Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quick Visit

Zack and his boss were able to stay with us one night during a business trip to Beijing. It was fun to have them even for so short a time. They got in at night and we went out to the night market here in Beijing. I have yet to be able to convince anyone to try the scorpions on a stick! After the night market we walked over to Tienanmen Square.

The next day Zack's boss Ben took Nick and Zack out for a nice Beijing duck lunch (I had to work...) Then they were off to meetings. We are glad they made time for us on their trip. We love having visitors.

Gardening FAIL (mostly)

Nick and I have a nice flower/plant market close to our apartment. When we first moved in we bought quite a few things there. This spring we bought lavendar, thyme, rosemary and basil. We did the best we could, but so far the only thing we have successfully grown is basil. The rosemary died first, the lavendar and thyme grew really well for awhile, but eventually I think we neglected them a few too many days in a row. The basil however, has thrived! We have been enjoying quite a few caprese salads these days. Maybe next time we will stick to just basil, or have the ayi water the plants so I know they will be taken care of by someone responsible!

Here's some pictures of our gardening attempts.





In our defense, we have managed to keep all the big plants and trees we bought to decorate our apartment alive. For some reason we haven't had the same luck with these others, but we are happy with the basil.

Ping Gu District

My Chinese friend Sarah that I tutor every week wanted to take me on a little trip to the suburbs of Beijing to go sightseeing. It is where her mother grew up so she spends a lot of time out there. This particular district of Beijing is famous for its peaches. Every year there is a big festival when the peach trees blossom. We were a little late for that, but we still enjoyed a nice day out of the city.

We started with a HUGE meal. There was probably 30 dishes for 8 people. They wanted me to try everything! Most of the family was done eating before they had even finished bringing the last dishes out. They all just relaxed and watched me eat and prompted me to eat more. I was stuffed. They even told me that I eat a lot for such a small person, I couldn't help but eat a lot though with everyone watching me so closely.

We had so many different kinds of food. They started with lamb. There were a lot of fresh vegetable dishes, because as they kept telling me the vegetables are so much fresher than in the city. We had a few different fish dishes, some eggs, some bread, and tofu. Most of it was pretty good, and Sarah was really understanding about the things I didn't care for. I only had to try it once and then she would stop forcing it on me. I also learned that when I don't like something, but don't want to tell them that directly I just say it was "so-so." I swear every Chinese person knows this phrase and they use it a lot. Its a less direct way of letting them know you don't want anymore.

After lunch we walked down the street to a little market and park. Since we went on a Friday there weren't many people around so it was nice and quiet. We rode the water ride and shopped at the market for some fresh fruit. I got some delicious apricots.

On our drive back to Beijing from the park we stopped at every fruit stand along the way. Sarah was so excited for me to try everything. One place we stopped even let us pick our own cherries. The woman there walked around telling us where each tree was from. I decided my favorite cherries were the Italian ones. The Japanese ones were also pretty good. They are the yellow ones.

In addition to the cherries and apricots, I also came home with a bag of peaches, some grapes, melons, and some kind of nuts Sarah really likes so she insisted that I have them. It was a really fun day. The drive out there was beautiful and the air was so clean. I can't wait to go back.

My Chinese Cooking Class

I have a student that I tutor in English a few times a week at my house. I taught her how to make brownies because her husband loves them, and in return she taught me how to make a traditional Chinese dish. I think I got the better end of that deal since we made brownies out of a box, and she taught me a complicated meal, but she was happy with the trade.

I don't remember the name of this dish, she couldn't find a good translation for it, but it was basically pork served over noodles. There was a lot of preparation involved. We had to chop everything up really tiny before we began. She kept joking that you have to wash a lot of dishes when you make Chinese food. She was right. Everything needed to be put aside in its own little bowl, just like they do on cooking shows. Usually I am way too lay to do this.

The pork was deep fried in a couple of Chinese sauces with some onion and ginger to flavor it. We boiled the purple leaves on the plate in the middle. It is something called toon. I had never heard of it before, but it is really popular in China in the spring. It had a strong flavor, but it smelled good and went well with the pork. It was fun to cook with her, but I will probably never make it on my own.

We boiled the noodles, although even that was complicated. To get the right texture we had to let the water boil, then add more cold water. Then let it boil again and add more cold water. We had to do that 4 times before she said the noodles tasted right.

We ate it by putting the pork over the noodles, then adding some of the boiled toon. We also had fresh thinly sliced cucumber to put on top. She even made me eat a fresh clove of garlic. (In the middle bowl with the cucumber.) Apparently thats normal here and they think it tastes good. She told me they usually eat it for dinner, not lunch because then they can go to bed without seeing people since their breath is so bad! I choked down one clove and brushed my teeth a couple times after she left. I don't think it helped and I will never do that again!

The dish was really good and I would love to eat it in a restaurant again, but I don't think I will try to recreate it on my own anytime soon. The problem I have with Chinese cooking is the amount of oil involved. When I dished out the pork I had to drain the oil off the top before adding it to my noodles. In a restaurant at least I don't have to see it and can pretend its not so oily!

Sarah also taught me how to make one of Nick's favorite Chinese dishes...egg and tomato. That was really simple and is something I will definitely make again sometime. No pictures of that dish though. It was really fun learning something new, even if I will stick to cooking western food most of the time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Puppy Playdate

We have had a string of visitors this month and it has been so much fun. CoCo has especially enjoyed all the extra attention. He made his first puppy friend, Toby, while our friends Chris and Laura stayed with us for a few days on their way back to the US. I think CoCo wore Toby out a bit, but they loved playing every chance they could.

Coco's favorite game was fetch since he is so fast he would always get to the ball before Toby. His favorite part though was having Toby follow him around trying to get the ball. CoCo was such a tease. He would run ahead then turn around to make sure Toby was still following. They chased each other all over the apartment. They also had fun wrestling each other. It was good for Coco to get knocked around a bit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Traffic Jam

I have had some interesting experiences in taxis here in Beijing. Usually I have to say where I want to go at least 5 times in my stumbling Chinese before the driver can figure out what I'm saying, then he just laughs and tries to correct me. Except to me, what he says sounds exactly like what I just said! Maybe someday I'll get it.

The other day I was on my way home from the market and carrying quite a bit, so I jumped in a taxi. He actually understood me rather quickly and we headed towards my house. He went a way I'm not used to, taking quite a few small side streets and winding through neighborhoods. Well we came to one street that was just wide enough for traffic to go both ways. The problem was that there were also a couple people who decided they needed to park on that street.

We were stuck. Cars were lining up and people were getting mad. The security guards from the apartment building on the street were trying to track down the owner of the car that was causing most of the problems, but the honking and yelling was getting crazy. Right next to us, driving the other way was a particularly large and angry man. He was at the front of the line and so people kept coming up to see what the problem was, they would offer him suggestions to get things moving, and he didn't like that one bit.

He started getting a little physical, pushing away the men who came up and yelling. One guy actually tried to get in his car and move it because he was sure he could make it through. That didn't go over well at all. I was just sitting in the taxi watching all of this and minding my own business and hoping it didn't get too violent. After the man tried to get in his car the guy in front was pissed. A woman walked up to give her 2 cents and he knocked her over. She layed on the ground just wailing for a bit. From what I saw she wasn't hurt, and she was up and fine a minute later. Everybody was being so dramatic I was trying really hard not to laugh and be noticed.

The problem was solved so simply a few minutes later. All the cars just had to pull up over the curb and we were able to make it through. It was quite entertaining while it lasted though. It was such a simple solution, but it quickly became a huge big deal. Just an average day in China!


Bell Towering.