That's right, after a 10 month stay in China et al. we have arrived back in the global climate change prospecticus that is Seattle. That is to say that the moderate winter temperatures that we normally have were thrown out for cold wet and snowy weather. Yay. However this has hardly damped our spirits and we are still going through with the move to Ohio via the southerner route. That does not mean that this blog will be forgotten I think that I will keep it up and tell of our adventures in old world Ohio, you know C-town and such, so keep tuned in for more fun.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
This is the second time that we have been hosted by this particular guy to dinner and while I have found it interesting the first time resulted in me eating turtles, yet another creature that does not belong on my personal plate. While I can honestly say that I did try both of them and that the overall flavors were not such that I was revolted I don't think that it is something that I would pursue on a regular basis. That is to say that once is enough for me and since I can safely say that I have eaten more than one frog I am now an expert at how to extract what little meat there is from their pathetic little bodies.
Getting back to Amanda's vegetarianism my thought is that she should feel extremely lucky to have a husband that is willing to eat the weird stuff and meat that gets ordered for her and that she sudtlely hides under the rice in her bowl. Our close friends know that she is a veg and all the meat usually gets thrown to my plate, which I don't mind that much. However is it so much to ask that I get a little thanks now and again for having to gastronomically sacrifice for her benefit. I mean I am taking the hit in the stomach by distracting our host from the fact that she is picking the vegetables out from under the la roe (piggy).
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Some final thoughts upon leaving China
Just as Josh did, I thought I would do a “Things I will miss and things I won’t miss post”. Since I was taught at Camp Coniston to always start with the lows so that you end on a high note, here are some of the things I won’t miss.
Notes now that I am done: It looks like I am whining more than rejoicing, but I am just getting tired and wanted to get this out before bed.
1) Freezing cold offices: Our office was SO cold. Even in the middle of the summer. The darn cement building combined with no sunlight during the day (I am not kidding, I think we got only 3 hrs a day by the time we left) and then the sunlight not hitting the office when it is hitting the building, made it really hard to focus. We quit going to the office our last week because it was so darn cold.
2) Sharing a flat: This has been really hard for me. I lived with housemates most of my time in graduate school. Basically I’ve always shared a house with someone other than my previous two years in China. In college I lived in the dorms then a coop. In grad school, before we got married, I lived in a shared house with 3 other people. Some of my housemates from that time are my closest friends. But we got to choose to live together (ok, not totally for the coop… but we had house agreements and ground rules).
Let’s start with the Chengdu situation. We had to rent a flat for a variety of reasons – keeping the school happy and getting driver’s licenses and a car are at the top of the list. But there was no reason to pay the entire rent on our own. So we found a flatmate. For spring semester we helped out a friend of ours. She didn’t have any money and was trying to live in Chengdu. So she paid us a nominal amount and dealt with bills (mostly). She wasn’t ideal, but in hindsight, she was great. We didn’t realize ahead of time that she’d be moving out in the summer, so we didn’t advertise to the new UW undergrads. When it came down to it, we realized that they would be a great place to find a new sub-letter. So we got one. He is an archaeology undergrad and had only ever lived away from home for a few months. It was rough. Josh’s standards have apparently gone up since we got married. He got so fed up that he washed the flatmate’s towels one day!
Then there is Jiuzhaigou. Our first few months in Jiuzhaigou we shared the flat with an undergrad and a grad student (we think). The undergrad was really nice, but a bit of an internet bandwidth hog. The grad student was dense and not very friendly. She didn’t realize we had hot water in the bathroom and lived in the flat for 2 months. After they left we had two new reception department girls move in. They are both really friendly. One is always bubbly and the other was sort of sullen, but generally nice enough. We got in a screaming match once. In any case, they were nice enough, but really messy and not willing to stand up to men who wanted to smoke or wear shoes in the flat. Their cooking smelled and they didn’t clean the kitchen. They washed their hair standing in the middle of the bathroom and made the floor all wet. It was difficult. How can I tell them to up their standards? Isn’t that ethnocentric? Is it really ethnocentric to want a clean flat? It was just tough.
3) No coworkers: It’s been really rough to have so little support this year. I mean, I have a great quasi-support network down in Chengdu. Two professors that supervise me. Another three that I talk with about research. I have some profs back at home that I’ve been talking with as paper revisions are getting done. And there are some grad students that I work with at Sichuan U, but basically Josh was my only co-worker in China. He’ll be second author on the one major paper that I am doing on my research here and an author on the other paper as well. Still, none of this is the same as having a research team and colleagues back in the US. And the JNP staff basically ignored us.
4) No social/support network: This goes along with the previous one. We basically have each other here. It’s been good for our marriage (you can’t run from problems when you are the only people you regularly talk with), but it’s been hard to not have any friends to go riding with. Just as we were winding down our time here we made friends with the Chevron riding group (the Chengdu Chain Gang) and we really loved that. But we weren’t in Chengdu most of the time. Mental note: Don’t live somewhere so remote again. Chengdu would have been much easier. We’d have had a support network.
5) Food, exercise, hang out alternatives: This is another one about Jiuzhaigou. We weren’t really able to do much. We watched movies and shows on our computers. We cooked A LOT. We rode our bikes a lot. But we didn’t have options. If it rained a week in a row, we had a hard time exercising – we tried to make our Sheraton gym membership last, so we didn’t go more than once a week. If we ran out of something from Chengdu (cheese, balsamic vinegar, butter…), we were stuck until someone came up.
