Tag Archives: China

Escape!

Standard

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 5.11.21 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I saved a life, but I don’t know if he will thank me much. I was in the grocery store and this guy flipped himself out of the tank onto the floor next to me. I alerted a worker who promptly scooped him up and put him back in the tank. He seemed to be giving me the evil eye from within those murky waters.
Just another day of grocery shopping in China.

Advertisements

Who’s on First?

Standard

I saw a poster at a local high end hotel which caters to expats. It was all in English and said that a British comedy troupe was coming to do their version of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’  I was really excited as my kids LOVE that show and my friends birthday is coming up. It sounded like a perfect night out.  

The poster showed two ways to make reservations. First, you could email them.  But I always feel that an email reservation request goes into this internet black hole and if it’s something I really want or need I want to be able to click ‘confirm’ and know I have it.  The second choice was to call.  I have become really good at asking people, in Chinese, if they speak English.  So when the phone was answered by a very perky young woman in Chinese I was not deterred.  I asked ‘Ni shuo yingwen ma?’  Right away she switched to English and asked how she could help me.  I explained I needed to know if tickets were still available for the comedy show.  The conversation went something like this:

me:  Are there tickets available for the ‘whose line’ comedy show this saturday?

her: Which restaurant to you want to make reservations ?

me: I want to find out about tickets to the ‘whose line’ show.

her: Whose reservations?

me: There is a comedy show at the hotel this saturday, ‘whose line is it anyway’.  I want to know if there are any tickets left.

her: Comedy show?  Please hold while I get someone to help me………

cue hold muzak

her helper (HH):  Yes, can I help you?

me: Yes I would like to know if there are tickets to the comedy show this saturday.

HH:  How many rooms do you want to reserve?

me: I dont want any rooms, I want tickets to the show.

HH;  What show?

me: (now getting frustrated) The comedy show, ‘whose line is it anyway’ . I want to reserve tickets to the comedy show.

HH:  You want to make corporate reservations?  You want a ballroom?

me: No, thank you.  I will call back.

Who needs to go to a comedy show when my life is just one big Abbott and Costello routine?  LOL

Time Flies

Standard

I have just finished having a string of wonderful guests and am looking forward to S1 and his  girlfriend coming to visit soon.  We will all celebrate S2’s high school graduation.  Then I will fly back to the USA to spend some glorious weeks with family and friends.  This will mark the halfway point of my sojourn in Shanghai.  I can’t believe how quickly it has gone.

After a cold and dreary winter my best friend came to visit me!  We have been planning it for so long (I think first discussions, over tea and cookies, happened before I even had plane tickets to come here in the first place!).   Our time together was amazing.

Saying her flight here was delayed is an understatement.  She took off from a major US east coast airport only to hear the captain announce, after some time in the air, that all but two bathrooms had failed and they had to return to the and would need to change planes.  So after leaving home at 6:30am she finally took off at about 5:30pm for the 14 hour flight to Shanghai.  Even after all that she was ready to go on every crazy adventure I had planned.  On our first day out, among other things, we wandered through ‘old town’ which is partly truly old and partly built/rebuilt to look old.  But none the less it is quite nice and busteling with a frenetic mix of tourist traps, local businesses, and the damp alleys leading to quiet by-ways taken by the Shanghainese and tourists who are lost or …..well, lost.  But I have wandered these streets many times and have found the noodle man dependably parked on the corner.  His three wheeled bike cart carries his entire livelihood.  His propane cooker, all his prepped vegetables, noodles, sauce, giant beach umbrella, and tarp to block the wind.  The menu choice involves spicy or not spicy.  Other than that you get a generous portion of noodles stir fried with a mix of fresh vegetables.  The dining room is two preschool sized tables with a few foot stools to serve as chairs.  We ordered our noodles with a request of ‘a little spicy’ and were directed to sit.  A few minutes later we had a delicious lunch under a tarp.  Bellies full we headed to the ferry and enjoyed our sunny ride across the Huangpu River.  On the other side we went up the Pearl Tower and took in the view of the city as the sun set and the city lit up.  We had been walking all day and had seen many things.  We were tired but our ticket in the Pearl included a museum tour on the ground floor.  I had heard it was good and we wanted to get our moneys worth so we decided to take a look.  We wandered the halls and looked at the displays.  They were OK, but not especially wonderful and we were tired.  We decided to find the way out.  Alas, the museum was a one way hall that meandered in a most frustrating way.  We were getting punchy and felt like we were trapped in Dante’s 9 circles of hell.  The wax figures stared at us unblinkingly.  The miniature dioramas started to seem ridiculous.  We were giggling like school girls. Finally, stumbling out of the museum we took the metro home and collapsed.  It was so wonderful to see the city through her eyes.

