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.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Recently I've been thinking a lot about how to teach effectively, and how unprepared we are as academics to do that. I wouldn't have been so psyched at the time if someone had made me do a summer series on inquiry based learning in sciences, but in hindsight, I wish that they had. Heck, I should have taken my office-mate's inquiry based geology class at Everett Community College. In any case, I am struggling with preparing my two classes for spring semester - Applied GIS and Earth Surface Processes. The easiest thing to do would be to take a pre-existing class (i.e., my advisor redid his geomorph class last winter) and to just teach that. It would make my life easy. I could adjust to teaching relatively smoothly. The problem is, if I do that, what is to keep me from continuing to do that year after year. I want to make my classes interesting.
I despised lecture classes as a student. I only went because reading the textbook was worse. I had a really hard time focusing and used to give myself a break in the middle of 90 min lectures because I simply couldn't focus for that time. What is the point of lecturing to all 3 students in the class? Why not do something interactive with them? There are only 3 of them! (I am not kidding, I did take a class in college with 3 students that had twice weekly 90 min lectures; when we got up to use the toilet the lecturer stopped). But what if textbook reading was necessary and limited. It was something that you were kept accountable for and that was reasonable because it was a relatively small amount (not hundreds of pages). I like that idea. I like the idea that students learn better by doing. Problem sets are how I learned in most engineering and math classes, not the lectures. So what if class focused on students doing things? That is the idea of active learning, inquiry based learning, lecture free learning, etc. Lots of new models for how to change science education. The last place that these things change is universities. What a shock - we were all trained by doing research at R1 research institutions and now we are supposed to be teaching students (in my case at an undergraduate institution). We know how to do research. Very few, if any, of us have taken classes in education. So what do we do? We perpetuate the system and do what is easiest - we teach our advisor's classes with his/her lectures initially and modify them as we go. To be honest, I am just not ok with that. So I am trying to follow the course planning guidelines in Lecture Free Teaching by Bonnie Wood (at UM Preque Isle) and be more creative in my teaching.
I'm mostly at the point for Earth Surface Processes where I can write up the syllabus. I am still missing some reading assignments and I'll need my new textbook to assign text pages, but I am getting there. GIS is going a bit slower. Yesterday I realized that I really like the idea of GIS being project based. And Michelle, a friend in Wisconsin, told me that she is taking a class where projects are things requested by local environmental groups. Cool. So I emailed a bunch of NE Ohio environmental groups yesterday and asked if they had projects that my students could do spring semester. 5 out of the 7 (or so) have gotten back to me already. 3 were kind of confused but 2 were really enthusiastic. In a class of 14 students, I really only need 2 organizations and should get enough for the students. Awesome. Since text book orders are due soon, I spent a bunch of the morning figuring out text books for the classes. Now I think I'm ready to go back to my backwards planning for GIS.
What I'm doing to plan classes is called Backwards Design. Basically you start with your course goals (big things like "students will use geomorphology terms to communicate, orally and in writing, to their each other and to me what they are learning"). Then you say "how can I know they achieved that goal" on both a daily (formative) and topic-based (summative) level. So you design your assessments for the students. Then you figure out topics to teach that fit in the summative and formative assessments. Finally you put together a syllabus. The syllabus is long and students need to read it (they get extra credit if they do). You don't spend the first day in class just reading the syllabus to them. The whole class is based around "learning teams" that students work with for the whole semester. That is because most science is done in teams, not individually, so learning team-work skills is an important part of learning science.
I'm pretty excited about this way of teaching. You cover less material, but given that immediately following a lecture students only remember 20% of what they heard, theoretically (and research has shown that) they come out of the course having learned more. And it sticks.
I'll keep you all updated as things progress. Right now I am trying to plan my GIS assessments and topics. Good thing I figured out the text books I'll be using.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
a) get ready to move home
b) plan for two major spring classes (applied GIS and geomorphology, both have labs)
c) write proposals (maybe an instrumentation one, definitely a hydrosciences one, maybe one for geography, and help with one for a UK funding agency)
d) Finish field work (it has been so darn cold recently that I'm desperately hoping I don't have much more to do)
e) Start writing papers on my work here
The major problem is that the thing I want to think about the most is teaching. I am terrified of teaching next term and I need to really get my act together. I like the idea of lecture-free teaching (see book of this title by Bonnie Wood), but it isn't something I've ever learned to do. Why do we not get trained to teach when we are in grad school? Why can't someone ship us off to take classes in how to teach? Instead it was discouraged. You only got lots of teaching experience if you didn't get grants (which I got). At least the IGERT required that I teach a bit. The grants require immediate time from me since they are due in the next 3 months (2 december, 1 january, 1 february). So I already have been a bit stressed and juggling work.
Then yesterday I found out that no one told me that I am not actually a Jiuzhaigou postdoc because they need a certified marriage certificate (WHICH I PROVIDED!). Uck. Hopefully that can get sorted out when we go to Chengdu for Thanksgiving. The communication issues with the grad student who is supposed to be helping me with things are just getting worse and worse. I mean, I understand why the professor stopped following through with the post-doc app. It was supposed to be leverage with the park to get me some resources for research and our own flat. None of that was going to happen, so why bother. It wasn't exactly going to make or break me getting hired for a job that I already have.
On top of all this I was asked to write a chapter for a book on China's water resources under climate change and urbanization. Very flattering. Nice to know that my name is getting known in the field. Also something I know absolutely nothing about. Well, not really, but I know no more about climate change than the next earth scientist. I have been working on research on this topic, but there is no way the book editor could have known that since it is an unfunded project. I hemmed and hawed and finally asked for advice from some UW colleagues and mentors. They said that it may be a problem with timing and wouldn't be super helpful for my career unless it was almost like writing a proposal. Given the number of proposals I am already working on, I don't really feel like I need to write another one. Anyway, so I wrote and told the editor that I just don't have the time to write the chapter. He wrote back and asked me if I could do it with a summer deadline (instead of spring). I just got stuck. What to do? I was so flattered and honored to be asked to write the chapter, but I don't know how on earth I was supposed to get it done. I have summer field plans. I have teaching to plan. I sat on the request for a while and finally last night emailed my extra-departmental mentor at Oberlin. He confirmed much of what the UW mentors had suggested and in the end I turned down the offer. Now I realize how big a relief it is to have that off my shoulders. It was a hard decision though because it was such an appeal to my (perceived) expertise on this topic.
I am off to get some work done on these proposals.
Monday, November 1, 2010