Tibet was requested a few times, and although the inside flap showed it mostly to be a travel guide, it refers to Tibet as definitely its own country, etc. So I had to say that it was too political and I could get kicked out of the country if I lent it to them, sorry.
The students left late, between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Each got to take home 3 cookies. I need to have them each bring an appropriate take-home container next time. I’m looking forward to next time!
Need to purchase:
4 or 5 containers milk for drinking during class
ice cream (for when we make apple pie)
masking tape for them to be able to label and use a mug or glass in my house (vs. paper cups that end up in a landfill)
Want to serve:
Milk, tea, salty dried snacks (nuts, etc.)
Wash permanent cups
Print out science of baking articles from Internet. Make several copies.
Ask bakery nearby if we can use their oven at around 7:30 p.m.
Do trial run of French baguette, as I’m interested in doing that next.
Change class to Friday, as I want to – and want them to – hear Dave’s lecture
Next class options:
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
(posted by Jane - originally written 10/31)
I hopped onto the 320 bus today with the rest of humanity and Zekey after a late morning of last-minute shopping for Halloween-party items. Today must have been the release of the geriatric ward or something, because the bus was disproportionately full of elderly people. And this bus was somethin’ crowded (well, they all are). We were packed in, but still towards the front of the bus, standing, of course. One old man gets a seat after a younger person sitting in the front offers up his seat.
At the next stop, MORE people get on, sort-of shifting my wave of people in from right by the front door of the bus towards the area a little further into the bus. One new passenger looks especially old and is standing, hanging onto the bus pole for dear life. The seats along the window are just singles; gotta have as much room as possible on these buses for as many passengers as possible, so there are as few seats as possible, to create more standing pack-’em-in room. The people in the seats along the window can just barely scan the crowd in front and next to them to see anybody, much less to see if anybody needs their seat.
Instinctively, I turn so I’m facing the back of the bus, and I scan the seats on the right side of the bus. All older people. I croon my head to see over people (I’m in China, I’m not the shortest person anymore!) sitting on the left side of the bus. A-ha. I spot her. A woman about my age, seated! According to my quick trigonometric assessment of her line of sight, she *should* be able to see the old man about 10 feet in front of her. According to my immediate moral assessment, she should not be enjoying a seat on this bus. He should.
Now, anyone who has ever traveled with me can attest to a couple of my keen abilities: 1) to disarm people with my open-ness and, well, just approaching and communicating with people, anyone, anywhere, and 2) to sniff out injustice and feel a need to rectify it. So, here, on this 320 bus today, we have the perfect storm. Man in need. Woman who needs “communicating” with.
Oh, yeah. I’m in China. These folks don’t speak English. For real, dude.
Undaunted and by some power unleashed in me, I glide smoothly over to the woman, and I say to her a PERFECT sentence in Chinese: “He needs to sit.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, bring on the applause! I put knowledge together, from various past sources, many words, and I created a sentence unique to me in this language. And I used it on someone in the right way. I didn’t speak too loudly, so as not to embarrass her. I spoke firmly but not roughly or angrily. Perfectly uttered, linguistically and humanistically.
Holding my breath, I await execution of the next 2 vital steps: Will she understand? What will she say?
The next 3 or 4 seconds were some of the longest in my life. She did this typical Chinese thing that I’m still trying to figure out: She seemed to get mad. She grumbled. She almost kind-of whined. She gesticulated and bobbed her head!
For the life of me, I have no idea what the linguistic utterances were. But there is no doubt that the inter-personal message was, “Mind your own business, you crazy person! I need this seat just as much as the next person. What’s up with this world when a person can’t just enjoy their seat on their bus ride? Dude!!”
And THEN, what makes this so interesting (and this is a common pattern I’ve observed, be it at the market haggling for food prices, or in stores haggling for gloves or kids’ t-shirts, or in a restaurant trying to get the attention of the owner), is that after this almost-mandatory period of vehement protestation, she relaxed her arched back muscles, her arm landed from its somewhat extended protestation pose, and she softly waved said arm with a kind-of almost half-smile - or something - and mumbled something more gently.
