Archive for November, 2010

Beauty of Nature

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

山 (San)

水 (Shui)

花 (Hua)

蝴蝶 (Hu Tie)

Unexpected Hiatus

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

My internet connection is not working too well due to some unforeseen circumstances (or forces). Until I get it resolved, I may have to put off my daily blog. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon!! :-)

Spaghetti and French Fries

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Since I will be away at another village this weekend, I won’t be seeing the girls this Sunday, so we planned a weeknight get-together. Last night, a mother came up to me and asked if I could help her daughter with English. Since her daughter was about the same age as my girls, I invited her to join our get-togethers. After school, they all came over. Tonight, I introduced them to spaghetti and treated them to homemade French fries.

looks like noodles ...

Because spaghetti looks so much like regular noodles, I think the girls expected a different taste. They only put a spoonful of the sauce on their bowl of spaghetti noodles, and when I tried to cover their bowl with sauce, they said it was too much. I think they wanted to taste more of the noodles. I don’t think the spaghetti was a hit. The only redeeming part of it was when I grated cheese on top. They really liked the cheese.

spaghetti sauce as ketchup

And they liked French fries a lot. These were surprisingly easy to make, as long as the oil was hot enough. It’s not McDonald’s fries (my favorite), but I must say these fries were very tasty. I don’t know if it was the potatoes, the soaking of these potatoes in cold water, or the fact that I used peanut oil. In any case, the fries were a hit!

practicing English words

Because I wanted tonight to be more productive, I tried to teach them some simple English vocabulary words. Surprisingly, they were very eager to learn and participated easily. Another surprise is finding that they would rather memorize the “character” of the English word rather than use the alphabet to read the words phonetically. This is definitely a study in cross-cultural literacy. What an interesting find.

charades

I thought a good way for them to remember these words is to associate English with something fun, like playing charades. They most likely think of language learning as a useless chore they do in school. When I first met the girls, they had no interest at all in learning English. I guessed they don’t think it useful nor relevant. Tonight, though, they got into it and were even trying out their familiar English phrases with me, like “thank you very much” and “how are you?” and “I’m fine, thanks.” They asked me what “that’s okay” means because they commented that I use the term a lot. And they’ve begun using it now, too.

illustrating the words

Besides charades, we also played a mini-game of Pictionary with some of their vocabulary words. Before the game, I had them draw their words. They took this very seriously, using their special pencils (they had in their book bags) and colored their pictures very carefully. It amused me because it reminded me of myself when I was their age. Before they left, they took these drawings because they were so proud of them. One of the girls said she wanted to give me hers — I posted it on my fridge.

Life Along the Dam

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Today was reading day. Normally, I read to do research on history, culture, and factual information. Every now and then, though, I read for inspiration, especially now that my writing is well underway. I look for like-minded writers whose style and flair I admire so I can capture their spirit somehow.

I am also at the point where I am looking for inspiration in my surroundings. Today was one of those days wherein I’m glad that I blend in quite easily with the crowd. I usually bike/walk around with my camera and my notebook (hidden, of course). I don’t have to worry about standing out when I walk around because I look just like everyone else — until I open my mouth, that is. This afternoon, I spent some time around the dam area where many activities take place. The river from up the mountain flows into this local dam. The water supply serves many purposes. For one, people use it to wash vehicles, like their 三轮车 and motorcycles.

carwash day

This past summer, I went with students from the cultural exchange program to cool off in the water. The young people would swim in these waters right next to the falls. Around the same area today, I saw this fisherman trying to net some small fish.

fishing day

Near the fisherman were some women doing laundry. They would wash these thick heavy blankets and hang them up to dry on the marble railing. After these women finish with the chore, they also bathe in these waters, washing their hair and arms and legs.

laundry day

Not far from these women, I saw some men bathing as well. I decided against taking their picture for obvious reasons. As I headed back, there was this group of about five men who were huddled around the bank of the river looking at the fish they had caught. It looked as if they were dividing them up among them. Then, further along, where the river turns into a creek, I saw another group of women doing laundry together in this little spot. Like the other group I saw earlier, it looked like a time of communal washing and bathing.

more laundry

Slow Monday

Monday, November 8th, 2010

I’m one of those weird people who likes Mondays, especially Monday mornings. To me, it represents a promise of sorts — the potential of what the week can become. It’s like being given an opportunity to take on a brand new week. When I was a student, I always made it a point to have good Monday mornings. However, this morning, I had a rather slow start, preferring to do this and do that rather than what I originally intended. I did not get started on my writing until much later in the afternoon, but once I really got into it, I was flying once again. I finished a chapter today. Hooray!