Her last night here another dear friend, who is also one of my husband’s co-workers, came to town.  All four of us went out to dinner at a great restaurant called M on the Bund.  The food was great, the view spectacular, and the company unbeatable.  After dinner we strolled out on the Bund river walk and enjoyed the cool evening watching the ships float by.  The week ended too quickly.

The next day my husband’s parents arrived.  They had been touring China for 12 days and had seen Beijing, Xian, Wuhan, Changqing, the Three Gorges, the Yangzi River.  They throughly enjoyed their tour but it was time for a rest and a quiet visit.  Shifting gears I continued as tour guide.  This time we took gentle walks through the local park, Century Park.  We went out to the kids’ school and they had a chance to look around there.  We went to a small water town that lies within the city limits called Qibao.  The town holds a collection of small tourist sites but largely still remains a town where people live and work and go to school.  This was a real treat since they had had the ‘tourist’ view of China.  Qibao gave them a chance to see China outside of the regular tourist beat or expat bubble.  Another highlight was taking them to one of my favorite spots, Lu Xun Park, about which I have written before.

Alas, another busy week came to an end.  And here we are preparing for one son’s visit and another’s graduation.  As the summer heat starts to roll in I can feel the pull back to the east coast of another continent.  See you all soon!! 😀

Spring in Shanghai (pictures)

Standard

Spring is coming to Shanghai.  Rain, rain, and more rain.  But along with it have come flowers, birds, and early morning sun.  Ahhhhhh…..

 

Wukan: Political Freedom – China style

Standard

For those of you who missed this recent article I am reposting it below.  It is big news here in underground whispers and discussions but not in, as far as I can tell, major newspapers or TV broadcasts.  I do think this is how China will progress.  Not like the Arab springs with major and fairly sudden policy shifts.  But more gradual, ground up approach.

In courageous Chinese village, a growing thirst for democracy 

Residents of Wukan have hope for first real election

By Calum MacLeod USA TODAY

WUKAN, China — On a temple stage honoring a Taoist immortal, under a triple-tiered roof topped by dragons, Lin Zuluan made his modest bid for office.

“I’m an old guy, without much ability, but I do have a heart that keeps close to the villagers,” said Lin, 67, to the applause of hun­dreds of onlookers Wednesday.

They know he also has the courage to defy corrupt officials and hundreds of armed police after a violent standoff over land grabs, China’s leading cause of social unrest. The unusual victo­ries won by Lin and other protest leaders have turned Wukan, a coastal village in south China’s Guangdong province, into an un­likely beacon of democracy in this one-party state.

For two months, villagers have taken part in a remarkably free electoral process that culminates today with a poll for a new village committee. China’s Communist Party elites select the country’s top leaders but allow villagers to elect councils with power over local issues, such as village fi­nances and land use. Since they began in the 1980s, such elec­tions have often proved more symbolic than competitive, and are heavily influenced by upper­level party members.

Even so, villagers here believe something different is happening in their election.

“The banner called this our vil­lage’s fifth election, but this is the first real one, as the committee just elected itself in the past,” said electrician Zhu Zhonggui, 45, after stump speeches from Lin and 21 other hopefuls. “They were corrupt and not democratic. I have genuine hope now. It’s a new start for Wukan.” Analysts agree that this widely watched village may herald a new start for the country also.

“Wukan’s problems are com­mon in Chinese villages, but the way the Guangdong government tried to solve them this time is unusual,” said Li Jingpeng, a Pek­ing University expert on civil so­ciety.

For 10 days in December, the 13,000 people of Wukan were bracing behind barricades to keep out a Communist govern­ment that usually handles such challenges with brute force. The people had chased out all govern­ment representatives from the town after the officials had sold farmland to developers.

Villagers chose their own rep­resentatives, but security agents abducted four of them. Then the authorities backed down, choos­ing compromise instead.

“That’s why the ‘Wukan inci­dent’ is significant,” Li Jingpeng said.

Throughout China’s country­side, where half of its 1.3 billion people live, the authorities’ heavy hand usually stamps out dissent in the name of “maintaining sta­bility.” Just 3 miles north of Wu­kan, in Longguan village, people fear that may still happen.