6) Pollution: I have bronchitis from a cold and the pollution. I won’t miss this.
So what have I enjoyed that I will miss?
1) Speaking Mandarin a lot: This is a daily thing. I may have spoken mandarin more without Josh around, but I also probably wouldn’t have gone out so much. Having two Tibetan flatmates (Flopsy and Mopsy) also forced me to speak Chinese. That was really good for my language skills.
2) Being able to go in the field whenever I wanted: This was really great. When I decided I needed some data, we could ask for a car and go out in the field.
3) Riding in JNP: The riding outside the park was spectacular. Not very diverse when you are limited to a single speed, but it was lovely to go for great rides from our door. We hardly drove to go riding.
4) Riding with the Chengdu Chain Gang: As I mentioned above, we made friends with the Chevron riders starting in September. We had some great adventures in places I didn’t know were so close to Chengdu. Wow. If I’d known, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to live in Jiuzhaigou full time.
5) Abuluzi family - Ama, Zhuo Ma, Kezhu, Ge Ge, Lopsang, and Gege’s kids: This family (at their restaurant and homestay) made us feel like family. They say that they are our Jiuzhaigou family and I truly believe it. We felt so welcomed. Ama always went off on a rant about something and she loves Josh so much. I’m not convinced that they even know my name, to be honest. Ama always calls us “Zhaxi those two”. But she calls her eldest son “gege” (older brother), so I think it’s just how she is. I will really really miss them. Our last day in Jiuzhaigou I was crying, Ama was crying, and Lopsang was confused. We converted all the kids to helmet wearing cyclists.
6) The orphanage and doctor: we went nearly every week to visit the local orphanage and to show a movie or work in the yard. The kids were so welcoming and always so happy to see us coming. The girls would play with my jewelry, hold my hand, and hug me. The doctor always wanted to tell me about his time at the Oberlin Shanxi Memorial Primary School (random connection). What lovely people.
7) Li Yongxian: My official Chuanda advisor this year has been the nicest man in Chengdu. Not that my other advisors aren’t nice, but Professor Li is really the nicest man in the city. He is so wonderful and has treated me so well as his student. I hope to continue collaborating with him.
8) Leanna’s Bakery: Although overpopulated with missionaries, this place was a recent discovery in Chengdu and is fabulous!
9) All the grad students and professors I worked with at Chuanda: Although I had a rocky relationship with some, this was a chance for me to work with an entirely different academic culture than I am used to. I have really fulfilled the goal of the Fulbright program with forming lasting international collaborations.
10) Full-time research focus: this ends in February when I start teaching. I’m thrilled to be teaching, but it will be a change from my last 7 years. And this won’t be English to unmotivated undergrads in Harbin either.
It’s bed time here, so even though I am sure I could think of more things, I am going to send this off.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The calligraphy with 4 characters says "Sichuan dog barks at the sun". The one with two is the name of the former Oberlin primary school in Shanxi province and says "Service for Education" (I think.. it's some complex characters about being a good person and serving others). It's for my office. The cherry blossoms were an impulse purchase, but we really like them.
I am currently wearing the skirt over my jeans (horror!) and am very happy for the extra warmth.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
This morning we pulled up the rugs and shipped out of the flat that has been our home for the last few months. I can't help but wonder what will happen to our room, except that I am sure it will get a girlie make over since one of our flatmates is taking it over. In no time it will be covered with Justin Bieber (I actually don't know who he is just that he is a teen sensation) posters and pictures of girls in various stock poses, good times. Of course while we were there we tried to make the place as friendly as possible this included such fascist bourgeois American ideals like "No Smoking" and "Please Slipper". The latter being a sign in Chinese gone wrong that was supposed to say "Please take off your shoes". Still I think that I like "please slipper" better and people should expect to see a replica of it on our front door step in Ohio in Chinese of course.
So we left this morning at 7am for a fairly uneventful drive down to the village of Chengdu, though it is not really a village but a giant raw material eating, cement building pooping, monster. Along the way we were greeted with many vehicles prepped for the mein bow che nuptuals, i.e. the little mini-vans that run around all over Sichuan were decorated for a wedding or more likely several weddings. Also we were able to see the extremely rare sight of pigs being slaughtered on the road, note not on the side of the road but literally on the road. The drive though a short seven and half hours gave me a chance to go over the things that I will miss in Jiuzhaigou and the many things that I won't. In true TCC fashion it will be in a "list-way".
Things I won't miss:
Staring: it is rare to see foreigners in such a remote part of the country and for many it is the first time they have seen a real life foreigner in their country, but staring at me in amasement does not ingratiate yourself to me.
Yelling at me: While on the subject of seeing foreigners for the first time yelling "Hello" and the occasional "moshi moshi" at us while we are riding by does not do well to make me want to respond. Of course for me it is more of an annoyance since the people often do not seem to be truly interested in actually starting a conversation with me. In case you don't know what "moshi moshi" is it is a japanese saying that one uses when answering the phone.
Secret pictures: Yes I saw you taking my picture with your phone camera, I also saw you pretend to take a picture of a bush behind me when in fact you were taking my picture with your girlfriend walking behind me in the background. Just ask and I'm more than willing to let you take my picture maybe even with your girlfriend/wife if shes cute.