Tonight, I went to a potluck dinner for someone’s birthday. I had volunteered to bring dessert, so I decided to use the Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips that I bought from Kunming and shared the wealth. I baked my first batch of chocolate chip cookies. It went from looking like this …

cookie dough batter

… to this!

chewy chocolate chip cookies

I like my cookies to be chewy so I googled the recipe to having chewy chocolate chips cookies. The secret? Cornstarch! And it works, too. They were delicious and I think people at the potluck enjoyed them. I personally think it would have tasted better if I used butter, but I had to use olive oil as a substitute because they don’t sell butter here.

This morning, one of the things I decided to do was bake some more bread since I’ve long finished my last batch. This time, I decided to make me some bagels! It was a lot of fun to make … really simple, too. It went from looking like this …

bagel batter

… to this!

variety of bagels

I confess that my expectations were pretty low for this one because bagels just seem more exotic, but I must say they turned out great! I froze half of them so I could enjoy them later. I also took the liberty to be creative. I added various spices and ingredients to make garlic bagels, onion bagels, cheese bagels, and multi-seed bagels. I think my breakfast is set for the week. If you’re interested in the recipe, check it out at: www.mbcohao.com/recipes.

Both baking experiments were successful and turned out well. Finished a chapter, to boot. Good start to my week after all.

Apple Crisp and Chocolate Cake

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

I have come to look forward to Sunday afternoons when I am in town so I can spend extended time with the girls. Usually, it involves baking and experimenting with foods they don’t normally eat. Today, it was apple crisp pie (courtesy of my awesome sis-in-law Kim) and chocolate cake (courtesy of Betty Crocker). There were five girls who came today, and one of them brought her five-year-old little brother. I put on Winnie the Pooh on DVD for him while the girls busied themselves in the kitchen. Unfortunately, there was no Chinese audio option, but I forgot that all cartoons are the same for a five-year-old. He was hooked the whole time.

chocolate! yum!

We started out with the chocolate cake because it was the easiest to make. Even the girls were able to mix the ingredients it without too many instructions from me. They looked at the pictures in the back of the box and they were set. They couldn’t wait to have chocolate! Meanwhile, I peeled a few apples to prepare the pie. I thought I’d show them how to use an apple slicer corer. They’d never seen this gadget before and they were pretty amazed at how easy it was to use. One of the girls needed my help push it down, though!

slicing has never been easier

Everyone wanted to participate in the stirring, slicing, and mixing.

stirring...

slicing ...

mixing ...

We had extra batter for the chocolate cake, so we decided to make muffins out of them. While some girls were busy working on the the apple crisp, I helped the others make sure they put enough chocolate batter on the muffin mold.

chocolate muffins!

Besides baking, I had forgotten that girls this age (pre-teens) are also into fashion and make-up and hair. While waiting for the food, they insisted on making me their dress-up doll for the afternoon. I put my foot down on the make-up, but I relented on letting them style my hair. While they busied themselves, I decided to practice my Chinese with them using the stories I learned when I was in Kunming. I think I may have butchered the tones and pronunciation because they were not shy about letting me know whether or not they understood. I also think kids are just more straightforward in pointing out mistakes and correcting them. My stories were simple so I think I was able to communicate … but it made me determined to practice even more. Big brother Vincent came over for a visit to practice his English and spent the afternoon with the girls. It was a bit chaotic but a lot of fun.

controlled chaos

I was tired by the time they all left because I only had a few hours of sleep the night before preparing for a presentation this morning. But it is always a blessing to hear the delight and laughter of children. I look forward to the next time.

the gang

Sunny Saturday

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

One of my favorite writers, Peter Hessler, once wrote that when he was working on his book, he would spend months at a time in his room just writing. At the time, he was living in a remote place in China and renting from a family, and it took him a relatively short time to finish the complete draft. However, it also exhausted him emotionally. I remember this story because I now understand what he meant. This afternoon, I decided to go on a bike ride, not only to take a break from writing, but also because it was an invitingly sunny Saturday afternoon.

It is such a small town that I think I was able to bike through most of the more familiar alleyways all day. I discovered that I’ve become much more adept at dodging pedestrians, outracing slower-moving trucks, squeezing my way between 三轮车’s, cutting off hesitant motorcycles (nicely, of course), and even charging oncoming traffic and knowing instinctively just when to turn. It’s only been a few weeks, but I’m actually getting it. The trick, I learned, is to be 100% aware of my surroundings — how fast the traffic is going (which is usually slow), anticipating their move, and making my move definitive so as to give them the opportunity to react accordingly. But please be assured that I do take great pains to be super careful!!

