Monthly Archives: October 2008

White Lightning and Wok Spaghetti

All right folks, this is it. This week, I made spaghetti sauce– FROM SCRATCH– in a WOK! UUUH! *THIZZ face and dances in the kitchen in my house slippers*
After 30 minutes of arduous chopping, dicing, and stewing of tomatoes (since you can\\\’t buy them in a can here), then another 25 of sauteeing (more like stir-frying), mixing, pouring, squeezing packets of tomato paste (they come in PACKETS here! Funny, huh?), then about an hour of allowing to simmer and reduce… I finally have… SPAGHETTI SAUCE! I was so proud of my crowning achievement that I excitedly announced it to Jason, only to be totally schooled when I was reminded that he\\\’d done it already so ppppshaw.
In any case, the reason why I was making spaghetti was that I had my very first dinner party. Last week, I made an announcement to my students that I\\\’d like to get to know them better and that if they ever wanted to come to my apartment for dinner, they only needed to find a group of 3-4 students and let me know what times they were available. At first, I was worried that I\\\’d be book solid for dinner parties and my grocery budget would sky-rocket for the next month. Fortunately, Lisa, Grace Z., Kevin, and Ben (the same students from Happy Valley) were the only ones who took me up on my offer. (Sheesh, guys… don\\\’t all rush at once to want to hang out with your crazy English teacher.)
Well, the dinner party went well and the guys ate a ton. I\\\’m not sure what the girls thought of my strange noodle concoction though they said it was very similar to a Chinese dish. Further proof that the Chinese truly are among the most resourceful civilizations in the world– they\\\’ve done Italian food on their own.
Aside from hosting my students, my students graciously continue hosting me. My government class invited me to a class dinner on a Saturday night after they\\\’d spent the morning climbing Fragrant Hills Mountain to see the famous Beijing maples with red leaves. It must\\\’ve been a hard climb because about half of them promptly got sloshed and we spent the time eating, laughing, eating, and playing (I\\\’m not kidding) DRINKING GAMES led by the class monitors! I didn\\\’t drink, but they did make me sing a song. As we were walking home after dinner (some stumbled home), one of my students told me the hard liquor they were drinking was 53% alcohol. I\\\’m not sure if he just didn\\\’t know the difference between percent and proof, but looking at what this clear elixir did to some of my quietest students, I wouldn\\\’t be surprised if it was 53%. Oddly enough, their English got BETTER when they were drunk!
Meeting with my students outside of class is truly amazing. The more I get to know them, the more I see how incredibly intelligent and talented they all are in their own ways. I always tell my classes that they are much smarter than I am and that I was just fortunate to be born in an English-speaking country. They continue to surprise me and I am so grateful to be here and be a part of their lives as they are in mine.

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Happy Valley, Hilarious Menus, and Sad News

Not too much has been going on over here in Beijing. The weather is getting a little chillier, the leaves a tiny touch more yellow, and the air a bit drier.

Last weekend, my students invited me to go \”play\” at a \”park\” in the southeast part of Beijing on Saturday. I teach on Saturday afternoons, so I figured that I\’d be down for some park activity before my class. Soon after I agreed to go to the park, I found out that it cost 145 RMB and that they wanted to leave campus at 6:50 AM! Later that night, I finally figured out where exactly we were going– a nearby amusement park called Happy Valley. After realizing that I\’d be out 100 RMB (they found me a discounted ticket) and only would be able to stay until 1:30 since I had a 3 o\’clock class to teach, I second-guessed my decision, but decided to go for it anyway.

It took 1 hour by bus to get to Happy Valley and it is considered Beijing\’s version of Disneyland. My students Lisa, Grace Z., Kevin, and Ben organized the trip. We arrived a bit early, so we decided to start the day off right with a basket of piping hot baozi (steamed dumplings) and won ton soup. There are all the typical aspects of a theme park- people dressed in costumes, rides, and overpriced food. I was actually really impressed with the architecture and cleanliness of the park. There were a few really fun roller coasters but all the coasters in China run really slowly. Although this was a little comforting for my students who were terrified at the idea of all of the rides, it was a little sickening watching the coaster cars slowly making their way over the upside down loops and corkscrews. Because I had to teach and leave early, we decided to take in one last ride– a water ride where we got completely soaked! Fortunately, Ben and Kevin bought us all ponchos to wear and Grace Z. was sweet enough to comment that I looked quite lovely in my yellow number!