The No: It took me a few months but after receiving no's to several queries, we came up with the theory of "No". The theory of No states that if the first thing someones says to your question is "no" then they will not be helpful in any way. This could be for several reasons the majority of which pointing to the fact that they do not actually know the answer to the question that you are asking. An example of this would be "I would like to purchase [something]", reply "No you can't do that", "why not?", "you are a foreigner, I don't speak foreigner". At this point the theory of no says to find someone else that can help you and that in no case will the first person ever be helpful to you. The second part of the theory of No is the theory of yes, see things that I will miss.
The Taxi's and hired vans: They are the worse drivers in the area, unfortunately they also have the most experience in driving which means they have been driving for at least a year. The taxi's will pass you every chance they get which is essentially anytime they are behind you.That is, if you are on a narrow road with a blind corner that is a perfectly good time to pass. Also they will rip you off whenever they can, something I despise. The vans are similar except they almost always abide by the theory of no, as in "No, we can't pick you up there", "No, we don't have any cars at this time that can take you to the airport in the morning", "No, it's not against the law to drive and smoke and talk on the phone at the same time", and my favorite "No, we can't take your luggage". Amongst all that they also drive such that I always feel ill in the vans. Lord Pukington here I come.
Piggy parts: This shouldn't be a surprise if you have been reading the blog for awhile but when we returned to our flat in JZG in July after being gone most of June, we had three new flatmates, Flopsy, Mopsy and cotton la rou. Cotton la rou being the smoked and cured pig that was now residing in our refrigerator. Of course this was unacceptable to Amanda, for me it was more of a nuissance. However after seeing that over the five months that Cotton la rou lived in our refrigerator that he never got eaten it began to wear on me. I will not miss Cotton la rou nor his beady little eye (there was only half of his skull in the vegetable drawer) staring at me when I was grabbing the lettuce. (PS we didn't actually keep the lettuce in the drawer with him, the margarine on the other hand).When I last saw him his leg, detached, was now occupying the sink disabling us from doing our dishes.
The cold as Hell office: Of course we all know that hell is supposed to be hot, but in this case hell has frozen over and its name is a Chinese Dan Wei (Government Work Unit) where the heater in the office doesn't work and the girl in the other office who spends most of her time sleeping with her head on the desk feels its her duty to come in and open the windows and make the place even colder. I could write an entire rant just on the wasted energy alone let alone the fact that you don't work in my office why the hell do you keep taking our water and opening the windows and doors. The result is that she went on vacation they changed the locks to the office that she was sleeping in. Hah!
REALLY bad hotpot: There is this one hot pot place that the staff always takes guests to for official functions. It is the most disgusting hot pot restaurant I have ever been to. I hate it, I wish it would go away and all of the other things that one would say about a person they don't like when they are five years old. This place, which must give out kickbacks to the park staff for taking people there is wretched. Most Sichuan hot pot is bad and tastes the same no matter what you get, but this place is especially atrocious. The floor is somehow both sticky like in a cheap movie theatre and greasy like a bad diner at the same time. You are only able to regain full traction once the floor is tiled in empty sunflower seed shells. The private rooms are small, hot and when you walk out you smell like hot pot, think smoky bar but spicier. The waitstaff is slow and really could some training on how to maintain the illusion of cleanliness.
Thorny Bushes: Literally ten patches on one tube until we decided not to ride in that valley anymore. It was fun but not worth the work.
So that is the bad that I won't miss. Now for the good. The stuff that I will miss.
The little things: Some of the things that I enjoyed the most are the simple things that you notice when you are out and about. For me it was when we would ride out of town and see people on the side of the road. Generally very cheerful, polite, and friendly. Often people would make the pat the dog motion of calling you over to have a chat, a genuine interest in who you are and what you are doing there. The old Tibetan women that sweep the street above Zhangzha that smile when they see you and the children that wave and say hello ( the exception to the above).Monks on motorcycles and many more little details.
The dirt road: This is the road that Amanda and I used for training for the race in Yakeshi. There was nothing special about it except that it was dirt, of a generally good grade and since very few cars drove on it you could fly down it at a good clip. At the top if you kept going you would wind up on a beautiful singletrack that terminates in a meadow that was (is) used to graze yaks.
The park: Jiuzhaigou is beautiful and having access to it whenever I wanted meant I was very lucky. I have hundreds of pictures of different areas and everytime I went in I found something new that would amaze me. If you don't believe me come over here and see for yourself, I freakin' dare you.
The new dirt road: Similar to the dirt road except that there are like thirty switchbacks and can be ridden as a loop. It was a challenge to get up there and when you thought you were at the top there was still more to go. When you finally did reach the top you were rewarded with a wonderful view and a chance to herd yaks with your bicycle. There was a old Tibetan village up there and the valley seemed to go on forever. The last time we went up there it was snowing at the village and dry down in the valley. The ride down was pretty fun too.
Flopsy and Mopsy (Not there real names): Amanda may differ with me here but they were nice girls and Mopsy always was happy, maybe a little too happy. They were nice though they did things that I certainly don't understand but I am sure there were plenty of things that we did that were strange, like yoga. It was a good experience to live with Tibetan city girls.
Abu Luzi: After the tourist season began to slow down we started spending more time at the restaurant owned by our Tibetan friends Ke Zhu and Zhou Ma. I spent more time there than Amanda I think but it was nice to hang out somewhere other than the flat at night and I met a lot of nice and interesting people.
