Archive for January, 2011

Another Babysitting Job

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

My assignment was to take care of nine little children from age one to eleven for about two hours. How to do this without a human assistant? I resorted to the oldest trick in the digital world: show a movie. For good measure, I added a big bowl of popcorn and placed it right in the middle of them to give it a movie theatre feel, especially since they could only watch in a small Macbook screen. I thought they all looked cute huddled around this little laptop. While the big kids watched the movie, the little ones tuned in an out, playing with the little toys their mothers brought with them.

And that is how I managed to handle this assignment.

this is another job for ... Macbook!

I chose this new Narnia release because most of the older kids have either heard about it or read the book. While I have not personally watched the movie, I was confident that it would at least entertain them. I caught clips here and there while watching some of the toddlers in the room. I liked the special effects but I enjoyed the character development the most, especially the one with Eustace Scrubb. I think I’ll sit down one of these days and watch it all the way through.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Newest Nephew!

Friday, January 14th, 2011

He finally arrived … and in such dramatic fashion! According to my brother, this little guy decided to come out in the car on the way to the hospital with no one but his parents to deliver him! Of course, his mother pushed and his father received him on the other end. As if on cue, the paramedics came to tend to his umbilical cord shortly after his father slapped his butt to make sure he took in the first breath of his life on earth. This boy is bound to keep his parents on their toes … I just know it.

Allister Wyatt

With three older brothers, Allister is probably going to need this much spunk to hold his own. The male gene is definitely dominant in my family. These four boys actually remind me of my four brothers … the only thing missing is a little girl to soften them up a little! I have a feeling it’s going to get even rowdier in the house when I go back for a visit. This new little one looks like he’ll be an additional handful for his mother!

... and baby makes four (boys, that is)!

I still can’t tell who Allister takes after. At one day old, it’s hard to say. I’m just glad he arrived safely. He is such a cutie, though, just like my other nephews and niece! I can’t wait to hold him and play with him when I go back!

what a cutie!


Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I watched a sweet movie tonight called Flipped. It’s one of those movies where the plot is simple but one could see the layers of meaning underneath the characters and symbols. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that moved me this way. It just goes to show that even with a simple story, a skillful writer can make it profound if presented in just the right way. I highly recommend this movie.

Movie Poster

I was invited to a friend’s house for a nice western dinner (with gouda cheese!!) and we watched this movie afterward. Every now and then during the meal, my hosts would revert to speaking their European language which I found fascinating. I even learned a few words from them. It was a wonderful evening of good food, great conversation, and a touching movie. What could be better than that?

Dutch Treat

More Random Shots

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

I took a teammate to the bus station early this morning. After sending her off, I decided to have breakfast in one of the little shops. They usually close at noon so I had a lot of time. Walking around made me forget about the cold. I had my trusty camera so I was able to take some more random pictures of the different shops I passed.

I’ve always wanted to take a picture of this one because it’s fascinating to watch them cut and weigh and peel the skin for their customers. In this picture, while waiting for buyers, two of them were warming their hands on the fire between them.

sugar cane sellers

There are sections in town where people go to get their hairwash, where to buy roasted duck, where to purchase fruits. Then there is the section where one goes to engrave a tombstone. There were several of these in a row so I figured this was their section.

tombstone engravers

It always interests me that people here don’t waste anything. They find a use for them somehow. For example, they save empty bottles (of all shapes and sizes), old toothbrushes, plastic bags, for future use. Similarly, they would rather repair something they already own than buy it new like shoes. These shops are popular here.

shoe repairer and seller

After about an hour’s stroll, I finally reached my favorite noodle shop which also happens to serve 皮蛋粥 (congee with century egg). Especially on a cold day, this was perfect! I’ve become familiar with the owner because I go there often. We had a nice exchange about what we’ll be doing during 春节 (Chinese New Year). Since I’m a foreigner, she probably figured I’d be traveling. She also knows that I like taking pictures. I think it amuses her. This is a shot of my breakfast cooking.

breakfast shop

Normally, I order noodles from this shop because it’s their specialty. However, their congee was not bad at all! I ate this so fast that the pot was still steaming by the time I was done. Good start to the day!


A Room with a View

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

It felt a little like oversleeping.

Whenever I oversleep, my back aches and my muscles become sore, like they need to be stretched somehow. Today, I spent the whole day in bed, writing. Especially since it’s so cold outside (in the living room, too), I’ve been prone to stay in as much as possible. My body feels sore not just because of inactivity but because of the cold. It’s even rather painful to take a shower. In any case, I needed to get pages in for the book project anyway, so it was good to have extended and concentrated time with Word document.

I get so wrapped up in my story that it’s easy to get lost in the world I created. Every now and then, I’d look out the window for a view of the beautiful mountains and be reminded of the outside world.

view from my room

Random Shots

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The weather has been getting colder everyday. I stay indoors if I can help it. Today, though, I had to walk the streets to visit a friend and buy groceries. Along the way, I took note of some random scenes on the road.

I came across a wedding today and saw this decked-out car. The sight of the bride-and-groom figurines on the hood of the car (complete with flower girl and ring-bearer) definitely caught my attention.

wedding procession

Since it was very cold, I saw people huddled around fires along the streets. They don’t normally have heaters inside the house, so they burn firewood or coal outside and sit around the fire socializing. I also saw babies bundled up with only their little faces showing. I wish I could have taken pictures but it felt awkward. Even in this cold weather, work never stops, though. Here’s a half-car, half-tricycle that was parked on the street. I don’t know what this kind of vehicle would be called in English.

what is it?

I also saw this mother driving her daughter in the back of a bicycle cart in the middle of a wide street. No seatbelts, no safety harness. Traffic was slow but I still got nervous for the kid.

safety hazard?