On my way back to the apartment later in the evening, I saw this very amusing sight. It was so random that I just had to take a picture.

Guardian of the Road

I don’t know what this dog was doing in the middle of this wide street. It was just sitting there, like it was guarding something. Trucks, cars, motorcyles, and bicycles swerved around the dog, but no one really tried to drive it off the road. And it just sat there for a very long time. I know because I waited for quite a while. To give you an idea of where it is in relation to the road, here’s another shot:

Lost Puppy or Loyal Protector?

I decided to eat out for dinner and headed to the town’s most popular fried chicken place, DFC. That’s right: DFC.

Dainty Fried Chicken

For those of you who need proof that this place actually exists, I took this picture for that reason:

the Colonel would be proud ...

I ordered fried chicken, french fries, and a coke. It wasn’t exactly KFC but it’s the closest I can find in this town. And no, I did not eat my drumstick “daintily.” But I did find their method of making it truly “finger-lickin’ good” for hygiene-conscious people quite ingenious.

no purell? no problem!

Surprise Dinner!

Friday, November 5th, 2010

pizza and mushroom soup

Today was a day of writing and research. For the first time since I got here, I think the momentum has finally picked up. I call it “entering the whirlwind” because once I get on a roll, it is usually hard to stop. Wave after wave of ideas began to roll over in my mind as my fingers tried to catch up with my thoughts. Unfortunately, by late afternoon, my eyes insisted on resting, my stomach grumbled for food, and my body urged me to move around even for a little bit. It’s a good thing I was invited out to dinner or else, I would not have listened.

When I got to my friend’s house, I was pleasantly surprised to see western dinner on the menu consisting of chicken/vegetable pizza and mushroom soup. The dough on the pizza had to be kneaded and rolled and baked. Having just baked my own bread a few days ago, I know how tedious it can be. And I knew that the mushroom soup was made from scratch because someone had shown me the recipe a few weeks ago. Everything tasted wonderful! I have a sneaking suspicion my friend prepared it as a way to “surprise the westerner” though I hardly consider myself as one. Either way, what a thoughtful surprise and a very nice treat after a long day’s work!

三轮车 (San Lun Che)

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I thought I’d post something that I’ve come to take for granted around here — the public transportation. When I first arrived, it was fascinating to note that there were no taxis. There are buses (which are actually cheaper, like $.20), but you’d have to wait every 20-30 minutes for the next run, usually not worth it (at least for me). It is such a small town that people can get from place to place by bicycle. If they were in a hurry or carrying heavy things, they would take the 三轮车. It would be around $.50 a pop. I took a picture of one of them tonight just for fun. Right next to it is the bike I use to get around town.

public transportation

Today was a slow and quiet day. I spent most of the day reading. During lunch, I chatted with family online, then I went back to reading. If my friends did not invite me out to dinner, I’d probably never leave the house. Tonight, I biked over to a corner street to meet them in a restaurant. After dinner, I decided to bike around town to get some exercise and fresh air. That’s when I decided to take the picture of the 三轮车 next to my bike. Quite an uneventful day.

Veggie Street

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

street vendors

I decided to get an early start on my shopping today. They tell me to go in the morning if I want to get the freshest meat, so I went to the wet market for that. For my vegetables, I usually frequent this street across from where I live. I call it Veggie Street because that’s where the vendors display their produce. After a month of living here, I already go to the same people who sell me my eggs, my fruits, and my greens. I’m not sure if they recognize me yet, but maybe in time, they will. I don’t usually see meat vendors on this street, but this morning, I saw several booths. It always amuses me to see the various meats being sold here just because I come from a culture that is paranoid of salmonella or any meat-related diseases. I am used to buying meat that is already wrapped in plastic, safely frozen inside a freezer. Here, they are out in the street, exposed to the environment, but no one seems to give a second thought to buying them.

Another unusual thing I saw today was someone selling fish. It’s not even live fish still swimming in water like the kind I usually find in the wet market. These were random fish of different sizes laid out on the street. It’s like someone went fishing and decided to sell what he caught.

fish and ...

What’s funny about this layout is that right next to it are snakes for sale! I had to do a double-take to make sure these were live snakes inside this net. Sure enough, they were still hissing and squirming around in there. I’m not sure how you cook snakes, much less eat them, but there they were, alive and ready to be eaten. Just another one for the blog.

snakes!