The Orphanage: I was asked to help do some work with the landscaping and with the help of Kieran and his friends on his birthday we accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. However nothing beats the kids with perpetually runny noses and red cheeks running around like monsters. They were always so happy when we came to show a movie and the doctor was always friendly and curious as to whether I had learned chinese yet. They were like a giant family and treated each other like brothers and sisters with the doctor as grandfather and rest of the staff as Aunts and Uncles.
The nine bends: The name is deceiving since it was more like the 10, 11, or 12 turns depending on where you started counting. Needless to say we rode our bikes along this section of road many times and was fun to go down whether you stayed on the road or took the trails between each of the switchbacks (hint the trail between turns seven and nine was the longest and best).
Seeing Emma in Songpan: We took all of our guests up to Songpan to show them the ancient Tibetan walled city but for us it was usually to go and see Emma one of the nicest most genuine people I have met in China.
Zhou Ma, Ke Zhu, and Kieran: I pretty much met all of them at the same time when we first got to Chengdu. We went to the traditional Tibetan meal at the bookworm where Ke Zhu was cooking and Zhou Ma and her sister-in-law were serving. Kieran introduced himself and we got to know the others the next day as we all went to the car market to look at used cars. After going to JZG we saw them again when we went to Abu Luzi for dinner with my brother and sister-in-law while they were visiting. We ran into them again at their homestay where I had yak butter tea for the first time and we went horse back riding (I use the term loosely) in the valley. All three of them made my time in JZG bearable because of their friendship, without them I would have probably cried myself to sleep every night. Not really, but I would have definitely been more desperate about getting out of there for my visa run in September. It was one of the most unique friendships that I have been involved in since two out of the three barely skoke any english and I don't speak Chinese. Ke Zhu and Zhou Ma make success look easy in a place that relies so much on connections with the right people, why is this, simply, they are friendly genuine people.
A'ma, Lopsong, and the Homestay: We spent a lot of time at the homestay even though we never stayed the night. A'ma always invited us into the house and wanted to serve us Su You Cha. How can a guy say no to a woman that laughs the way she does. When she found out that Amanda was a vegetarian and that I eat meat, she made it her mission to make sure that I had enough meat to last me until the next time that I came. Of course a visit to the homestay was not complete without playing with Lopsong (The youngest of A'ma's three grandson's). It was amazing to see how much he began to speak over the last few months and how comfortable he was around us. If there is a more adorable kid in Tibetan robes I haven't seen him/her. I knew that I was making a sacrifice to come to China with my wife and live in a remote area of Sichuan province but nobody seemed to appreciate it more than A'ma. I'm guessing the thought of the husband picking up and moving across the country let alone the world to be with his wife is a very unusual occurence and that I must truly love Amanda to do it. All true of course. However it always made me feel better to go and spend some time up at the house drinking tea and eating flat bread and yak meat oh and the honey, buckets of honey. Despite the language barrier it was the most worthwhile experience that I have had in my time in China.
I could really go on for a long time so I will let this go for now.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Yesterday as we were leaving Jiuzhaigou I got a note from our Chengdu flatmate that I had a letter from the police. Strange. So I was a bit anxious about it. Josh and I talked it over and decided that he had probably gotten a speeding ticket at a particular spot of the road to Jiuzhaigou - well into Aba Prefecture - on our last drive back up there. At least if we got one ticket we would know that we don't have others that will show up when we sell the car.
So we arrived in Chengdu in the middle of the afternoon and discovered that it was indeed a speeding ticket, but for when we had driven down to Chengdu prior to Thanksgiving. And after some deciphering I discovered that he was going at <150% of the speed limit, which is really good (license suspension over that). And we saw some possible places to pay. So I got on the internet and although google maps didn't help, baidu maps (the Chinese search engine) showed me that one spot was about 2 km from the house. Note, the ticket was in my English name - the name the car is registered in - but we were sure Josh was driving. Since he isn't coming back to China in the summer and I am, we needed the points on his license, not mine.
This morning we got up and decided we'd drive to pay the ticket because the car needed gas anyway. We had no trouble finding the place and I got out to get in line while Josh parked. Some guys at the gate laughed at me, a white woman, walking into the traffic police station. They said, "What are you doing" (in English) and so I responded (also in English), "Paying a traffic ticket, what are you doing?". They giggled at me. I was armed with 2 passports, 3500 RMB cash, 2 driver's licenses (Chinese), and the car registration.
I stood in the nearest line I could see. It looked like a staging ground to get into a room to watch TV, only they weren't letting anyone in. Turns out it was the line for the reeducation class on traffic laws (if you get 12 points on your license in a year). It's a 30 min video shown 10 times a day and you need proof of having watched it to get to drive again. I started to think it was the wrong place, so I went to see if the other building was the right place. They sent me back to the first line. After about 10 minutes Josh arrived and then the people working inside the TV room started to get curious. They asked to see our licenses and registration. I showed one guy. Then another lady came and she asked about it. I showed them to her. She said, "Foreigners can't stand here". We didn't know where else to go, so we waited. A few minutes later the guy came back and said, "You go over to the other building and ask if you can pay without going through this program. He can wait here".
I wandered over to the other building and told the lady at the desk that my husband was the one with the speeding ticket but since he doesn't speak Chinese, it was useless to make him watch the video. Could we just pay instead? She sent me to counter 3 where I explained myself again. The woman looked up the car registration and discovered that Josh actually had 2 tickets. She also explained that he had 10 points on his license (out of the 12 max for a year). It was to be a RMB150 fine. No problem. I forged Josh's signature of his fake Chinese name 6 times on 2 pieces of paper and she sent me to pay. I paid and we got 2 receipts and left. Phew.