Finally, a few blocks from my apartment is this billboard of China’s most famous basketball superstar, Yao Ming. Scratched all over his image are telephone numbers. Need a used car? Need to borrow money? Need a detective? Need to hire an assassin? Just call this number. These telephone numbers are all over the place on many walls and buildings, some bold ones even in police stations!



Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Tonight, we had a special dinner for many different reasons. For one, I had been wanting to invite some local friends over for a western meal for a while now. Another reason is that two teammates will be gone for two months, and it was a good way to send them off. Another would be that I won’t be here for my birthday and will be leaving soon as well. So, it was a special night of feasting and fellowship.

After today, I’ve decided that a big part of cooking is the preparation. I spent a better part of the afternoon chopping and cutting and marinating and mincing and dicing. When I laid them all out on the table, it seemed that putting them all together in a wok or a pan was the easy part! On the menu tonight: fried chicken, pasta, stir-fried vegetables, rice, and strawberry shortcake (from scratch!)

before ...

There was a power outage right before the guests came and I thought we would have to have cold pasta and a candlelight dinner (not by choice). Good thing the electricity came back on about half an hour before they arrived. We had the table ready and the dishes warmed by the time they came. It was their first time eating pasta, and it wasn’t hard to convince them to eat with a fork rather than chopsticks.

... and after

We had quite a full dinner. It’s always gratifying for a cook to see dishes eaten to its very last bite. By the time we got to the dessert, I think everyone was full, but we just had to try the strawberry shortcake, especially since strawberries are now in season! I am usually the first to admit if a dish I made is not up to par, but I must say that the cake turned out really good! It was rich and moist and tasty. Some guests even requested to take home a piece or two!

enjoying dessert

One of the surprises of the evening was when my calligraphy instructor presented me a scroll with his own special writing. He said it was supposed to be for my birthday, but since I won’t be around, he decided to give it to me tonight. He wrote a poem about life-long friendships using our last names. I told him the gesture made me feel 感动 (touched, moved). Because I’ve been to their village several times and they have shared so much of their lives with me (including answering my endless questions), he and his wife have become very special friends. In fact, much of my book is inspired by the time I’ve spent with them. They are expecting their first baby in a few months and I am looking forward to being a part of that, as well!

early birthday gift

The Zhuang 壮族

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Did you know there are 56 official minority groups in China?

This means that besides the majority Han people group, there are areas in China where people practice their own culture and speak their own language separate from mandarin Chinese. The largest of these minority groups is the Zhuang located in Guangxi province, one of the five autonomous regions. The other regions are Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Xizang (aka Tibet), and Ningxia.

One of my favorite hobbies is studying the traditional costumes of each of these minority groups. I think they are rich and colorful. There is a company that produces high-quality dolls with handcrafted clothing and accessories, rather like a Chinese Barbie. It’s called Fisimi ( I think they are beautiful! This one is the Zhuang Fisimi doll:

Fisimi Doll

I have a calendar that hangs on my wall that has all 56 minority groups in their traditional women’s costume. Since I currently live with the Zhuang, I was especially interested in this particular one. However, while I’ve seen some women here wearing blue or black costumes, I’ve never seen yellow (like the one below). It makes me wonder if it’s accurate. In any case, I think it is still interesting.

traditional costume

Breakfast Treat

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

This morning, we went out for a local breakfast delicacy — the rolled noodles or 卷筒粉 (juan tong fen). Every street corner here, it seems, serves breakfast early in the morning, and this dish is the most popular. I’ve only had it once before, but since we were sending someone off, we decided to get up early enough to try it.

adding minced meat

It’s called “rolled” noodles because the very thin almost-translucent pancake is folded over several times into the minced meat. I remember that in some dimsum restaurants in the States, they use shrimp or chicken.

rolled noodles

On a side table in a corner, garnish is available, like spicy bamboo shoots, green onions, and chili, as well as vinegar and soy sauce. I added only onions on mine. Most people also add soup to their 卷筒粉.

adding green onions

We ordered three rolls but I’ve seen people with four or five. Even with only three, I felt it was already a filling breakfast. And yummy, too! Best of all, it only cost .8 kuai or a little over $0.10 cents per roll, which means $0.30 cents for a bowl with three rolls. Not bad.

卷筒粉 (rolled noodles)

It was a joy to host our visiting guest, Adrienne. She stayed in my room for a few days and it was good to get to know her, especially when we’d stay up until 3 a.m. chatting, even if we knew we had to get up early the next day! I hope it was a good experience for her to have seen this side of China.

me and Adrienne

Initial Printing

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

For the past few days, the rough draft of the first few chapters of my book has been passed around for review. As nerve-wracking as it is, I know it is a necessary process. Writing is such a personal discipline that having people pore over it and critique it can be excruciating at times. I am reminded of the poem by early American colonist and poet Anne Bradstreet called “The Author To Her Book”:

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

Instead of using soft-copy via email, a teammate used a program to print out the chapters in book form and stapled it together for easy reading. I must say that having this booklet handed to me — even though it’s just a rough draft — was moving. It feels that much closer to being published.

rought draft booklet

The reviews have been positive for the most part. I am gratified that people found my writing to be “engaging” and “descriptive” in addition to being “informative” and “educational.” However, there were also some constructive criticisms that will require me to do some major changes in some areas of weaknesses. This means more time poring over these pages. It’s going to be a busy few weeks …

Today, I spent the afternoon teaching my new roommate how to bake. Since I recently began baking myself, it was a delight to share this joy with her. We started out with French bread, and while waiting for the dough to rise, we made banana bread. Both turned out nicely. In the cold weather, we welcomed the warm aroma of bread in the apartment. I think I may have given her the baking bug because she now wants to do it again!

baker's delight