Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Gastronomics... (northern)

China is simply gastronomical! :)...ha

I'll start off this series with

北方 | North (Beijing, Xi'an, Inner Mongolia):

For 主食 (zhushi = staple food), they really like their noodles and flour-based products, more so than rice. This could be various types of pancakes, 饼 (bing), of which 葱油 (congyou, scallion) and 南瓜 (pumpkin) are my favorite, or 馒头 (mantou), this white bread that is just... bread. It's not like a loaf of bread, but just a roll. a really dense roll. there is no "golden brown" on top because it's steamed, not baked.

北京 | Beijing is known mostly for two things: Peking Duck and Zajiangmian (a type of noodles mixed in zajiang sauce) I don't have pictures of the noodles but I have plenty of the duck. One of the best and oldest places to go for Peking Duck is Quanjude. This is now a franchise that can be found in several cities throughout China. I like the one at 王府井 (Wangfujing).One duck is good for 2-4 people, two ducks for 8-10...or in our 10 person case, three. The duck slicer comes to your table and does it in front of you. Each slice is very thin, and he separates out the best portions (a small piece near the neck, a small piece on the stomach) on another plate, a delicacy which you can dip in sugar and enjoy.

The correct way to eat it is to take a 饼, essentially a tortilla, and put some duck and some celery sticks in the middle. Dab some of the sweet brown duck sauce on top, and then roll together and eat. One duck costs approximately 168RMB here, which is seen as pricey in China but only about $25USD.
tofu squid
[me, charlotte, mel, winnie, dante, cyrus, corey, corey's mom, andrew, andrew's gf]

西安 | Xi'an has a significant Muslim population, so there's a lot of lamb and beef. 泡馍 (paomo) is quite popular here, as our friend Tyler showed us. You get one or two mantou-like pieces of bread, that look like dense english muffins and break it up into small pieces with your hands. The lamb or beef stew is then poured into the bread mixture, they get "cooked" while soaking in the soup, and you eat it. The result of this for me was very similar to eating noodles. And it makes you very full, very easily... those bread things you break up and put in your soup the resulting stew after being "cooked" and soaked greatest orange soda (ice peak) and fresh plum juice...excellent :)
内蒙古 | Inner Mongolia can get really freakin' the main thing about this place is their 白酒 (baiju), rice wine that is really, really strong. This alcohol going down your throat is equivalent to straight up drinking fire, if that were possible. I've never felt such a feeling. It doesn't necessarily make you drunk, it just makes you extremely warm. Where we drank it, on the grasslands, there is a large temperature difference between the day and night, so this was a welcome beverage.

Another popular beverage here is milk tea, but not the wonderful 珍珠奶茶 of which Taiwan makes the best of, but Mongoria-style...meaning you might as well just drink milk out of a cow udder. Fresh, yes, but way too milky, and something I can't stand as well as cannot get used to. They also use this milk to make various cheesy-milky snacks, all of which have that same flavor.

They also eat a lot of lamb meat here, roasted, sometimes a big one roasted whole on a stick, yes. haha. Lots of vegetables.
the mantou bread things i was talking about, except this one's in the shape of a loaf our new mongorian men friends at dinner. they bought us alcohol. the nasty milk tea/milky cheesy snacks at some farmer's house..

Next time I'll write about the South...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

On Shitty Weather and Artificial Rain

Okay okay, I've failed so far in my original plan to update "frequently". I had such high hopes! Good job to everyone else for actually keeping up. I'm really going to try to be better from now on.

The Weather and Overall Atmosphere of Beijing.

I like to gauge how nice a day will be based on how far I can see into the distance outside. Basically, there is nothing to see. The "sky" is a constant gray fog, this thick soupy mess you try to swim through, while your lungs feel like they're constantly under attack. Apparently there's something called "foreigner's cough", this incurable and unavoidable condition you catch if you're a foreigner staying in China. It's passed through most of my friends here, but I've managed to retain this cough for the past 2 weeks, and counting. It doesn't appear to be getting better.

Since I've arrived in Beijing, which now amounts to just over a month!, I want to say I've seen 3 or 4, maybe, blue skies and sunny days. I never used to think that weather could severely have an impact on a person's attitude and feelings, but turns out it is entirely possible, seeing as I often have little desire to leave my room and venture out into the murk.

For example, check out some of the cool architecture I've passed in Beijing. Note that I took the first two in the middle of the day , and it is still that dark with smog.
On another unpleasant day, my program decides to take us to the Summer Palace, or 颐和园。
This place is supposed to be really beautiful, what with lots of bridges, trees, water, a stone boat...etc etc. However... because of the air... my pictures end up looking like this:
Notice how everything in the distance is heavily obscured in all the pictures of this post.

There's actually a lot more to the weather issue.

China is number one when it comes to weather modification. Literally, I am living in a society where the weather is man made and manufactured. Rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weaponry (mostly given to farmers) shoot rounds of silver iodide particles into unsuspecting clouds above. The water up there then clings on to the silver iodide particles and become heavy enough to fall down, causing this incessant rain that Beijing has been experiencing every day (literally) for the past 2.5 weeks. It rains usually for an hour or two every day, but seemingly without fail, every day.