After getting gas and going home to switch from car to bike mode, we picked up a gorgeous calligraphy for my office (铭贤) and ordered one for our house (属犬吠日, or Sichuan dog barks at the sun, a Tang Dynasty saying) and went in search of a place to get me a down skirt and Josh down pants. On the way south on Renmin Nan Lu (the major N-S road through town), Josh had a head on collision with a woman on an electric bike of death riding the wrong direction. Her lip skin and some blood is currently residing on his shoulder. She was bleeding everywhere out of her lip. Josh was bleeding everywhere out of his hand. After recovering ourselves for a few minutes and making sure the other lady was reasonably ok (she didn't bite through her lip, thank goodness), I called Kandice to consult on where to take Josh. We decided on the foreign clinic at the major hospital associated with the Sichuan U medical school (华西医院). The lady who ran into Josh was going to accompany us but asked if we needed her and we said no. We biked there rather tentatively on the wrong side of the road. Once we made it to the hospital and safely locked our bikes, we went inside and they told us to go to the out patient clinic. So we walked over there. They told us to go to the emergency room. So we walked over there. In our bike shoes. With Josh bleeding everywhere out of his hand.
Finally we got to the emergency room and registered him. I filled out a form and dumbly used his English name. By the time we paid for registration (10 RMB), his name had become joshvasulilt. Oops. Should have used either the name on his license (韩帅) or his Tibetan/Chinese name (扎西). We wandered in circles for a while and finally found the triage room for emergencies involving blood (as far as we could tell). They sat us down, someone looked at his hand, and we were sent to get an x-ray and a shot. But first we had to go pay. I hate Chinese hospitals. You always have to wander back and forth to the payment desk. Josh objected to the shot. We figured out it was tetanus and that he had one in February. So we told the woman ordering these things that he didn't need the shot. She said we'd just have to sign that he refused it. Fine. So she reprinted our order w/o the tetanus shot. I paid while Josh sat and rested for a bit. RMB179. Not so bad. then we went for x-rays and had to find the x-ray technician. She finally was found with the help of people waiting for CT Scans (CAT scans, I think). The x-ray table was covered in dried blood. EEEW.
Back to the triage room where they finally cleaned Josh's hand, put iodine and cream on it, and decided he needed 2 stitches. Did Josh want the anesthesia? Yes. So he got shots and then 2 stitches in one cut. We had another argument about the tetanus shot (at this point I called Kandice to confirm that it really was tetanus they were asking about and that he really didn't need it). I had to sign a few forms, the doctor wrote up a report in the computer, the x-ray came back with no problems, and we were good to go. We'll go back Monday to get the stitches out.
Now we are safely sitting in Starbucks drinking lots of coffee (they messed up our drinks so we both ended up with a tall whole milk toffee latte and a grande non-fat latte (Josh's 2nd one is also toffee)), using the internet, and relaxing from the stressful morning.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Yesterday we went to our friends house up in a village a few kilometers from the park entrance. It was gorgeous day with no clouds and a bright sun that made it nice enough for me to walk around in a t-shirt. I couldn't believe how warm it felt, but at 8000ft above sea level you get a heck of a lot more intense sun and yesterday it was a blessing. It was also quite nice to get out of the flat and and see friends. You see where we live at the bottom of a narrow valley where two rivers intersect there is not a whole lot of direct light during the day. Going up into the hills just a little bit results in a vast amount of light to make you feel a lot better.
Our purpose for going up to the house couldn't have been any better, our friend's mother the patriarch of the family lives there and takes care of the grandkids during the weekend when they are not in school and we wanted to go up and see her and bring a gift. There are three boys in all ranging in ages of three to eleven. Whenever we go up there on our bikes the two older boys always want to ride our bikes around so we thought it would be a wonderful treat to give them their own bikes. It turns out their father was wanting to do the same thing and so we decided to split the cost. One of the main reasons for getting the two older boys bikes is that their younger cousing, the three year old who lives with the grandmother at the home stay gets lots of gifts from the tourists who come and stay. We felt that it would be nice to get the brothers a gift as well.
The bikes which are nothing special by most standards are very sturdy and the smallest that we could get in adult sizes. We got them at the French sports Megastore in Chengdu along with some tools and spares to keep them on the road. Also we got them helmets, in China not many people wear helmets on motorcycles let alone bicycles. As it turns out A'ma (the grandmother) was afraid of the children being on bikes and very much appreciated that we bought them helmets. In fact she wants us to get one for the littlest boy as well. The bikes have been sitting in the back of the Citroen (aka the beast from the east) for about a week anticipating delivery.
When we got to the house we set the bikes up and as it turns out the two boys were at a party across the valley. They came home about a half hour later wearing their Tibetan robes from the party. They came in and looked at us thanked us with their eyes wide open and proceeded to run back outside. It took them a second to figure out that it might work better to take off their robes before they tried riding the bikes and put on the helmets. They kept looking at me like "are they really ours, can we really ride them". It took them about 30 seconds to want to go to the party and show their dad the new bikes. The older one asked me if it was ok to ride them to the party and of course I said "yeah, they are yours, ride the hell out of 'em". The three year old not wanting to be left out decided he wanted to ride his bike over as well. Well not really ride the bike since he can't quite get the pedals all the way around in a full stroke, so he and I walked his bike down the driveway and up the road to the party following his cousins who haven't quite learned the technique of shifting yet. Walking at the pace of a three year old really does take some getting used to. It's been a while since I was that small and have definitely forgotten what it is like to have everyone towering over you, but I could tell that he was happy and kept smiling at me the whole way.
