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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Food Inc. Folks Would Brand Us for This, If They Were Into That

Posted by She Said

My children have eaten more McDonald’s here in the last three weeks than they have over the last three years in Reno. This makes me want to run screaming mad into the nearest Beijing intersection. However, with our Picky McPickerson kids, it seems the easiest thing to do to let them actually eat something before we go out to eat for something really yummy for me and Greg. Say, HOT POT! I know, I’m rolling my eyes at myself too. So there.

This Sunday was an exception to this utterly disgusting rule. After our big Silk Market day the day before, we decided to go poke around in Greg’s territory, Zhongguancun. He really wanted a 16 or 32 Gig USB key, and he wouldn’t take me up on his offer of staying home with the kids and letting him roam free. Instead he insisted that I be his negotiating beeeeaahtch. Well since I’ve been called far worse and since that’s a title I rather enjoy, we all headed out.

After picking up a $35-ish USB key for about $28 (not my best, but pretty good for the electronics market), we decided we were only a couple of floors away from one of our absolute favorites, Xiabu Xiabu - “fast food” hot pot. Sorry, kiddos, no McDonald’s here. Only this time we didn’t have any of our Chinese friends to help us through the completely Chinese speaking servers or the completely Chinese written menu. Well, language be damned! We needed our fix, so we headed up to the very full restaurant and took a number, securing our spot in line.

Um, a number. A number that would be spoken in Chinese. Oh, crap. Hurdle number one. Just as I was whipping out the Frommer’s book, the lady from whom we took the number, waved for us to come in. OH THANK GOD WE STICK OUT LIKE FOREIGNERS! Hurdle one, overcome thanks to being so different.

And just a tip for those of you who try and speak slower and more clearly when someone doesn’t understand the language you are speaking – IT DOESN’T WORK! It doesn’t matter how slowly you speak a word, if it is in CHINESE chances are high I am not going to understand it.

OK, hurdle number two. Ordering drinks. We offered to let the kids have a soda, and since we were conveniently sitting next to the fountain machine, Greg hopped up and pointed to the orange soda and held up two fingers. I chimed in with “bing”, which means ice, and adamantly shook my head from side to side with the hopes that I was communicating NO BING. Hey, I can at least attempt to stick to those stringent rules everyone warned us to adhere to prior to coming, including not using ice.

Then, thank goodness we have trigger fingers with our picture taking because we pulled up a picture of a beer that Greg had taken and again held up two fingers.

VICTORY. Two orange sodas without ice and two draft beers. CHA-CHING!

Hurdle three. Ordering the food. Again, we whipped out the pictures we took at our previous visits to Xiabu Xiabu, which allowed us to MOSTLY order what we wanted. We ended up with an extra pork dish:

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This turned out to be bacon, so we were SO not complaining.

So, to recap, this is what the kids had:

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And, this is part of what we had:

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Please note, the ordering tool on the table (iPhone) and the kick ass sesame/peanut/cilantro sauce just ready for dipping.

Our only problem with our meal was we were a little TOO eager and showed a LOT of our pictures, making our meal far more than we could possibly eat. We need to learn how to show a little restraint when we go for hot pot or learn how to ask for a “take away” bag. Hey, one can dream!

And just for those of you who might be wondering what this cost us - including two beers, two sodas, an enormous piling of cilantro, and tons of meat and veggies – it totaled a whopping FIFTEEN bucks!

With all this ordering, Greg got himself all worked up in a crazed frenzy. I mean, why else would he have been working so hard to figure out what this said:

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Greg: <looking at the sign> What does that say?
Me: <raising eyebrows> Seriously?
Greg: you-da-ix? WTF?
Me: Dude, we are on the wrong side of the glass.
Greg: <smacking forehead>

Monday, March 29, 2010

Uh, What?

