Archive for December, 2010

Warm Thoughts

Monday, December 13th, 2010

It has gotten very cold lately. I should have expected it but it still shocked me. The cement in my apartment does not insulate well, and when I step outside, the rain is freezing. Besides, my heating lamp broke down so all I’m using is a small portable heater. People are telling me that it’s going to get even colder. I’m already bracing for it.

The other day, I made congee with as many ingredients as I could find in the fridge, including my favorite, 皮蛋, or century egg. It warmed me up to my feet and made me feel good so early in the morning. I rationed it to last as long as possible — it really does taste better with time!


Today, I also began experimenting with the cocoa powder I brought back from HK. I used to be content just adding water to powder for my chocolate drink, but I’ve gotten quite creative. I heated milk in a sauce pan and added sugar, salt, and Hershey’s cocoa. I also topped it with a dash of vanilla extract which I’ve never done before. Then, in a moment of inspiration, I even added coffee to spike it. It was like a Starbucks drink and it really warmed me up during an afternoon of reading.

fancy chocolate drink

Tonight, I visited some friends who taught me an interesting concept: microwavable heating bags. I’ve known about these and even used them in the past, but now, I think I’m going to need them more than ever. My friends made their own heating bags by using dried corns (the kind people here grind for feeding the pigs). They stuffed the corns into an old cloth or fabric and sewed them into some kind of shape. The corns here, which I found out the hard way a while back, do not turn into popcorn when you put them in the microwave. Instead, they just turn hot — perfect stuffing for a homemade microwavable heating bag. I think I’ll start this project soon.

heating bag


Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Nativity in Dough

Some of my young friends here made this nativity scene out of bread dough. I just happened to be looking for a set to display in my living room, and I liked it so much that I made a bid for it. It was a good deal for me and for them: I got my Christmas set and they made money off of their art piece! This piece ended up helping me illustrate the story of Christmas to the neighborhood kids just before I taught them to sing Silent Night. I’d like to think the song made more sense after they learned the story. Each of their little brothers came, so I’m glad I had just enough of the hamburger patties and buns (complete with lettuce and tomatoes) for this very American meal in China. We had chocolate cake afterwards (made by the girls from scratch with a little assistance from me).

before the meal

Tonight was significant, too, because I finally met these girls’ guardians. They came over after I had asked the girls to invite them to the Christmas party on December 25th. After several weeks of just being the girls’ “foreigner friend,” they now had a face to the name. We hit it off easily and talked together for quite a while. In fact, they’ve already invited me for an outing sometime next week. Moreover, they brought over a local favorite: sticky rice. They insisted I would not find this special rice anywhere else in China, and they even hung around until late in the evening to teach me how to cook it just so:

local specialty

It was a busy night of eating, baking, cooking, practicing, singing, dancing, talking, and playing. The kids were flushed with sweat from all the activities in my apartment. I caught a rare peaceful moment in the evening, though, when I spotted this little boy getting lost in the lights of the Christmas tree while fingering the shiny ornaments. I love the warmth of this picture, and I tried to enhance it with a little help from photoshop:

all is calm, all is bright

Evolution of a Hamburger

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

It was rainy morning, but I braved the wet market with the help of a huge purple poncho and my trusty bicycle. I’ve gotten quite used to navigating the familiar place, spotting the meat section easily.

cutting up into chunks

I wanted to make a hamburger today, so I had to get ground meat. I went to another section of the wet market for that. They have this little nifty machine that does it for 1 yuan a pop.

grinding machine

When I got back to the apartment, I took the ground meat and added some of my favorite ingredients for the hamburger patty. Before I left, I had prepared bread dough that needed to rise for at least an hour. When I came back, I kneaded it to make hamburger buns. Yes, even the bread is homemade!

should've added more salt ...

From there, it was easy to shape them into these patties …

burger patties!

After frying one of these babies, I had a hamburger! There were lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese in the fridge to complement this western meal. I popped some corn kernels as side dish. Here is my very fresh and very homemade lunch:

completely homemade

New Snack

Friday, December 10th, 2010

I spent most of the day writing, mostly revising and rewriting my first few chapters. Since it has gotten a lot colder and there is no central heating, I kept myself warm by putting on the layers, pacing around the apartment, and heating my hands against the portable heater. All these activities helped to take a break from writing, actually. I had hot oatmeal for breakfast and made 粥 (congee) for lunch, which warmed me up to my toes. Definitely comfort foods! Of course, I munched on popcorn, bananas, and some leftover cheese biscuit as snacks. I discovered a new snack today, though: Jackfruit Chips. I picked it up from a Vietnamese store nearby. Tasty treat!

jackfruit chips

Setting Up

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Today, I received some much-needed feedback on my book project. I am already about five chapters into the book, and I have been nervous about what I’ve been writing. So far, it has mostly been set-up to introduce the plot and develop the characters for the rest of the book. I have been the only reader, so sometimes, I feel so close to it that I lose sight of the big picture. I spent a couple of hours talking about this project with a partner and getting some helpful suggestions — I think I’m on the right track. I am greatly encouraged by the feedback. It’s just what I needed to get going again …

Speaking of setting up, the girls came over tonight to help me set up the Christmas tree. They were very excited about it. I’ve never set up a plastic tree before so I left it up to them to figure it out.

how do these all fit?

