Archive for November, 2010

From Scratch

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

french bread

I love rice and I love noodles. I don’t complain about food. I don’t even really insist on my cravings. But after having had sandwiches during this last trip, I wanted to have bread, so I took my friend’s French bread recipe and tried to bake one from scratch. There are bakeries around here, but most Chinese bread have fillings and toppings. This afternoon, I mixed ingredients (flour, yeast, water, sugar, salt, oil), kneaded, waited for it to rise, punched down, rolled, and baked it in my little toaster oven. The only mistake I made was not knowing how to shape it. I tried different shapes, but I figured I’d work on aesthetics at a later time. This is what the other “loaves” look like:

french baguette?

Warm, fresh bread tastes really good with cheese (which I brought back with me). I must say that this whole day of reading and research was nicely balanced by the chance to work with my hands and bake my own bread … from scratch!

Week in Kunming

Monday, November 1st, 2010

This past week, I lived out of my suitcase and participated in an intensive Chinese language class in Kunming. It was more Chinese than I’ve had in a very long time. There was definitely a lot of memorizing and recalling of vocabulary words that I’ve long since forgotten. I’m very thankful for it, though, because it gave me the incentive to really get serious about communicating in Chinese!

one of the pages ...

It was about a 15-hour trip to get to Kunming by bus and train. The overnight train that I took is called a hard-sleeper (cheaper than a soft-sleeper). The cabins consist of three bunk beds facing one another (I chose the bottom bunk for convenience). Maybe it is a gift, but I slept perfectly well in one of those babies. By the way, soft-sleepers consist of two bunk beds, four in a cabin, enclosed by a door. Not sure I would enjoy that any better, though.

hard-sleeper cabin

I took advantage of the opportunity and visited friends who live there. I spent a day in KIA (Kunming International Academy) with their newest librarian, Amber. Then I finally got to visit the very popular Chicago Coffee house. I’ve heard so much about this expat-friendly cafe, and I’m glad I got to reconnect with owners, Chris and Liz. I even got to meet their daughter, Bailey.

Chicago Coffee

After almost a month of mostly Chinese food, it felt soooo good to finally have western food. There were several restaurants where my friends took me, especially on 文林街 (definitely an expat paradise). My personal favorites were Mazagran and Salvadore’s. Another cozy favorite is a place called Wicker Basket which also sells western food products. I definitely stocked up on popcorn kernels, pasta, cheese, and various chocolate products!

Wicker Basket

My roommate Serena and I invited a local tea shop manager to eat with us there. She enjoys western food but does not have many opportunities to eat out. I was glad we could introduce this place to her since her store is only a block away. Some of the amusing things she commented on is the unusually quiet atmosphere (unlike loud Chinese restaurants) and not being able to use chopsticks when eating pizza.

Serena and Wei Ping

On my last day in Kunming, Amber took me to a posh, new place — a mall that was completed just a few months ago. It was several stories high with restaurants, cinemas (including IMAX!), brand name stores, fancy elevators, and a central plaza for performances and exhibitions. It was like being back in Shanghai …


To top it all off, Amber treated me to something I’d been craving: crepes! After a week of stressing, memorizing, and cramming Chinese words into my brain, it was wonderful to finally have some girl time with a good friend. We spent the afternoon chatting away over a plate of nutella-banana crepes a la mode. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip!

me and Amber

It was really nice to have spent some time out-of-town, especially where I could have some western food (and stock up on them!). But it was also a welcome relief to come back. Inasmuch as I enjoyed the hotel amenities (breakfast buffets, cable TV, housekeeping, etc), living out of a suitcase can get tiring. It took us another 15 hours by train and by bus to get back. The trip was good while it lasted, but now, it’s time to get back to my routine — and to my writing.

train station shops