After coming back from the party A'ma invited us to stay for dinner, do we have a choice not really. While waiting for dinner the boys decided to spend the time on their new bikes but this time they did so in their robes. No doubt Grandma told them they would catch a cold if they didn't put them on in the cold. If you are unfamiliar with Tibetan style robes they are like thick long jackets that come down to about the knee on men and to the ankles on women. They are very bulky on top, good for storing things, and tighter around the waist and legs. This makes getting on and off the bike a little difficult and quite comical to someone looking on. Over time I'm guessing these kids will be the best in the village at riding their bikes in robes but it may take some time to get used to it.
Dinner was amazing, as usual, very simple starting out with fried potatoes and pickled vegetables, followed by fresh yak mixed with red peppers and sautee'd and a cabbage dish with pork. The potatoes were so good, I forget how good simple fried potatoes with salt can be and the yak (which is very similar to beef) tasted great. A'ma also brought out some fresh bread still warm and some tomato soup that Amanda and I ate up with the bread. Of course A'ma told us not to get to full on the bread and soup but then went and got us more soup. Apparently Kieran taught her the soup recipe and she has made it her own by spicing it up a bit.
After spending the afternoon with the family we were off to the orphanage for what will likely be the last time in a long time. We decided to show them a movie two days in a row this week since we missed last week. We showed them "The Black Cauldron" a favorite of mine from when I was a kid. Unfortunately it was not dubbed into Chinese but they didn't seem to care and opted to see it with the Chinese subtitles. I have never seem them so intent on watching a movie they were very involved in watching it and really enjoyed it. In fact in the last minute of the movie the power went out turning off the projector but leaving the laptop on and all of the kids crowded around the little screen to watch the end. Twenty kids around a 17 inch laptop screen is an impressive study on human density.
The power came on and off a few times over the rest of the night but we had decided to snuggle into bed and read with our headlamps on since it was warmer in bed anyways. It was a good cap to a good day.
Today we are going into the park to see if any new ice has formed on the waterfalls.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
At first we thought it was only in Aba - the roads are bad, so maybe people can't get the diesel up here - but then the lines were in Chengdu too. Couldn't be that. We heard there was a shortage of fuel from local friends, but no one knew why.
Then when we were in Chengdu we discovered the reason. It's so spectacularly Chinese I can't believe it. What happened is this:
1) The government set a goal for coal usage for the year
2) People used too much coal (maybe they are getting richer and buying more space heaters and air con heaters and just generally running more electricity to make the winter more comfortable? central heat could potentially help with this issue)
3) The government said "we can't use any more coal, we already reached the projections for this year"
4) The power plants decided to use diesel instead
5) There is no diesel for the trucks to transport goods
So what is number 6? What is the next shortage that will happen because someone decided that enough was enough with the coal? Is this the reason we have flickering lights in our flat? Has someone thought to actually have some energy saving practices in place (like efficient heat, insulation, and other such ideas)?
What a crazy country. My toes are cold. This is the first time all day (other than at the gym) that I didn't have on a beanie and down jacket. And our flat is relatively warm. Uck. I really am looking forward to owning my own home and putting in efficient ways to keep it warm.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Apparently some people seem to think that sitting in a Starbucks in China is is wrong. These people fall into two categories, those who have never been to China and those who have been to China and would rather sit in a smoky tea house. As I am generally opposed to sitting in smoky tea houses that is an easy one for me to dismiss. The other day Amanda was talking to a colleague online that was agast that she would want to spend her time in Starbucks while in China. The appropriate response to this question was thus "Have you been to China, or lived here?" the answer was no and the person falls into the first category. Having spent a little bit of time abroad I feel like I have a small base to pull from in terms of valid experience. Of course there are plenty of people that live in China that have come from abroad and stay for long extended periods much longer than me so take my comments with a grain of salt.
My opinion is that if you plan on being abroad for a long time then you are willing to accept long periods without the accommodations that are so plentiful in your home country. For me I enjoy being able to go to a place and have a cup of coffee and get some work done on the internet. Having lived the last few months on and off in a rural part of Sichuan province with a couple weeks here and there spent in Chengdu and Beijing, I've gotten used to living without certain amenities. Heat being one of them, high speed internet the other (unless you consider a step function as proper internet speed), and sitting in a coffee shop. I have no problem attaining quality coffee as I have the means of making it in a proper coffee maker from freshly ground beans. If I throw on some music and sit on the sofa I can pretend that it is a coffee shop, but it isn't really the same is it? Nope. That is why sitting in a Starbucks is completely acceptable when I return to civilization, well that and the fact that they have the cleanest bathrooms of any restaurant that I have been to. That's right they stock amenities like paper towels, toilet paper, and hand soap. Top that off with Kohler fixtures and you have veritable bathroom paradise. They are comfortable, clean, and there is generally no smoking. OK, occasionally you get the guy that decides not to read the no smoking sign and lights up anyway. The staff will tell him not to smoke in the place though and that takes care of it. Paradise.