Clearly, dear reader, she was saying, “All right, then, let the old man have my seat.” That’s it, just one moment of acquiescence, just one split-second acknowledgement of my request. But I knew I had it:
Wasting no time, I reach over, tap the old man, he skids his way across as the bus jerks especially wildly, and ta da! The old man sits.
All I can think is, “I am so bad-*ss. Dude, I am soooo cool! Wow, I rock! Oh my gosh.” And so on and so on. I’m not trying to display my glee outwardly lest this woman, now standing right next to and just a little bit in back of me, sock me one or something (I’m still not sure how to read this culture), but my inner fairies and gypsies and elves are dancing huge dances of joy.
Who rocks? Jane rocks! Who’s the gal to call? Jane’s the gal to call! Need a seat for your favorite old person? Facing a crowded bus and need to get the job done? I’m there! Fair and square, this was a great experience for me.
So, now, it was my stop. I go to get Zekey, who smiled broadly and innocently at me, putting on his best “I’m so cute face,” saying, “Look! This guy just gave me 5 cents (jiao).” Argh! Zekey! You can’t ask people for money! Don’t ask me how I knew he’d done this, that’s for a later post.
Out saving the world, forgot about the home front. But that’s okay. I’m so totally cool. I am so freaking bad-*ss.
I wave goodbye, in my mind’s eye, to both of them inside that bus, the old man sitting, and the woman who gave up her seat for him.
I did that!
(posted by Dave)
Just try saying that in a language that you’ve only been speaking for three months. The right rear inside wheel of our stroller, long abused by bumpy loose sidewalk tiles and huge gaping holes in the pavement, finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago and rolled off to parts unknown, leaving the poor wobbly outside wheel to try to support Ysa’s weight all by itself. (Yes, I am the King of Run-On Sentences...)
Last Tuesday afternoon, we realized that we’d been procrastinating the stroller repairs too long, so we packed up the family and hopped on the mighty 704 bus to the nearby town of Pixian. How do you fix something broken in China? Start with a rickshaw driver, and gesticulate wildly to the broken part in question, along with the phrases “This broken. Fix where?” They will point you down the road a ways and to the right, at which point you find the nearest handy-looking shopkeeper and repeat.
After several blocks, we found a store that sold kids’ clothing, bikes and trikes, and yes, a stroller or two. Not being very optimistic, we repeated our problem to the owner of the shop, who hauled out a cardboard box filled with, yes, about five or ten broken stroller wheels and axles. After a lot of rummaging, pantomime, and a few judicious whacks with a hammer, we were able to jury rig two replacement wheels - all while Ysa was still asleep in the stroller! Victory!
Of course, all this standing around in one place attracted an audience. Jane was soon answering the usual questions (Yes, three kids. Yes, they’re all ours, etc. etc.) as our kids provided involuntary entertainment to the passers by. A first - a few vendors were passing with their rickshaws, and sensing a business opportunity, stopped to set up shop and sell snacks to the gathering crowd. Maybe we should have asked them for a cut of their business...?
The guy that ran the shop was super helpful and super friendly, and one thing led to another, and so we decided to buy a kid’s bike from him as well. Got a good deal on it too! (or least I think we paid close to the regular Chinese price.) By the time we made it back to the post office to pick up three very heavy and very welcome care packages from Colorado (thanks again, Liz!), we had quite the convoy going. We really need to think about hiring ourselves out for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs while we’re here...
Monday, November 2, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Halloween has just finished, and Thanksgiving is already next week! Well, an early Thanksgiving, anyway. Most of the MPC teachers are meeting in Chengdu for a weekend get together, so we'll probably be off the air for a bit. (I know, I know - we still haven't told you about our amazing Halloween party...)
In the meantime, I've been catching up, bit by bit, with NPR's Chengdu diary blog. I'm an utter NPR news junkie (surprise, surprise), and I remember hearing their coverage from China before the Olympics that sadly turned into very immediate coverage of the 2008 earthquake. Little did I know then that I'd be leaving near Chengdu myself, and seeing some of the sites that they've written about in person. (They even did a feature on the organic farmer that we are now buying our veggies from...!)
Here's the link to the blog - happy browsing!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Just a quick teaser post on Sunday morning here while it's still Halloween in the States, mostly to share this excellent article here
and to say that we had a fun and very scary Halloween, and hope you are doing the same. Details to follow...