Posted She Said

Here are a couple of random shots that caused me to do double takes. First, the map in the subway, which as much as we stared at it, did not help us find The Silk Market:

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Second, a little cafe around the corner’s sign caught my eye. I kind of doubt it was supposed to be a play on words:

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And lastly, my favorite:

fcuking cool
That’s right, FCUK is the abbreviation for French Connection UK. Now this may be something you are familiar with, but this was a new one to us. We have seen people wearing t-shirts and other clothing donning its name and cannot help but to chuckle. I might have to track one down for my own personal amusement back at home in the States. Anyone else want me to pick one up for them?

Gimme My Mystery Meat!

Posted by He Said
Regular readers of this blog will have learned I have one or two quirks.  STOP SCROLLING TO THE BOTTOM TO COMMENT ALREADY.
One of those quirks is that I am a little bit picky about the foods I eat.  Meat is the norm and vegetables are, well, weeds.  Who eats weeds?  This can prove difficult for me because:
  1. My wife uses a cookbook at home called Deceptively Delicious so she can sneak all that wholesome weedy goodness into our meals.
  2. The Chinese use a cookbook called We Don’t Hide Shit – Eat Weeds and Love Them.
For the most part I can spot a vegetable a mile away.  I can make broccoli dance off my fork as I bring it to my mouth.  I can leave a Close Encounters sized mound of vegetables on my plate and get every tender morsel of meat in MAH BELLY!
This has worked fairly well for me so far, and I have found some really tasty dishes here.  Except cat.  I can’t find cat, but like I said, I am working on that.
On my morning walks, I pass by this vendor selling traditional Chinese breakfast foods, including what appear to be potato like pancakes (although I have not learned yet what these are called), iānbǐng (thin crispy omelets with fillings folded in), and all sorts of other mystery foods. 
And they serve yóutiáo.  Heavenly yóutiáo.  Chinese donuts, if you will.  These are by far my favorite, and at a whopping, step back, 15 cents they don’t break the bank. They are so much fried awesomeness that I am going to make you look at this picture AGAIN.
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I have also seen iānbǐng, which can best be described as looking like a sealed taco.  I have been told these were filled with pork.  This sounds like food paradise to me.  Fried breaded thing stuffed with pork for PENNIES.  Bring it on.
On my way to work this morning I stopped to order my morning “donut” and brazenly asked in my best Susanne hand gestures for a iānbǐng as well. It cost me an extra 15 cents. 
I was so happy.  If you are familiar with Sting’s “Walking On The Moon”, you will know how I was feeling.  I was floating.  I was so out of my head rushing to get to work and sit down to enjoy my heavenly fried meat product that I almost was run over by a bicyclist.  I had to grab the handlebars to dodge him.  It was that close. I didn’t even care if it was MYSTERY MEAT. GIVE IT TO ME BABY!
I was so out of my head that I even got off the elevator on the 10th floor (I work on the 11th), because I confused my living floor with my working floor.  This city living is just so hard.  Especially when you are out of your head for mystery meat.
I ran up the final floor and made it to my desk without taking a bite on the run.  I wanted to savor each and every mouthful. I sat down, unwrapped my treasure from its greasy plastic protective coating and took a large bite, AND…
GAH! FREAKIN' VEGETABLES! I hate vegetables. They ruin everything. Especially when there is NO MEAT and they are in my BREAKFAST.
I was ruined for the entire day. I may have to eat an entire roast pig to make up for this blasphemy.
fcuk’ing vegetables.
WHAT NO MEAT?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I’ve Got Sunshine on a Smoggy Day

Posted by She Said

sunshineaward

This blog award was presented to us by Libby over at Libby Logic. I tried not to get all, “Someone likes me, they really like me!” about it because I think, given her sarcastic nature (seriously, she beats Greg hands down in this department), it was more to give us a little tongue-in-cheek sunshine over here in Beijing, where it tends to be more smoggy than anything else. Well, hell. I’ll take it where I can get it. So, thanks Libby for spreading a little of it our way.