For those that choose to sit in a smoky tea house and absorb the local culture, I say "good on it". Everybody enjoys the culture in different ways and I don't need the same "unique Chinese experience" that everyone else has. If you are unfamiliar with the "unique Chinese experience" it generally involves ignoring everyone around you that is not Chinese, pretending that you are the only foreigner that has ever been to your particular part of China, like Beijing. I don't know where this ideal comes from but if seclusion is part of the "unique Chinese experience" I don't want anything to do with it.
So am I a sellout because I like to sit in Starbucks in China? No! The benefits outweigh the costs and you can call me a trader to my coffee snob brethren for spending time in a comfortable atmosphere but I have my reasons (read: nice bathrooms and the coffee is uh, consistent). And when I return to the Americas I will hold up my nose to the local Starbucks and walk to my local shop and get a cup of coffee.
I feel that I have been in China a bit too long. Why is this so? Well frankly it has to do with how normal it feels to drive in this country. Don't get me wrong there are still many things that confuse me about driving in this country but as I have gotten used to some of the quirkiness I have also become able to predict some of the more scary behaviors of drivers. The prime example is the taxi driver who blatantly runs a red light zooming through the intersection on his cell phone ignoring pedestrians in the crosswalk. Well not really ignoring them but moving just enough out of the way to not hit them but close enough that you can smell the tea in his thermos.
I have become so accustomed to driving in China that I don't notice the little things like cars driving on the sidewalk that I used to. Also I have started to drive more like a Chinese driver. I have not started to drive on sidewalks myself but there are times when I do some of the more scary things that are similar. What I have noticed though is that it is a cause and effect situation. They say that you can tell an American driver from almost all others because they are the only ones that will stop at a sign in the middle of an uninhabited desert. Certain things have just been ingrained into my psyche that are not customary to China. However the cause of many of the strange habits that we see are not based on a lack of laws but mostly a lack of enforcement. It is the lack of enforcement that doesn't stop people from stopping in the middle of an intersection blocking oncoming traffic. However it is totally acceptable to try and cut through the traffic in the intersection in order to get to the other side. Being a little bit more aggressive in your driving habits will get you a lot of headway through dense traffic.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
and there was a traffic jam because the road doesn't open until 5:30 pm from Songpan
But at least before we left we got to hang out with Emma in her mostly-closed-for-the-season-Cafe and to buy souvenirs. How do we look dressed in really really traditional Tibetan robes? None of that fake sleeves on the skirt thing for Amanda! These darn things take up so much of a suitcase that we'll be shipping them straight to Ohio.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
If you are like me you like a nice cup of coffee in the morning, and one midmorning and maybe one in the afternoon, oh and one in late afternoon. Drinking coffee is as American as apple pie and is thus a ritualistic part of everyday Americana. In fact if it weren't for the high prices of tea we wouldn't even have the beautiful country that we drive today. The founding fathers took time out of their busy lives to throw all of the corrupt British tea into the ocean and stand up and say "Too heck with this I'm switching to Coffee". Come to think of it, it is downright patriotic to drink coffee and any red blooded american should have a significant amount of caffeine goodness running through their veins at various times of the day. Given the importance of Coffee to the diverse cultural background that I have come from it is no wonder that I am currently upset.
You see when I travel away from home there are a few things that I consider to be necessities with my travels. One of these is of course my cup of coffee in the morning. As someone that suffers from crippling headaches from the lack of caffeine on a daily or even hourly basis the ritual cup of joe in the morning is a cure to what ails me. How hard is it then that I be able to find a place that can provide me a decent cup of coffee for a low price such that I am to remain in a blissful state. It turns out that it can be very difficult. To date there are only to places in the Jiuzhaigou area (my own unique Chinese experience area) that I have found that serve what I consider to be a good cup of coffee. While they both have proper coffee makers one dares to offer espresso style drinks on the menu as well. I'm no ethnocentrist and can appreciate the different types of coffee the world offers. In fact I may even consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur of Coffee. As long as being a connousseur means that I drink coffee that does or does not have milk, sugar, foam, whipping cream, ice and occasionally foofy flavors like vanilla. Assuming these things meet the criteria then call me captain and give me a hat.
Being the self proclaimed connoisseur that I am it often surprises me what people will try to pass off as coffee or better yet how the name a drink gets doesn't actually change the content of the cup. In some parts of China my experience has been that the product one orders and the translation that is on the menu do not add up. Take for instance the place that sells espresso style drinks, on the menu one can order an espresso, cappucino, latte, mocha, or a mochacino. Now I am not particularly sure what a mochacino is but my guess is that it is similar to a mocha or a capucino both good drinks on their own. However when one orders a mochacino they get a latte, that is coffee and milk. Similarly when one orders a mocha they get a cup of strong coffee.The speculation here is that one can buy a bag of coffee beans that say mocha on the label. Does this mean that the coffee that one produces from these beans is thus a mocha, unfortunately no. The product that you get is in actuality a strong cup of coffee, as I stated previously. How do we rectify the mochacino situation, simple it is a capucino made with mocha beans and milk. Since capucino's and latte's are similar, meaning they have coffee and milk, they are obviously the same. Therefore mochacino is a latte made from the beans that came out of the bag that says mocha.