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Found on the internet - chock full o-stereotypes, but still worth thinking about.
“There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practised in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.”
– Sogyal Rinpiche
Monday, October 26, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Hi everyone - This is our water heater. (Water heater, this is everyone) Our water heater is our friend, even if it sounds like a small Saturn V rocket going off in the corner of our kitchen every time you turn on the faucet. Notice the lack of a tank, by the way - that's because, like most of the world, it only heats the water on demand, as you need it.
Well, usually heats, I should say. This weekend, our water heater had a little time off. Not because it wasn't working, but simply because there was no water to heat. Because of (local construction? a water main break? a visiting herd of elephants all taking a shower at the same time?), we had zero water from about ten on Saturday morning to sometime around nine Sunday night. Not enough to make life utterly impossible, but enough to make it interesting in a way we wouldn't have chosen ourselves, especially since our country director was visiting at the time.
Fortunately, the water was running in the public restrooms of the building next door, so we schlepped a big bucket of water up our five flights of stairs, which worked to wash hands and flush the toilet. And Kathi, our MCC country director, has been living in China for many years, so she was quite unfazed by the whole thing, and we had a very pleasant and informative visit with her.
Still, there is nothing like a big nasty growing dirty pile of Every Single Eating Utensil In the House Covered With Food by the Sink to make you appreciate the everyday miracle of hot running water that most of us take for granted. So, everyone, as you take your piping hot showers this winter, stop and turn off the water every once in a while as you soap up, and count your blessings, gol darn it. Who knows, it could even turn into a habit...
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I don’t know if you knew this, but China is in the midst of a serious word shortage. At least that’s how it appears to this humble reporter trying to learn the language. Consider the example of the character “zi” (pronounced “zuh”). The character itself means “child”, but added to another syllable, it usually means “thing”. Or, “hey, this word’s a noun, in case you didn’t notice...”
Herewith, for your edification as well as mine,
a list of all of the words I know (and some that I looked up) ending with “zi”. Read it and weep...
baozi (bag thing) - steamed bread with filling
beizi - glass
chazi - fork
chongzi - bug
daizi - bag
erzi (child thing) - son
guazi - pumpkin seeds
huzi - (reckless or barbarian thing) - beard
houzi - monkey
jiazi - shelf
jiaozi - boiled dumpling
kuzi - pants
lizi - plum. (Or is it chair?)
luzi - pomelo, grapefruit
haozi - mouse or rat (more on that later)
juzi - orange
kuaizi - chopsticks
maozi - hat, cap
qunzi - skirt, dress
shaozi - spoon
shizi - lion
shuzi - comb
tanzi - blanket
tuzi - rabbit
wazi - socks
xiazi - shrimp
xiezi - shoes
yezi - leaves
zhuozi - table
Friday, October 23, 2009
... that people here are serious about their chili paste. This picture from an open house and organic farm tour that we went to last Sunday. The pot in question is about the size of your average American kitchen sink, and I'd guess there's about 40 pounds of ground red chili in it. Over 100 people showed up for the event, which also included a humungous lunch for everyone in the courtyard of one of the farmer's houses. That's a lot of forehead sweat!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Found on the internet, the Zombie Protest Chant, as follows:
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
Another find (not having anything to do with zombies, btw) - the ever popular “baby in a bucket” home swimming pool. (Baby sold separately...)
Friday, October 16, 2009
(posted by Dave)
Take a class of around 42 Chinese college sophomores. Add the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” (with printed lyrics).
Play song, encourage everyone to sing along loudly.
(Oh, and guess which song will be going through my head for the next month or so...?)
(Image: One of my acupuncture sessions, complete with burning coals on the ends of each needle, mid-August or thereabouts)
Those who have seen me since mid-June may know that I’ve had chronic pain in my right ankle. I’ve come up with various theories about the cause. Bruised achilles tendon? Stress from carrying Ysa in a poorly adjusted backpack carrier? Bad shoes? Wearing my flip flops too much?
I’ve likewise tried various remedies to fix it, from ice to acupuncture to elevation to traditional Chinese medicine, but nothing seemed to work long-term. Just recently, thanks to the help of two large two-by-fours that fell crashing onto my right toe, I decided to stop procrastinating and finally get an x-ray or two.