“People are scared here, as they worry they will be punished for petitioning about our lost land,” said Chen Hanqiu, 43, a rice farm­er. “We must learn from Wukan. They were all brave and stood up to pursue justice and fairness.” That struggle cost the life of Xue Jinbo, whose death in police custody on Dec. 11 galvanized the Wukan protests.

“He always said, ‘If you do something, go out in front and do the best you can, don’t stand at the back,’ ” said his daughter Xue Jianwan, 21, a teacher who defied official pressure and stood for election Wednesday.

Wukan sends an urgent mes­sage to the rest of China about the need for smarter social manage­ment, said Yu Gao, China pro­gram director for Landesa, a Seat­tle-based group focused on land rights for the poor. “There are many, many other Wukans which are burning in silence, but at some point they will burst.” Private land ownership does not exist, but the state leases use rights to farmers and others. A Landesa survey released in Feb­ruary found 43% of villagers had land taken for non-agricultural purposes since the late 1990s, and 18% were forceful evictions. When land grabs occur they can cause major disturbances. Of Chi­na’s 180,000 “mass incidents” in 2010, 65% involved land confisca­tions, Yu said.

Wukan now buzzes with dis­cussions about electoral proce­dure. Hong Ruichao, 28, came home to Wukan in September to get married and planned to re­turn to his small trading business in Shenzhen city. Instead, he was swept up in the protests.

“I must stay here and fight for our rights,” said Hong, who cam­paigned for a slot on the village committee and plans to run the village’s first library. His sister is also running.

“I don’t mind if I receive no votes, but to get real democracy, I need to participate,” said Hong Ruiqing, 35.

Fisherman Wu Seqi, 48, is proud of Wukan’s boldness. But real success requires that villag­ers get their land-use rights or at least fair compensation.

“Unless the upper levels of government have free elections like us, how can they stop corrup­tion and improve our situation?” he asked.

China’s leaders aren’t ready to experiment in elections above the village level, said He Baogang, an expert on Chinese elections at Deakin University in Australia. However, Wukan “shows people are thirsty for the waters of de­mocracy,” he said.

China’s size and complexity preclude swift change, said aca­demic Li Jingpeng. “We have tak­en 30 years to do economic re­form. We will take at least 30 years to conduct some political reforms and achieve a modern, democratic system,” he said.

Contributing: Sunny Yang

A Weird and Wonderful Day

Standard

I don’t even know where to begin except to tell you that this kind of day happens less often than I would like but more than you can imagine.  And every time it does I think ‘oh I should write about this!’ but somehow the time slips away.  So today I came in the door, put the necessary things away and got out my computer because you are not going to believe this!

This morning started with a pretty good workout at the gym which I totally needed. Ever  since I have discovered there is actually a great French (really managed and chef) bakery my waist line has been in grave danger!  They actually make phenomenal sour dough bread which I have not had in ages. All I can say is OMG!

Anyway, after a quick shower it was off to my monthly book club meeting.  I was contemplating skipping the meeting since I had not finished the book and really wasn’t fond of it.  But I like the people in the group and I figured what the heck, I can see them, have some coffee and maybe be convinced of why I should take the time to finish this book.  My friend M and I shared a ride.  We allowed 45 minutes for a trip that google maps said should take 25.  We figured if we were early we could wander a new neighborhood and explore a little.   I have to confess that one of the reasons I really love the book club is that we rotate meeting at various homes.  This gives me a chance to be nosy and see other peoples apartments and also new areas of the city.  We figured we had given ourselves plenty of time since rush hour should be well over by 9:45a.m.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…..It is cold and raining today which means that people who would normally walk or bike are now taking cars or any available taxi.  The roads were absolutely packed.  Like gridlock in many areas.  As we got closer we realized we were already 15 minutes late and wondered again if we should just bag it.  But moments later the car pulled up to the apartment building.  It was not a remarkable building and definitely not in a glamorous neighborhood.  We rode the elevator up to the apartment which was near the top floor of the 40ish story building.  Once again, OMG.

Can you say palace??  Tastefully decorated but still….  The place was amazing.  There were crystal chandeliers and glass cases with silver service pieces….I asked our hostess how long she had lived in Shanghai.  She told me they had just arrived in August, the same as me, but had lived in Asia for over 25 years.  We sat and had coffee and a great discussion about the book.  I may even finish it 🙂  After book club was done our hostess was leaving for an exercise class and someone asked where it was held.  She took us to another room to look out that window so we could see the building where the class was held.  It was then that I realized we had been in the ‘public space’ of the apartment and now were in the private quarters.  Each area being as big or bigger than my entire apartment, which at about 200 sq. meters is not small.  Our hostess saw the look on my face and said “yeah I know it’s kind of over the top, but we have to do a lot of entertaining of dignitaries since my husband is the Consulate General.”  OK, knock me over with a feather !  She is so sweet and kind.  I think I would have imagined someone much stuffier to fill this job.