The next day, I went to dinner with some of my sisters from ULS at the food court on campus. This place is really cheap– you get a plate of food for 6 RMB and a bowl of rice for 5 mao (about $1.50 in USD for the whole shebang) and it\’s all made-to-order food. It\’s the nicer alternative to the cafeteria for students. I\’m glad to say that not only was the food tasty and the experience fun, but the menus were AWESOME! This is chinglish (some know it as \”Engrish\”) at its finest! I was so tempted to get some of the items just because of their names! Old Adopted Mother Fillet, The Egg Fries the Cucumber (this puts a whole new spin on the \”Which came first? The chicken or the egg?\” theory), The Whole World Small Fry, and (my personal favorite) Living to Explode the Salt Fry the Meat were some of the specialties you can get on the \”second floor restaurant.\”

Even though things remain exciting and new here, I am getting a bit homesick. Just the other day, I was on the bus thinking things would be so much easier if I was in the US. Still, I remain faithful and well-connected… which leads me to my sad news. I just found out today via a Bay-based blog that Cody\’s Books in the East Bay closed down a little while ago! Man, that just broke my heart! I thought about walking up and down Cody\’s tall aisles when I was young and sitting on the little stools in the children\’s section with my Mom and sister while my Dad thumbed through books on business management, architecture, and the like. It was the first bookstore I went to that included a cardstock bookmark with my purchases, which I just thought was way neato-speedo. I revisited the store later after I\’d gotten pierced down the street (haha lots of memories here, hm?) and felt right at home again lost in between the classy black shelves and picking up a copy of Siddhartha for a friend. I think my heart aches just a little more because what I really long for here in China is to get lost in a bookstore the way I could in the US.

Well, friends– here is the liberal Santa Cruz hippie in me getting all sentimental… but I encourage all of you to take the example of losing a Berkeley landmark like Cody\’s as a reminder that it\’s super important to support local businesses and economy! We all know that if it weren\’t for places like Borders and Barnes and Nobles, Cody\’s may have stood a chance in increasingly-bougey Berkeley. What will they take next? City Lights in North Beach! Say it ain\’t so!

With that, I hope everyone is having a splendid segue into Fall stateside… and don\’t forget to vote (for Obama… otherwise I may not want to come back to the US… heehee)!

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Bei Jing Huan Ying Jason!

Last week, all of China celebrated the 59th anniversary of the founding of the People\’s Republic of China. I celebrated Jason\’s visit! While it had only been a little over a month since we\’d last seen each other face-to-face, it was still a welcome visit and a bit surreal to see him standing in front of me. We spent the week seeing Beijing, relaxing, cooking and eating Western foods we\’d missed (Jase buys the groceries, I cook, we both eat, we both clean- we make an excellent team!), and even teaching together! There were lots of highlights, but here are a few:

Considering how many sights there are to see in Beijing, Jason and I really didn\’t see all that much. I took him to the Lama Temple where we watched Buddhist monks chanting and saw huge Buddhist idols and altars. It was an interesting experience watching Buddhist rituals and seeing how their entire lifestyle is their religious practice. It made me think about my own practices and how much I put into it and how much meaning it has to read chapters in my manual or think upon things and just have personal times of reflection. My life could be so enriched if I would just schedule even a little time into my day to be in contact.

The most exciting Beijing sight seeing trip we went on was definitely the Great Wall. Since the Great Wall is huge, there are a few different parts within the Beijing vicinity that you can travel to. Jason and I decided on Mutianyu, which is less touristy, but still reachable by bus. It was an arduous walk up the (supposedly 1400+) stairs to the wall, which was followed up more arduous walking up and down tons of stairs that curved around the mountain and took us from watchtower to watchtower. The views were incredible and taking in the architecture and brute power needed to construct the small portion of the wall was certainly impressive. Mutianyu is also characterized by a toboggan that you can take down the mountain after climbing up! Jason and I were too cheap to fork over the 50RMB, but I definitely have my eye on it for the next time I visit the wall!

Aside from seeing the sights, the best part of Jason\’s visit to Beijing was getting the chance to think together upon things going on back at home and working together. We taught a few classes, hosted an English corner, and got an opportunity to visit a family-operated nursing home in outer Beijing. It was amazing to see the blessings and work that has happened in this nursing home community since it first began 15 years ago. The woman who runs is an 86 year-old retired doctor who felt the burden for the seniors in Beijing who were ill but couldn\’t afford health services. Even though she\’d started the home with almost nothing, it has survived on family donations and is recognized by doctors as one of the few nursing homes where nearly all of its patients seem happy and healthy. While it\’s not the best facility available where they have so little, the seniors are clean, smiling, and don\’t suffer from common illnesses found in other more modern facilities like bedsores. It\’s truly a blessing and testimony of the provisions that are granted to those who ask for them. We had a time of singing and lifting things up with the seniors. It was such a wonderful experience that I told Dana that I\’d be happy to go back with her monthly. My hope is that you will hear more about my experiences there through the year.

Well, naturally it was difficult for me when I took Jason back to the airport and disappeared into the terminal. But overall, I was so grateful for the chance for us to reconnect, think together, and serve our purpose here together. I imagine that the next three months will be difficult, and I\’ve gotten a few comments from friends who are in disbelief that Jason and I won\’t be seeing each other until January. Still, I remain hopeful and excited for what the coming months will bring and all that we will be able to share with one another the next time we meet.

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