Problem solved and now I know to skip all of the formalities and price increases and go straight for the cup of coffee. There is one problem here, that is, when is a cup of coffee not a cup of coffee? When it is made from Nescafe or some other similar product. Strangely I have become accustom to the flavor of Nescafe (seriously look at the beautiful people who drink the stuff) in its pure form, i.e. the instant coffee flavor not to be mistaken with its evil brother. Every once in a while this intruder finds its way into your cup for more than I would pay for a donut from Winchell's let alone a substandard cup of coffee. While I am willing to use the "Nesc" in emergency situations and with a generous amount of water to tone down the gourmet (burnt) flavor it is a bit of an insult to be told that the coffee that you just ordered came out of a packet and that it is the same thing. Nevertheless this is a risk that one takes when traveling.
Along the hierarchy of acceptable coffee the evil brother (heretofore referred to as the "2+1" from now on) is the lowest level as to acceptable (read as "drinkable" without spitting it out immediately and screaming "oh my god what is this thing that I have put into my mouth!") coffee. Few things are worse than the dreaded "2+1" what they are I don't know as I am unwillingly to try them. However the top of the travelers scale of coffee is "Starbucks". This may seem a bit unacceptable to some from the western part of the United states where coffee shops grow on trees and are cultivated by friendlyish tattooed baristas with hairy armpits. But when traveling abroad (aka Asia) it is the "Starbucks" that offers the only consistency that I have found. Sure there are other good shops where one can get a good cup of coffee, Holiland in China generally offers a decent cup at a very good cup for a low price.
That is not to say that a good cup of coffee is impossible to find, it just means that you are likely going to have to make it. Every morning we get up and have a cup of coffee from a decent (simple) coffee maker. Why do I like this coffee maker? Well it has a metal reusable filter that is nice and only requires a rinse before each use. Good quality beans are readily available and can be had at a fair price. However when outside of any area besides a major metropolitan center things become more difficult. Which kind of summarises all of China.
Monday, November 15, 2010
1) Our oven goes away at our next trip to Chengdu, so I won't be able to bake anymore and wanted to fill the freezer. Our freezer is most definitely quite full. Full enough that I had to take out the failed mozzarella cheese stuff (drained to make something ricotta like) and Josh used it to make gnocchi for dinner last night with a mushroom cream sauce. Delicious.
2) I have been really stressed with preparing for teaching recently and baking stuff is something I can do with my hands (like knitting... I've been doing a lot of that too) and not be feeling guilty for not doing work. Plus, I think about work (or talk on the phone or listen to podcasts) when I'm baking.
So, here is what I've made, including some pictures.
1) Delicious whole wheat bread. 2 loaves. Actually, this was about a week ago. No pictures. It finished our whole wheat flour.
2) Banana bread. 2 loaves. No pictures. We shared 1 loaf with the visiting Chengdu families who were here last weekend. This was a Friday afternoon activity.
3) Cinnamon bread. 4 loaves. The recipe was awesome, except I think it may call for a bit too much yeast. http://zensquared.com/breads_by_barbara/cinnamon.html. The first two loaves rose in the oven (my standard because it is so cold here) and over rose a bit. The second two I rose in the living room and then accidentally had the top and bottom burners on in the oven for about 10 minutes. That seemed to keep the top from over rising. This was a Friday activity. Josh made French Toast out of some for breakfast Saturday. Yummy!
4) Cheese-herb bread, 2 loaves. This was a Saturday activity. This recipe was pretty good, but I dumped in a lot more herbs and cheese than it called for. Yum! I also accidentally put in too much yeast. I was on the phone with a friend in the US and wasn't thinking properly. I think there was an extra tablespoon. Anyway, I ended up with my usual falling bread problem. I'm not sure why other than the extra yeast. Or maybe it rose too long. The small oven also seems to do funny things and I wish that I had remembered the trick with the top burner for a little while. Still, the bread tastes yummy.
5) Sourdough pancakes. 3 batches. This was a Saturday morning treat for the families visiting from Chengdu. The adults wanted real coffee and the kids didn't like Tibetan breakfast. So we made pancakes.
6) English muffins. 1 batch. We used a recipe that has a really liquidy batter (like cake batter) but uses sour dough. You need a really liquidy batter so that you can get lots of nooks and crannies. As you can see from the picture next to this text, there are lots of nooks and crannies in our English Muffins. Success! So I started the sour dough sponge Saturday (first had to make the starter big enough, then make the english muffin sponge) after the pancakes and Josh finished off the English Muffins last night. We had them toasted for breakfast this morning! Delicious and a lovely change from oatmeal. Some of you may know that English Muffins require rings. We have tried English Muffins 3 times with 3 different options for rings. the first time we used cut up soda cans. Massive fail. Then we tried tuna cans, but getting the bottom of Chinese tuna cans was a disaster. Fail. Then Josh figured out that he could get 2 rings out of each condensed milk can. Success! Speaking of condensed milk, I may make macaroons tonight because we have a ton of shredded coconut, and although it is good just to eat, it is much better in macaroons and the option to make those will be gone soon enough.
7) 2 hut-style coffee-rich vegan chocolate cakes with non-vegan peanut butter frosting. The fact that the cakes are vegan is just incidental. This recipe rocks. I had promised to make Josh peanut butter cookies but we were just about out of butter, so that wasn't an option. Instead I made this chocolate cake and Josh requested pb frosting. We had enough butter left to do that.
Although I am still very busy with other stuff, I think that I will probably make macaroons tonight. Yum! Macaroons are easy and delicious. Or maybe another Macaroon Chocolate Pie because we have so darn much baking chocolate left. I made a good dent in the cocoa powder with the cakes, but we have a lot of bakers chocolate.