While my toe is just bruised, the x-rays confirmed what I had started to suspect: I have a new little friend - a bone spur on my ankle, somewhere near my achilles tendon. Think of the achilles tendon as being about the same width as the hair on the bow of a violin. If you then put nerve endings in the bow, and rub it back and forth repeatedly over a small pointy rock, you’ve got some idea of what’s been going on with my ankle lately. Not that I’m complaining, but - oh, wait. Yep, I am complaining. It really stinks. In the spirit of sharing my misery with the world at large, following are some insights I have gained from my experience.
Acupuncture doesn’t hurt, because the needles are super thin. Unless of course, you have some swelling in the part of the body you are treating. Then it hurts like crazy when the needles go in, and then changes to a strange dull throbbing that gradually calms down to a relieved numbness that changes back to a sharp pain if you move your foot more than a sixteenth of an inch. Oh, and then another sharp sharp pain when the needles get yanked out. Later your foot feels better. (Maybe because there are no longer needles stuck in it?)
Chinese doctors can and will laugh at you, especially if you present your own theory of the cause of your problem. Bone spur? Ha ha, heavens no. Silly foreigner - your heel joint was dislocated. I fixed it! Just walk around for a bit, you’ll see. To be fair, the doctor in question did entirely eliminate all traces of pain from my heel with three or four precisely timed sharp and painful tugs on my foot. (“Tugs” meaning that she grabbed onto each side of my heel and pulled backwards at approximately 94 mph with all her body weight.) The pain in my ankle soon returned, as did soreness in my arch, but the pain in the heel took off running and hasn’t been heard from since.
You can get X-rays in China for RMB 100 (approx $14.61) apiece. For that price, they’ll throw in a couple of long waits in line, receipts that show you’ve paid for your appointment, receipts that show you’ve paid to get your X-ray, receipts that show that you have an appointment to interpret your X-ray, and receipts for your prescription. You also get staff that are helpful and courteous, plenty of scuffs and streaks and just plain dirt on the waiting room walls, and scary looking lead-lined doors in X-ray room that slide ominously closed and remind you of the scene in the Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan gets every atom in his body pulverized. Oh, and a nifty plastic bag with all sorts of Chinese writing on it that contains the only copies of your X-rays. Don’t lose these.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
...along with photographic proof that we still exist. We’re just winding down on a fairly activity filled 10-day break for National Day and the Mid-Autumn festival. Here’s a slightly condensed version of what we’ve been up to, in several horribly bloated run-on sentences:
-Watched a full mechanized military parade (insert shudder here) on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, both at home and in a campus plaza with about 500 students.
-Spent a day at our friend Joy’s parent’s house and garden plot just outside the nearby town of Pixian. Picked pomelos (a kind of big mega-grapefruit) off their tree, sat around making and eating dumplings, and watched the kids run around and play with several local kids at a park by the river that featured (drumroll please) a huge stretch of lawn to run around on!
-Went on a two-night three day mini road trip with our friend ZhouJin, a grad student in English and Jane’s running partner. One night’s stay at a temple on top of Quinchengshan, an extremely crowded holy Taoist mountain and pilgrimage site complete with winding thousand year old stairs, meditative music piped from speakers hidden in rocks, a chairlift that softly glided over palm trees, and approximately 14,652 people telling us how cute our kids are.
-Next evening of the road trip spent in Hongkou, a much more peaceful wide spot in the road in a valley up in the mountains. Watched kids play on rocks by the river. Ate fresh salmon. Repeated cycle the next morning. For more, see our photos and Jane’s comments on our Flickr site here:
-Got treated to a lazy day at a Chinese “country club” with all of the foreign teachers and the staff of the foreign affairs department. A country club here is a walled compound with formal gardens, courtyards with tables to sit around at and drink tea and chat, many private rooms for banqueting and card playing, a ping pong table or two, and in this case, a real playground complete with fenced in trampoline that our kids loved loved loved.