As we looked out the window toward the gym it started to snow.  For my friends in the northeast USA this may not seem like a big deal, but it is the first – and maybe only- snow we will have this year.  It lasted about 20 minutes with real white flakes that drifted and swirled in the air.  And then melted into cold puddles on the ground 😦

Snow as seen from my friend's window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the car and traffic had settled down.  I went to pick up a couple of pictures that I had framed.  In an alley off of a small street, behind a noodle shop, is a man who can work magic with frames, glass, and matts. I never would have found him except a friend recommended him.  Much of China’s domestic economy works by word of mouth and friendships.  If they ever allow Facebook here it will take off like wild fire since it is based on the same kind of networking – called guanxi (said goo-an-shee) here.  So I had one 5×7 and two small poster sized pieces framed with mats and glass and it cost all of $30 US.  And he does a beautiful job.

more snow 🙂

 

 

 

 

Next stop was the restaurant supply building.  I saw this building early in our days here in Shanghai and was confounded by the sign outside.  It says in large red letters “HOTEL THING CONFLUENCE”.  What??  I had no idea what it was and didn’t have the language skills to ask.

Only recently did I figure out how to get there and went exploring.  They have everything!  They make uniforms, chair slip covers.  They have dishes, glassware, pots you could bathe in, mixers made to blend dough for a thousand buns……

I was in search of something to keep my teapot warm.  You must understand that in China, as in much of Asia,  they do not heat many areas at all, and then when they do use heat it is only in the rooms they are currently in.  My apartment has heat that I use when I am home.  And, by Chinese standards, it stays pretty warm. But even so the heat from things seems to get sucked out into the air pretty fast.  At the store I found these round pieces of granite that are on a raise stand with a small cup like candle holder under them.  The stone has a metal band around the edge with handles on the sides.  In my limited Chinese I tried to ask the man if I was supposed to put the stone in the oven first to heat it up since it didn’t seem like a candle would heat the stone up and keep something on top warm.  He said no, just put the thing in the little cup.  I took a leap of faith and said ok, I would buy it and give it a try. I figured I could always stick it in the oven if I needed to.  Then I asked him if he had the things (not knowing the word for candles) that go in the little cup.  He said ‘sure’, ok he actually said ‘dui’ but he meant sure,  and walked over to a cardboard box.  I expected him to pull out a big bag of tea light candles.  Much to my surprise the box was full of small paint cans, about two pint size, with solid black paper wrapped around the outside. Not over a label.  The solid black paper was the label.  The top was some kind of compressed cardboard.  He told me to just put a little in the cup.  Ohhhkayyy……

Back at home I opened the can and found what looked sort of like sterno in the can.  I used a plastic spoon to scoop some out and put it in the little cup.  I thought if the spoon melted by touching the goop it would be my first warning not to use it.  The spoon stayed intact.  The next test was how flammable the goop actually was.  With a small amount safely in the cup I moved all flammable objects far away and placed the cup in the middle of the kitchen island.  I lit the match and touched it to the goop, ready to jump back to the waiting fire extinguisher.  A small blue flame appeared and it burned nicely, just like sterno.  I put the stone over the top and let it sit there.  It did actually heat up!

My tea pot staying warm on my new stone. The black can of mystery goop in the background

I made myself a pot of ginger tea and set it on my new hot stone.

 

 

 

I don’t know how many days I will move from the height of luxury to the alleys and warehouse store rooms of a city, but it sure does make life interesting 😀

Awaking from a coma

Standard

A dear friend told me that my living so far away was sort of like (for her) my being in a coma from which I occasionally awoke (my return visits to the USA).  I can totally understand this feeling since I have given you no idea of what my daily life is like.  So, lest you all think I have fallen into that deep, long sleep, here is a summary of my daily life in China:

I  teach English once a week to the children of migrant workers.

I have a private student for English tutoring three afternoons a week.

I study Mandarin (chinese) two mornings a week.

I am in a  knitting group which knits stuff for various charities in Shanghai.