I had some tinsel and ornaments, so they went ahead and hung them on the tree. Perhaps sometime next week, we’ll string some popcorn together to put the finishing touches. Unfortunately, no star on top of the tree … maybe we’ll make our own!

O Christmas Tree

Since I had some Christmas lights, the girls helped me put them up around the house. I’ve never seen them working so fast and getting so worked up.

Christmas Lights

When the Christmas lights were finally up all around the living room, we immediately turned off the house lights and enjoyed the Christmas atmosphere. They kept belting out the chorus: We Wish You a Merry Christmas! Maybe they practiced in school because, today, they pronounced all the words correctly! This weekend, we’re learning Silent Night!

enjoying the lights

Cold Spell

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I woke up to a cold, rainy morning today. I think winter has arrived. Time to break out the turtlenecks, thick socks, and heating lamp. I’ve even started contemplating hot noodles and 粥 (congee) to warm me up. Ironically, this is also the day I decided to take a long walk and leave the bike. The good news is that the book project is well underway and I’m making considerable progress. The bad news is that I’ve been so engrossed in it that I think I need to get away from it even just for a while. And so, for today, I just walked and walked around town. The dampness in the air stung a bit and the night rain created puddles in the street. But after the first hour, I got used to it and even enjoyed it.

typical street

I wound around and about the town not caring if I got lost. I’ve learned early on that every street seems to connect to some major road which eventually leads me back to my apartment. I had brought food with me and decided to have lunch by the falls — perhaps not the warmest of places but a really pretty one.

scenic spot

Since my mind has been preoccupied with the culture, traditions, and customs of the place lately, I couldn’t help but take note of interesting things I saw along the way. One of them is something called 绣球, or silk ball. It is a symbol and expression of this people group’s friendship, affection, even love. In the past, these balls were given as a token of one’s feelings towards another. Nowadays, they are just mere souvenirs. I took a picture because I had just been writing about them. I’m actually surprised they don’t sell more of these in the area.

silk balls


Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Over the years as a high school teacher, my interaction with kids below the age of 16 or 17 has been limited. Recently, I’ve been studying how these little minds work, and it has been a revelation. Needless to say, I don’t think I would make it as an elementary school teacher. Today, I had about an hour and a half with these little ones. After the first half hour of talking and teaching, I realized that my Macbook can hold their attention a lot longer:

Watching Joseph the Dreamer

My girls came over again this afternoon for some fried chicken and fries. The plan was to prepare for our party on the 25th and I would teach them some Christmas songs. During the meal, they requested to watch Cinderella again. Here are their little faces as they enjoyed food and entertainment:

Just another Sunday afternoon

Surprisingly, for dessert, they preferred banana bread over the chocolate cake I made two days ago (from scratch!). So, we baked one together and it turned out to be a really good one. I think it’s because I used apple sauce (from scratch!) as a substitute for oil. Yum! Afterwards, we practiced singing “Silent Night” in Chinese and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in English. They had difficulty saying “Christmas” … it sounded more like “We wish you a Merry Pizza.”

Since we planned on having a Christmas party/performance, they prepared one of their own for me to see. I was delighted to no end.

Hong Kong

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The least expensive way for me to get to HK was to take the overnight bus. It was actually very comfortable. Before the trip, I kept trying to imagine what the inside of a bus looks like with beds. Here’s a peek:

overnight bus beds

Since I was there for Thanksgiving, my turkey dinner was spent with cousin Terence. We went to Duke’s Deli because it was one of the few restaurants celebrating this little known holiday in Hong Kong. Even though the portions were small compared to the gluttony that is Thanksgiving, it was just enough for me to have a taste of home. We had a great time catching up, talking politics, religion, family, and entertainment. He even parted with some of his beloved books and DVDs for me to bring back!

me and Terence

One of my priorities in visiting HK was to see a former student, Asta. I carefully followed her directions, changing lines in the subway then taking the bus into the HKUST campus. Being in a college campus and seeing dorms, library, classrooms, students, and teachers made me nostalgic for my years as a teacher. Moreover, Asta’s stories and college experience make me proud that she was in my classroom once. What a great gal!

me and Asta

Another joy during my visit was spending time with a new friend, Cannie. I only met her once before when she visited Guangxi a month ago, but when we went to Victoria’s Peak for coffee, we ended up chatting it up the whole afternoon. Overlooking the HK skyscrapers, the Pacific Coffee shop was perfect for enjoying our Espresso Chillino Mocha (another version of the Frapuccino) and a good girl-chat.  We moved to another vista point later that evening and saw the city lights.  Hong Kong is magnificent in the evenings!

me and Cannie

It was a relaxing and refreshing trip.  I enjoyed being in the city again, but most of all, I valued the time I was able to spend with people.  I ended up taking back with me books as well as stocking up on western food (naturally).  On the way back, when we crossed the border to China, the overnight bus stopped by this rest area where all the other buses took their breaks. It was a lively place and I enjoyed the people milling about so late in the evening. I saw something that I thought was hilarious so I decided to take a picture of it:

look familiar?

I brought my own midnight snack with me so I didn’t need to get anything, but I did go in to take a closer look. Ronnie greeted me at the door. I guess it’s true that every culture adapts their own version of the original:

asian ronnie

Right down to the slogan …

not quite like it ...