Weather modification in China originally began years ago to create artificial rain to address severe drought issues around the country. Agriculture is one of the main, if not the most important aspect of the economy here. This still goes on.

In Beijing however, the artificial rain is part of the effort (and I would say frantic effort) to reduce the smog, toxins, and pollution in the air--all for the Olympics. It also is in part to lower the temperature (usually around 31 degrees C) to what is now the average for this summer, more like 27 degrees C. While that doesn't seem like a big difference, in Celsius even one degree is valued at alot more than at Fahrenheit.

So has there been any change? Well, the temperature is significantly cooler than what I expected. I've even had to buy a jacket for the occasional nighttime chill or rainy day. (I didn't bring any in my suitcase because I was not expecting it to be anything but blisteringly hot, as I've both been warned and recall from previous trips in years past) However, the pollution certainly isn't any better. In fact, the thought of people in Beijing constantly ingesting silver iodide affected rain is quite disconcerting. I mean, hell, I am one of those people, and I already feel like shit from the various other things wrong with me because of staying here, haha.

One last thing,
China has publicly announced their plans to prevent any rain from falling on any Olympic game this year.

Ah, good ol' cloud blasting.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Okay, so I realize I said I would update this consistently during my trip but as you can see, I haven't been keeping up... so I'll just add a little bit here and there.

The first week in Beijing I stayed with my cousin and hung out with Mong2 and Robbie.
Mong and I walked around Tiananmen Square and checked out one of the major, if not the major shopping street here, Wangfujing. Communism: (for some reason, there were korean flags flying everywhere too that day) this is also one of the few and rare pictures that will ever be taken of Beijing on a "clear" day...and you'll see what I mean later.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

a broken water heater

A broken water heater could perhaps sum up my experience thus far.

My cousin is younger than 30, and kinda, sorta resembles me. She works at the office of some bookstore company, and lives at a company sponsored apartment with 2 coworkers. I'm staying in her room, sleeping in her bed, and she's sleeping in the other bedroom with her friend. This place is really quite shabby, and really quite old-there is no internet access, and her water heater is broken-nevertheless, it's cozy, and I'm certainly glad for any place to stay.

The Bathroom: a small room containing a toilet and a decrepit sink in one corner, a washing machine in the opposite corner, and a shower head in the corner in between. There is no partition between any of these elements--it is one all-encompassing room. It stinks like every other bathroom one will encounter in China -- and let me tell you, it is not pleasant.

The Shower Situation: with no hot water, my cousin kindly boils water for me every night, throws it in a plastic bucket halfway, and fills up the rest with cold water. This delightfully mixes to be the perfect bathing temperature. I then take a washcloth to the bucket, and proceed to wash myself from that water. All while standing in the middle of the toilet, sink, and washing machine. My clothes and towel go into two plastic bags that hang from hooks on the wall so as to not get wet.

My Daily Breakfast: begins with my typical awakening at approx 7:30am every morning. Not sure why, maybe jet lag hasn't left yet, maybe it's because I sleep so early every night (midnight or, one time, 10:40 pm). This is because every one else in the apartment sleeps this early, all the lights are off, I thought I didn't have internet, and it was just awkward to be awake doing nothing. 小方姐姐, or (Little Square Big Sister if translated literally, hahaha), my cousin, makes eggs for me every morning, and sets it on the table next to my green mug that she bought especially for me, next to a loaf of bread, an apple, and the container of orange juice. She's really quite great, really considerate, always thinking the best for me, and yet does not understand me at all.

hen I first met her at the airport, it was a little strange. I think I might have met her once in my life, when I was 2, and she was 9 or so. I have not seen her since. Clearly I have no recollection of her. She doesn't know any English. She also thinks I am anorexic, or something. Whenever she asks me what I want to eat when we're at the store, or wherever, I never have much to say--mostly because the first instance was right after I got out of the airplane (from the last entry, we know why I wouldn't be hungry), and... I don' t know. For some reason my appetite hasn't been there.

I've decided that my lack of appetite must be due to one of these reasons:
1. the uneasiness i feel from the plane has not left yet
2. my stomach is adjusting to the cultural/food change
3. brushing my teeth using water from the sink (you can't drink tap water here) has negatively affected my body

My Situation During The Day Since My Cousin Works All Day: consisted so far of me meeting up with both Mong^2 and Robbie. In the future, Robbie will now be Cao Shan.

For now I will end here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

thoughts from the air

waiting at Seoul Incheon for my plane

I wrote the following in my sketchbook because looking at a computer screen gives me a headache on the plane, but because I'm bored to death right now on layover at Seoul Incheon International, I will go ahead and transcribe (most) of what I wrote:

Excited. Calm. Apprehensive. Anxious. Anticipation. AIRSICK.