I am in a book club (which right now is reading the most god-awful boring book called The Discovery of Jeanne  Baret – I highly recommend it to all my insomniac friends)

I have joined a writing group and I have started doing some creative writing again after about 20 years away from it.

Cooking, cleaning and other various mom/wife stuff – not to mention the grocery shopping 🙂

And….trying to keep up on the blog.

So, I know for my readers that do not know me personally this may be the most boring post ever, but I hope you all will be patient with me as I work on my next big post.  One thing I have decided is that little posts are OK.  Up until recently I felt that my posts needed to be about something more weighty than a passing thought or event.  But truthfully there are lots of little daily things that I want to remember and I think you would enjoy hearing about.  So I will start blogging those too.  If you hate them or they are totally boring please let me know. But tell me in a kind way – bloggers have feelings too 🙂

Since I am here, and on a roll with the writing I will tell you a little about the migrant school. First, it is not a school that moves around, no matter how much the name implies it, lol.  In China, as a Chinese citizen, you need residency papers to live in any particular area.  These papers give you rights to health care, work (and some workers rights), housing, and an education for your children.  Without the papers you are figuratively and literally out in the cold.  For a long time the government turned a completely blind eye to these people. The migrants who chose to risk it all and come to the big cities in search of their fortunes banded together to create small “schools” for their children.

These were often in shacks, tents, wherever they could find space. The teachers were migrants too, often not trained as teachers.  The schools grew as the numbers of migrants grew.  Businesses, often shady, sprung up to provide a better education for the migrant’s kids.  But they charged exorbitant tuitions and many children couldn’t go.  Those kids often spent their days at work with their parents or playing unsupervised in the city streets.

But now the number of migrants  moving to the cities has grown exponentially and the government has decided to take over the schools.  The migrant children are still kept separate from the local children and often in less than great facilities (no heat or AC, few school supplies for teachers or students, etc.)  The kids are grouped in classes of between 40 and 60 per classroom with one teacher and sit so close together that they don’t have to stretch to poke the classmate in front of them.

A great group of people formed a volunteer organization called stepping stones to go into these schools and work on English language skills with the kids.   This is not a frivolous as it sounds.  The government actually holds English language as one of it’s core curriculum components. The kids take major exams based on which their school career and future opportunities are tracked.  They are somewhat like the European A and O levels but with more pressure and higher stakes at an even younger age.

My kids are fourth graders who are great.  They struggle with English and are very shy to speak it.  But they do try so hard.  Our time slot is right after recess so they still have a little bounce in them when we start and it is a true test of our child wrangling skills for the first ten minutes.  Luckily we team teach and one of my co-teachers is an experienced ESL teacher who is amazing and comes up with awesome lesson plan ideas.

So now I am off to do some mom things, but I promise to write again soon.  I hope you will write to me too!

Zhe shi Haerbin (This is Harbin)

Standard

Harbin is in the very north of China and inland a bit, along the Songhua river.  It is on a parallel north of Vladivostok, Russia.  As we fly from warm, damp Shanghai, over Beijing and onward north  I can see silvery black mountains like wrinkled taffeta gowns lined with bright white veins of snow and ice in the valleys.  Then they give way to more tundra like terrain.  And still the roads stretch on for kilometer after kilometer broken occasionally by outpost looking towns.  The harsh beauty is mesmerizing. I can watch the clouds build on the windward side of a ridge and dump their cargo of thick white snow on the leeward side of the mountains.  I am fascinated by who would choose to live here and why?? Also what do they do for work, for fun, and for food?

We will land shortly and they have announced the current ground temperature is 7•F, much warmer than I had expected, but that is todays high temperature.  The joke in my family is that my body runs so cold I wear turtleneck shirts in August.  This is an exaggeration, but perhaps not a huge one.  My kids keep asking me why I, of all people, chose this trip.  I have to say that I am intrigued by all the ice and I figure I can survive anything for three days.

We wore our regular clothes and polar fleece jackets on the plane.  I kept looking at our fellow travelers while we were boarding the plane, trying to judge if we were over or under prepared.  We packed our winter gear and figured we would get changed in the airport.  I thought we had done ok.  Everyone else seemed to be dressed similarly to us.  We were in a big surprise!  As the plane stopped people started pulling down their carry on luggage and pulling out jackets obviously designed for the arctic.  I thought we would be ok, all we had to do is get to our luggage in the terminal and we would have our jackets too.  Then as the plane parked I realized we were out on the tarmac and just like the old days we took a stair case down, walked a ways, and took a bus in to the terminal.  The dry cold wind sucked every bit of heat from our bodies so quickly and took our breath away.  Once packed into the bus we shivered quietly and then made the mad dash for our coats in the luggage.