-Spent an afternoon at Jinsha, an archeological site and museum in Chengdu featuring artifacts from around 800 CE (that’s AD for all you non-archeological types). We then met our friend and former tutor Wang Tong and her son Charlie for a trip to another local park and savored the cheapo kiddie rides section until closing time, followed by a wonderful home-cooked meal prepared by Wang Tong’s mother at her house. Jane developed a nasty sneezy cold, and fell soundly asleep on the ride home after taking a combo of some traditional Chinese medicine and something similar to Contac.
-Had a lazy day at home on Friday, at least until two massive boards that had been propped up against a wardrobe fell directly onto my (already sore since June) foot. Got an involuntary tour, with the help of our intrepid Luo Bo, of a Chinese orthopedic hospital, where I spent the afternoon waiting in various lines for X-rays. Good news: my toe isn’t broken, just purple and bruised. Bad news: the ankle that has been sore since June is sore due to a bone spur, as I had started to suspect. No surgery necessary, but no badminton or long hikes with Ysa on my back until the swelling goes down. (and yes, I will give more details in a later post.)
-Saturday morning at home also. We finally figured out how to get Skype to work! Jane chatted on video for two and a half hours with her folks - it cost us a grand total of five RMB (about 80 cents) for the bandwidth! Niiiice! I then had to teach two “make-up classes” in the afternoon. Told my students that where I come from, a vacation is a vacation and that I therefore hadn’t planned anything. Had fun anyway.
Which brings us up to today, which will be a morning trip to a local toy store owned by a friend of a friend in nearby Xipu. I’m then off to Chengdu for a discussion group that Jane and I have been attending, and will get back home this evening just in time to shuffle and sort papers for my classes tomorrow, when it’s back to the routine. Incidentally, I don’t think we’ve mentioned much about what our routine exactly is, but that’s the subject of another post...
Friday, October 9, 2009
(posted by Jane)
stairs and questions
no one knows
line as long as our Six Flags
Ah – on a boat.
Walking, climbing, raining
running, trying, asking
where to stay
Ah – our room.
cards called Uno
eating breezy vegetables
Cozy blankets wired warm
three beds in a room
painful shoulders with my bags
snacks to ward off tempers foul
People stopping on
the stairways, oh so
many, many stairs
Ah – a musical rock
Fighting, plastic, bags
of snacks, the masses of humanity
All have come for holiday to savor green
Ah – nature?
Truly a beauty place
Free and fast flowing
Walking through water
The whites never slowing
Salmon we saved for
We watched the chop fall
Skin, soup, sashimi
We closed out the hall!
Stay at the peasant home
Across the street
Shared our beds shared our books
A child’s nightly treat
Noodles for breakfast there
Sour, spicy or with eggs
Sun shining brightly
Water again on our legs!
Truly a beauty place
The sun on the east
Sweet pure fun playing
And the perfect amount of heat.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
A conversation as we watched the coverage of Beijing’s massive 60th anniversary National Day parade on TV a couple of days ago...
Xander: So who’s that guy?
Me: That’s Chairman Mao. He was the leader of China for a long time.
X: Hmmm. He doesn’t look German...
Me: What was that?
X: Oh, I thought you said German Mao!
Me: No, that’s CHAIRman Mao.
X: So he sat down a lot...?
Friday, October 2, 2009
(posted by Dave)
China, as you may well know, is chock full of Chinglish - weird hybrid poorly translated bits of English that make absolutely No Sense Whatsoever. Since my spoken Chinese isn’t even at the kindergarten level yet, to say nothing for my written language skills, I’ve refrained so far from posting any examples. Learning a new language is tough enough, let alone having to write an advertisement, menu item, public sign, etc. in it.
However, I think I can safely make an exception in this case. This is a scan from a kid’s picture book, designed to teach the little tots a few words in English. In this case, our budding young scholars are treated to words like “ball”, “satchel”, “feeding-bottle”, and “pram”, all with large happy photographs of the vocabulary in question. Oh, and also “forfex”, “houselet”, and “backresk”.
Now, I could see giving up on “HamiGua” and calling it a “Hami Melon” instead of a cantaloupe. I don’t even know how to spell cantaloupe. (thanks, spell check!) And “houselet” for dollhouse is a touch of genius. But “forfex”? Someone was most definitely asleep at the switch...