Total trip time: approx 14 hours
Time left as of writing this: 4 hours

How the hell did I manage to get through 10 hours by myself?
This is so surreal. You hop on a plane. Fall asleep for a few hours, step off the plane, and are instantly dropped off in a whole new world, country, culture. And we just take this for granted. Maybe it's just me. Only about 1% of US college students are able to afford the luxury of studying abroad, for reasons both due to money (or lack of) and simply not having a desire or will to do so. Is is the amount of research involved? the application process? Hell, I've been able to make it happen twice. I feel that there's no reason for not even looking into the option of going abroad. For some particular people that I've encountered or are acquainted with, or even friends with, seeing a world outside of Plano, or Texas, or the United States would be good to open up some narrow minded thinking. But perhaps I'm being a little harsh.

I'm flying via Korean Air, and this flight is considerably better yet considerably worse than last year's 10 hour Air Canada flight with Kelsey to Milan:
Worse? No company. Much longer. No personal t.v. screens. Several temperamental babies. And last but not least, the Filipino lady (who resembles Jen's mom) sitting next to me has a horrible case of dandruff, and decided to brush/shed her hair all over the right side of my body. She continues to do so as I write this.
Better? The Korean food is great. I just ate bibimbap (sp?) for lunch, and had a hot beef bun sorta thing for a snack. These Koreans sure know their pastries. :) The movies that they've shown are good selections too--Charlie Wilson's War, Once Upon a Time in Corea (yes, they spelled it w/a C), and National Treasure Book of Secrets (okay frances, it was an excellent movie).

I wonder about these people on this plane with me. What are their stories? Where are they going, and where did they come from? Who is this father & son from Hong Kong that are speaking so loudly? Who is this chubby little girl that's been periodically going up and down my aisle and hitting everyone's arm as she walks by? Maybe getting into LOST has brought on these thoughts. I admit also that LOST has probably contributed to my paranoias on flying. As I was boarding the plane today, I wondered as I passed the midsection if that was where the plane would break in half if we crashed. (yea...i know :/) Add that on to my paranoid thoughts about random freak accidents, combined with my severe hatred and fears of plane rides in general--not exactly a great equation for a smooth trip. Surprisingly, I haven't experienced much airsickness yet--maybe I'm getting better at this. Mostly my body just feels like its been in a coma for a year, and my eyes are really sore.

okay enough of that. I won't type the rest because it gets a little more personal and I'm sure no one actually cares. (If anyone besides one person will even read these posts, haha)

I actually drew out these stupid, quick pictures of everything I consumed on my plane ride. If i somehow find access to a scanner or whatever, then I'll try to upload it on here.

Otherwise, Annyong for now, and Ni Hao very soon...(flying into beijing international airport)

Friday, May 23, 2008

"a-musement? wtf, really, angela?"

first entry.

let's start by explaining my title.


a: singular, Angela
muse: to reflect upon, contemplate, ponder
ment: [suffix] result of, act of, means of

amusement: a feeling of delight and enjoyment


So I'll be going back to the mainland next week. My homeland, but is it really my home?

There have been so many crazy thoughts flying around in my mind lately. I haven't seen my grandparents or spoken to them in ages. The last time I saw my cousin, he was 9. Now he's a teenager and apparently taller than me. My friend Robbie that I met last time goes to Peking University also, where I'll be, but I haven't seen him in 4 years, and the last memory I have of him was pretty bittersweet. Not to mention, I think I've forgotten all the Chinese I so faithfully kept up with and memorized in the fall. Making the technical details work out for this trip to happen has also flung some obstacles in my way. Trying to get the Chinese Embassy to give me a visa was a bitch. I ended up writing a sad story-letter explaining my plans to visit my grandparents and not stay in Beijing after the program (only partially a lie!). But hey, I got the visa, didn't I? Being jobless right now is quite painful, and my program costs upwards near 10 grand...
...and the bathrooms over there will stink.

But it's time! It's been too long, and I need to do this.

Last year, studying abroad in Italy was probably the best decision I've ever made in my life. To be so independent in a foreign country, for an extended period of time--it really does make you reflect on your life, and the kind of life you've lived. While in Italy, I began to wonder if I've ever actually used my eyes before, or my ears, or my tongue. I felt like I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough or wide enough to see it all. I wished to trap the sounds from the street outside my apartment and the crashing of the waves on the rocks at Cinque Terre and the beautiful language into a bottle for me to drink at my will like the wonderful sangria from the vineyard at La Torrazetta. And don't get me started on the seafood in Monterosso. (the most divine swordfish and the most flavorful pesto sauce) This is cheesy, I know. But before then, had I realized such powerful experiences were possible? Such camaraderie to be made, such stories to tell in the future? Perhaps not--until I was forced to better engage with this big world in which I so luckily inhabit.

And thus, hopefully, I'll keep all this in mind when I go to Asia.

This trip will be different. I always daydream about what kind of person I would have been if I had grown up elsewhere and hadn't lived this Plano, TX lifestyle with these Plano, TX people. Although I won't ever be able to see my life as 温馨 growing up in 中国, I can't wait to be in China for the summer. This is the best and worst time to go. There will be record numbers of people in Beijing (even for Beijing), and the Olympics will be there, but so will I! Who knows what I'll be like when I get back. Maybe I'll come back and greet you with "herro" instead of "hello", or have a hacking cough from lung cancer, or weigh 10 lbs heavier because of the great food...

but despite all of my griping and anxiousness...I really can't fucking wait!