We had a guide and a driver with a heated van 🙂  waiting for us.  They took us to our hotel in the center of the city.  Once checked in we added more layers of thick long johns, hats, neckies, ski gloves, two layers of socks, and headed out for a tour of the old part of the city.  The historic street has several buildings which are very influenced by Russian architecture and are quite lovely.  This is unusual for China as many buildings were knocked down or otherwise destroyed during the cultural revolution.  Also, just culturally, the attitude is old is bad and new is good.  The sense of historic preservation really barely exists here.  There is one very old and very beautiful Eastern Orthodox church which is now a museum of architecture.  We were on a tight schedule so we did not go in it.  According to our guide the military destroyed much of the inside during the cultural revolution so much of the beauty is on the outside anyway.

Along the historic street there were several small ice sculptures which were pretty during the day but really great lit up at night.  The day time high hovers around 5F and goes down to -20F during the night so there is no fear of melting sculptures.  This is a cobbled pedestrian street which is lovely for a stroll.

Saturday we were up and out to see the Sun Island Snow Park with amazing snow sculptures.  They actually use snow machines to create huge blocks of compressed snow out of which they build amazing sculptures.  They start work on the park in mid November and, according to our guide, are largely done by the end of December.   At this park they also had dog sled rides, an ice slide, and go carts out on part of the frozen river.  But we did not do the rides here.  We were enjoying the snow park sculptures and walking around.  After two hours we realized that we were loosing the feeling in our toes and fingers.  We popped into a tea house and had a pot of tea and enjoyed the warmth.  The main sculpture is huge, about 5 or 6 stories high.  Our guide told us that while the smaller sculptures are allowed to melt naturally in the spring (March or April) but the larger sculpture has to be blown up.  The kids want to come again to see that!

Heading back out around 2:00pm the sun was already starting to hang low in the sky so we headed over to a different part of the Songhua river to watch a ‘swimming show’.  This show was really just a group of swimmers willing to dive into a pool carved out of the ice.  Crazy in my book.  The highlight of this part of the trip were the ‘ski chairs’ and top games as well as the ice slide.  Next to the pool there was a man doing a brisk business in renting out ski chairs so we gave it a try. My policy is when in doubt follow the locals and they were right again!  The ski chairs were a blast.  You use giant ice picks to dig into the ice and push yourself along.  Some people had races, some just scooted around, and some took the opportunity to play bumper cars.

The top game was free to try while you waited for the swim show.  They were metal tops about 4 inches high and two inches in diameter.  You give it a good spin between your palms and let it drop to the ice.  Then, using a stick with a cord tied to the end, you whip the bottom of the top and this keeps it spinning.  For those of you with younger kids you may know the game ‘bay blades’ which is battling tops- this is an older but very similar game.  The kids loved it.

The ice slide was steep and ran out pretty far onto the frozen river.  They gave you a plastic mat to sit on so you went flying down and out onto the river.  The kids could have done this all day.  But it was time for dinner.  We headed to a restaurant which specialized in Chinese pancakes (think mushu pork style- not sweet american pancakes).  We had all kinds of fillings which ranged from pickled seaweeds to tofu to beef and the best sweet and sour pork I have ever had in my life.  It tasted of fresh, crispy pork with a freshly made sauce with vinegar and sugar and fresh ginger – no red dye #2.  Sooooo yummy!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

As the sun set we prepared for the main attraction to winter in Harbin – The Grand World of Ice and Snow Sculptures.  The ice buildings are nice during the day but at night they are lit up by LEDs which change color and make the ice sparkle.  Many of the ice buildings had stairs to go up (and down if you wanted to) but ice slides to take the fast route down.  Everything was made of ice.  There was no support structure that I could see.  Just the sparkling ice.

There were extra rides here too but you would have to stand in line for over half an hour and the temperature was hovering around -10F so we opted to keep moving.  As a travel tip I would recommend anyone who goes to Harbin go to the ice show once during the day to do the rides when it is less crowded and then, after warming up, go again at night to enjoy the lights.  This ice city largely defys description so enjoy the pictures.

We thawed out over bowls of hot noodle soup and crawled into bed under warm down comforters.