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I am most affected today by the situation of one of my students, Alice. She is a second-year student here, and she attends first Dave’s class on Monday mornings, then my class just for kicks on Monday afternoons. We bumped into her at today’s big-screen, outside viewing on campus of the parade in Beijing celebrating “new China’s” 60th anniversary. She was trying to interview people about the day, for the university’s on-line newspaper. Instead, she told me her story.
Alice told me the story of where she comes from and where her family is right now. She comes from the mountainous northeast part of Sichuan province, a 10-hour bus ride from here. She comes from a farm, where her parents don’t have a car, or a computer, which would be, as she put it, “totally useless for them.” Some of the people in her village have an automatic washing machine and televisions. They all have basic electricity.
The people in her village work as farmers. Alice’s parents did, too. But Alice has a brother – actually more than half of my students have a brother or sister, indicating their quite rural status – who will be entering university next year. Their parents cannot support the university tuition for the two of them on a farming income.
Alice’s parents moved to a different province, Fujian, about 1.5 years ago. They moved to work in a factory for the higher wages. Her dad is an experienced worker, so he earns the most, rmb 3,000 per month, which is about $428. Alice hasn’t seen her parents in this year-and-a-half. Last Spring Festival, she went back home, and stayed with her father’s brother, where Alice’s brother now lives. But her parents couldn’t afford the time off work nor the cost to travel there. They put all their money into the education of their children.
Alice looks forward to next year’s Spring Festival, when she will travel outside of Sichuan province for the first time. She will travel to Fujian to see her parents for the first time in almost 2 years. She is 20 years old and hasn’t seen her parents in a very long time. I wonder what she will think of the migrant-worker conditions her parents surely live in.
As she told me of her parents, her demeanor became very serious. I sensed she was holding back greater emotions and tears. She spoke of her need to study very hard so that she can support her parents once she gets a good job. She wants them to be able to return to their hometown, and farm if they want to, just for pleasure.
Alice was the one wandering around today, looking for an article to write. I was the one who walked away inspired to write, inspired by her studiousness, humbled by the story of her and her family.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
September 29, 2009
I've apparently got the best mom in the world. Thanks so much, Mom! It was so totally like Christmas here. Brought tears to my eyes!!!! Love you.
4 Piano Explorers magazines
Piano books: Train songs, Hungry Mosquitoes, Easy Classics to Moderns, Big Note Piano Pieces
17 or so postcards
2 sticker pad books, 4 sticker packs (2 music types)
3 ceramic pigs: salt, pepper, toothpicks. 2 Southwest-style pot holders
Giant Coloring Book; Berenstain Bears’ Thanksgiving; Cats Don’t Dance; notepad;
Hirsch Grades 1, 2 and 3; Magic Tree House Viking Ships at Sunrise;
Master Skills English Grade 2; Going Places text + workbook; On the Horizon text + workbook; Invitation to Mathematics; The “Modern” Mastery Drills in Arithmetic
6 packs Tic Tacs, 2 Ghirardelli bars, candy-cane-type sticks, bag of bag of M&Ms, bag of York peppermints, bag of Skittles bags, 36-oz. bag of Nestle chocolate chips; 1 bag Hershey’s chocolate chips; Hershey’s chocolate syrup; iodized salt
Mosquito wipes, Off bug stuff, 2 tubes Hydrocortisone cream, kids’ AquaFresh
2 rolls duct tape; “Best is Yet to Come” pin and Marian Anderson pin
birthday card for Dave!
Zekey: "When I get back from China, I’m going to give Babcia a million kisses! Cuz she has magic, and she readed our mind!
Let’s make her a kiss card!
I wanted everything we got! I wanted tic tacs and that stuff (Hershey’s syrup) and chocolate and candy canes and these stuff (Skittles)!"
Monday, September 28, 2009
Okay, I can’t believe I’m starting entry with such a lame pun, but my tribute to the Chinese domestic kitchen continues. Next exhibit: the best two-burner gas stoves on the planet! You may be able to guess this from the picture: the Chinese believe in focusing some serious heat on their food. We’re talking some serious kilocalories here. (Joules? BTUs? Sorry if I’m not feeling very scientific right now.)
A further digression: some of you may know that my first job after college was as a stir-fry cook at LeeAnn Chin’s Carryout Chinese Cuisine in St. Paul, MN. While the food there wasn’t anything special, (okay, the polar opposite of special) I did come away from that job with the illusion that I knew how to stir-fry stuff. Every time I invited people over to my house for Chinese food, though, I always was secretly disappointed. People would like what I cooked, but there was always something missing.
Now I know - that missing something was heat. Lots and lots of it. Enough to get that cube of tofu perfectly brown on the outside and piping hot in the middle. If our microwave worked, it would lose the leftover reheating race to our wok every time. No wonder it stopped working after our second week here. “Ah, but what about the oven?”, you ask. Well, there, um, isn’t any. Zippo, zero. They don’t believe in ‘em, I guess. We do have a small electric “oven” on our tabletop that looks like a toaster oven on steroids, but that’s the subject of another post.
(posted by Dave)
Whew, we’ve been teaching for almost a month now. Time for a week off! Fortunately, the Chinese national calendar has obliged us with just that. First is National Day on October 1st, the anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic. Then it’s Mid-Autumn festival on October somethingth, where people celebrate, um ... Autumn? (Yes, my boundless knowledge of Chinese culture astounds even me sometimes.)
Anyway, besides a full eight days off, the Autumn festival also gives us (cue Homer Simpson drooling over donuts sound effect here) mooncakes! Mooncakes are little round cakes made from wheat flour with any number of rich sweet fillings inside, and they are pleasing in oh so many ways. First off is the general visual appeal - they always have really cool looking intricate designs stamped on top. Second is their heft. They’re about the size of a medium Little Debbie snack treat, but they’re very dense. They weigh as much as a ... baseball? Well, a very tasty baseball, anyway.
Which brings us to their taste. Now maybe my sweet tooth has been starved a bit while here, but one bite (of the good ones anyway) and you know you are sampling the Most Awesome Thing In The World. The best are the ones with bean paste, brown sugar, raisins, and nuts. A little like good baklava, but without the crumble and drip factors. They are a little oily, so maybe I have been deprived of sweets as of late. Maybe I should send some home and see how they stack up against a hot fudge sundae and a handful of Oreos. I think they’d beat the Oreos hands down. Not sure about the sundae, though.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
(posted by Dave)
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Bob sent me a link to this article in Chicago Magazine, and it’s been going around and around in my brain ever since. Once you see the article, those of you who know me may guess why.
For those I’ve recently connected with, a bit of background information may be in order. Last March, while riding my bike home from work, I experienced an attack that was eerily similar to the one described by John Conroy, the author of the article. (Did I mention required reading? Okay, go now and click on the article and read at least the first page. I’ll wait...)
A few differences between my “incident” and Conroy’s: I actually saw my attacker, and he didn’t knock me out. My attacker also didn’t notice the police car right behind him, so fortunately for me, I had help right away. Unfortunately for me, the policemen (Chicago’s finest!) who witnessed the attack didn’t think to get out of their car and run after the kid, so my attacker got away on foot and was never apprehended.
Even with the differences, many of the feelings Conroy describes in his article also ring very true with me. Like Conroy, I still have lasting effects from my injuries (mine is a lingering numbness and tingling in my upper lip and cheek from nerve damage) that bring me back to the event.
As you might guess, this was a very strange article to read in China. I’ve had several trains of thought to chew on in the last couple of weeks. (A mixed metaphor, I know, but I’m leaving it in because I like the idea of chewing on trains...) Haven’t come to any conclusions that I can formulate clearly enough to write clearly about, so I will leave you this assigned reading with a few (possibly loaded) discussion questions:
1. If an act of violence happens over and over again in the same place with the same characteristics, can we truly say that it is “random”?
2. Where and when do the powers that run a society permit acts violence to occur? Who commits these acts of violence?
3. Speaking of Power, is there difference between violence caused by coercion and violence caused by neglect? If there is a difference, what is it? Is one preferable to the other?
For class next week, please read the above article in its entirety and write your answers to the discussion questions in paragraph form in your journals or on a plain A4 sheet of paper. Be prepared to share your answers in class!
(Or you could just enter your answers in the comments section below. Just copy and email them to me as well if you want me to see it, as we can’t get in to see our comments very often. Ah, power and its many uses...)