Sunday we explored the local market and tried some of the local foods.  The market was especially hopping since the Chinese new year is coming up and everyone is out shopping for the foods they will need for the holiday.  Our guide was very patient and  explained many of the mysterious foods.  I felt like Anthony Bordain in ‘No Reservations”.  After eating our way through the market and picking up a few things to take back to Shanghai we headed to the Tiger breeding park.  This park was billed as a place where they breed siberian tigers to release back into the wild.  I don’t know what their success rate is but the park, sectioned into several large areas with fences and gates not dissimilar to Jurassic Park, seemed bleak.  Maybe it was the lack of snow (there had only been one snowfall in Harbin this year) or maybe it was the lack of educational material (in Chinese or English) but either way I am not convinced of the benefits of this park.  I would say it is not worth the time.  Spend your time and money at the other parks going on rides or in the great restaurants in town.

The pictures really tell the tale for this trip. I am sorry WP has limited my ability to a video I made unless I upgrade (read spend more money).  But I think you get the idea from these pictures.  If you get the chance I would VERY highly recommend a visit to an ice festival.  There are many around the world.

Life in the wilds of Puxi

Standard

This is just a quick update as life keeps spinning along… we are heading back to the USA tomorrow to celebrate the holidays with our families and take a look at a few universities for my son.  But in the mean time the kid’s exams were finished and we had a free day to wander.  We did have a few last minute errands to do.  One of which was to pick up my daughter’s new coat.  One of the perks of living in Shanghai is the fabric markets.  You do have to shop carefully, ask around for recommendations, and don’t be shy about bargaining hard.  But if you do all of those things you will find some amazing tailors, beautiful fabric, and VERY reasonable prices.

My children have refused to stop growing!  This means that some of the clothes we came to China with no longer fit.  It also means that they are full fledged American sized kids and have no hope of fitting into off the rack Chinese clothes.  So it was off to the fabric market to get a winter coat.  The market is in the old section of Shanghai known as Puxi –  said poo-she.  This side of the city is full of all the amazing little warrens and alleys you would imagine in China.  We found some beautiful, interesting and downright strange stuff.  It was a very cold day and we took refuge in a macdonalds.  The funny part of that is that we have not set foot in a micky-d’s for about 5 years, but here we were, a day away from flying back to the US and we felt the urge for fries!

So here are some pictures from our grand day out…enjoy and see you all soon !

 

Christmas in Shanghai: It is coming and we are All getting fat (not just the goose!)

Standard

Living in Shanghai is all about the food.  Yes I am in China.  And yes there are definitely food safety concerns (salad is a rarity – mostly cooked veggies for us).  But the international, metropolitan, critical mass aspect of the city makes it a food mecca for anyone wanting to do a world tour and never leave a single city.  Not only are there Chinese citizens living here from, I am guessing, all 56 ethnic groups, but there are also expats from every conceivable area of the globe.  And all of us long for the food of our homeland at one time or another.

As I wander the grocery store aisles I find mysterious items with labels that would confound everyone but the most studied linguists.  Swedish, Turkish, Greek, Palestinian, German, French, American, British…….You name it.  But most of these non-Asian foods are crowded together in one small aisle of the grocery store and each culture gets two or three items to choose from.  But this time of year – the convergence of so many winter holidays – makes that selection grow to new and more mysterious heights.

Today I went to the store to get an onion.  One of the most basic cooking items in any culture.  And there it was, front and center with the veggies.  It’s bright white flesh glowing amongst it’s dark green friends.  I chose carefully and could have just paid and left the store.  But no.  I heard the siren song of those mysterious items calling me from the further reaches of the store.  If I have learned anything here in China it is NEVER pass up the opportunity to wander in a grocery store.  Food items come and go and you may not see the same item again for months, or ever.  So if you see it and you think you may want it, get it.  I knew that this store had once had risotto rice (arborio) and my friend J longed for some so I gave in to that sirens call and plowed forward like Veruca Salt in Willie Wonka.  I WANT IT NOW!!!

Wide eyed I wandered up and down the aisles looking for my long lost Risotto.  I was coming near the end of the aisles of dry goods and was starting to give up hope.  My disappointment was pushed aside for a few minutes when I came to the baking section.  No, it did not have the rice, but things more dark and mysterious than I could have ever imagined!  Baking is NOT a typical Asian form of cooking and many, if not most, Asian kitchens do not have ovens.  So I expected all the items in this area to be more familiar to me.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I love to bake and this time of year I long to make doughy breads, crisp ginger bread men with raisin buttons and royal frosting eyes, sugar cookies in all shapes and sizes, and a buche noel with meringue mushrooms to ring in Christmas day.  In this store I found a whole series of shelves dedicated to different flavorings and thought they might be a fun addition to my baking this year.  They had beautifully printed European looking labels with delicate red flowers on the edges.  These label designers must have been peering into my childhood memories when they came up with this label.

One of my favorite memories (and my mother’s worst nightmare) is of my mother’s precious collection of these delicate flavoring bottles.  They were (and still are) quite expensive.  We didn’t have much spare cash when I was little but my mother always loved to bake and the flavorings keep for years.  So over time she would save her pennies and get one or two of these bottles to add to her baking collection.  I knew they were dear to her but I had no idea of the monetary value, just that they were a special thing.  And one winter day, having a friend over and looking for an indoor activity, we decided to be witches and make a brew.  What better to make a brew than 20 little bottles of magic potions, each with it’s own special scent?  So in they all went to a big pot.  We added some potting soil from the rubber tree plant in the living room, some wood shavings from my bird, Roberto’s, cage.  Add in a few threads from a sewing box and a pin from a pin cushion to make it really seem evil,  and stir.  We were so engrossed in our game and sitting on the kitchen counter discussing what special incantations we could say, that we didn’t even see my mom come in.  I am sure you can imagine the ensuing scene.  My mother, God bless her, held it together pretty well while also making it VERY clear that I was NEVER to do such a thing again!  I think the restrained tears on her cheeks made the biggest impression on me.  I felt awful.  I guess she made her point pretty well because that was about 37 years ago and I still remember it clearly 🙂

So, I digress….I shook the distant childhood memories from my brain and started to look carefully at all the different things on the shelf.  The variety of flavors really surprised me.   There were the typical Vanilla, Mint, Almond, Coconut and the more mysterious “Perisa Keladi Yam Flavor”.  I can’t imagine what you would need to add this too.  I would love to find out.

This one is a total mystery.Yam flavor. for candy??? or frosting????Yum, Durian

My attention turned to “Durian Flavor.”  For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a Durian, it is a type of fruit that is a little larger than a large coconut.  It has a green spiky looking shell that you cut open and eat the flesh inside.  The smell is often described as similar to rotting flesh – I kid you not!  After hearing this lovely description I have opted not to try it but I have seen it for sale in many places so obviously it holds some favor with a group of people. (whoever you are DO NOT invite me to dinner the night you have Durian!)  But I can’t imagine buying a flavoring like this.  Can you picture this scene:

Me:  “Hello dear friend, I have brought you some special treats that I made just for you!”

Friend:  “Oh, thank you so much!  How thoughtful.  And they smell so wonderful, just like rotting flesh!”

Yikes!!!

Just around the corner came the jars of preserved cherries.  In the USA I am used to the ‘marichino’ variety which glow red from their jar.  Here the cherries bloomed in acid green, popsicle blue, tang orange etc. etc.  It was like an ADHD nightmare of food coloring.  Next to the day glow cherries were the coconut sport strings.  But don’t worry, they were preserved in syrup, ready for all your sporting events 🙂  Sitting quietly on the bottom shelf was a bag of Attap seed and lest you feel unsure about the ingredients they were listed quite clearly on the back of the bag, even in English.  But alas, the poor Attap seeds, I don’t know what to do with you so I will leave you to find another home where the cook is more sure of an appropriate recipe to show you off in all your glorious goopy wonderfulness!

Attap seed. They seemed gooey and slightly gelatinous.

Here are the ingredients for the Attap seeds.

Coconut strings for everyone!

Acid Green Cherries

Popsicle blue Cherries

Tang Orange Cherries

Yellow Cherries??

Ok, these I might have to try 🙂

PS.  As a side note, I did find the box of risotto and purchased it for my friend J.  I saw J today and was so excited to give her the rice.  J said she had something for me and pulled out a box from another grocery store – it was a little gingerbread house kit complete with baked house pieces and m&m’s to decorate, even a little gingerbread man to stand outside his home and admire the finished product.  It is these small moments that make Shanghai a wonderful adventure just as much as walking down the alleys and warrens of Chinese shops selling tourist goods and Christmas supplies so plentiful that it looks like someone is trying to recreate Liberace’s home for the holidays. But that story has to be left for Christmas in Shanghai,Part II

My gingerbread house kit!

PPS.  Here is a special find just for my beloved brother in law, B..  I hope you now see that it is truly safe to come to China!

Yes B., my dear brother in law, it is safe for even you to come to China! lol