As a way to thank her for this virtual warmth, we are to pass the award along to five other bloggers. For your reading pleasure, I suggest you check out:

  1. Yellow Trash Diaries – I feel like such a slacker for not adding her blog to our Hot Diggety Blogs until now. She is a riot, bubbling over with sarcasm and wit!
  2. Yo Mama’s Blog – Not for the weak of heart. This one is a great place to check out the latest tips on how to slack at work and which sex toys are the best. Hey, I warned you.
  3. I, Rodius – He’s a geeky stay-at-home dad. What could be better!?
  4. Ready, Set…Simone – Great friends of ours blog about their awesome four-legged family member. This is a must read for any dog lover. We are living vicariously through Simone’s beach escapades. It’s the closest we get to the ocean most of the year.
  5. Lulu’s Sandbar – She is a fan of voodoo dolls. Need I say more? I’m thinking of commissioning her to make me a few to go with my collection.

Consider yourself tanned and ready, award winners. It’s your turn to:

  1. Put the logo on your blog or within your post
  2. Pass the award on to five bloggers
  3. Link the nominees within your post
  4. Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
  5. Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

Now I need to go slurp some more noodles and send Greg out for more fried bread. Happy reading!

Making The Sacrifice – Part 2 or Why We Don’t Wear Our Shoes In The House

Posted by He Said

WARNING: This post may be Too Much Information or might just plain gross you out, but it is a story that must be told. I know that many of you probably don’t use a toilet, but for those of us who do, you will likely be able to relate.

In my prior post, Making The Sacrifice, I was a Chinese Water Closet Newb, and I approached the topic of using a public restroom in China as someone who had only heard the horror stories of others.

I can now tell you that all of my preconceived fears were NOT UNFOUNDED.

I am now a well seasoned visitor of these places.  Oh, not for my own use, other than the occasional urinal visit in a public place; I take care of my business at home.  So far this has worked out for me.  I even try to avoid using the toilets at work for reasons you can imagine.  When I did have to check them out the other day, I heard an angel chorus as I walked in to discover a Porcelain Throne, and a very clean one at that.  I digress, but as any regular reader of this blog will know, that is the norm.

Yesterday we had a great adventure at the Silk Market.  A place that is “just for foreigners” as we are told.  Frankly I can understand that.  They all speak English, they have everything under the sun, things I would have trouble finding seeing as I don’t speak Chinese (have I mentioned that more than 10 times yet?), and they let you bargain.  So yeah, it’s made just for foreigners, and it’s a blast.  Where else can I order a custom tailored silk suit THAT I WILL NEVER WEAR, unless Bill Gates calls and offers me work at his foundation.  Hey, Bill, did you get my email? Call already!

Susanne and I have learned very quickly just how much “adventure” our children can take and have developed a keen sense of JUST how much cheek and hair stroking they can take before the meltdown.  This is also just about the same time they will need to use the public WC.  During lunch at McDonald’s (groan), I could tell that they were reaching this inevitable meltdown, so I decided it was time to head home and let Susanne go back to the market and offer a few more joke prices.  I offered to take the kids home on the subway by myself to let her continue shopping, and the kids each insisted they didn’t have to go potty when asked.

Do not be impressed, dear reader.  As we headed into the subway station, I was putting on my best public harmony face while inside I was just as scared as my children who won’t go into the GLASS BATHROOM because they “don’t want to be by myself!”.  I was a little worried, but because Susanne goes to the market with the children without me on a regular basis I had to be the big strong American that everyone thinks I am.  Can’t let my bad boy image be damaged.

We got to the first transit station without incident. We were over in the busy side of town and got off the subway 1 Line to switch to the 10 Line which would take us nearly home.  About a 40 minute ride. 

Things were going well, as we dodged people in the station.  Although I was holding two shopping bags in one hand, the camera around my neck, and I was holding both the children’s hands in my other free hand, we were having fun and my attitude was positive. Braedyn was being an angel and Emily was being a good sport as she walked between us holding her hand straight over her head to hold onto one of my fingers.

I knew the inevitable would be coming soon, so I pressed and I prodded as we walked a very long distance to the other train through HORDES of Chinese locals.  ”Do you have to go potty?”  The answer was over and over again the same.  “No, Daddy!” or “I already told you Daddy, NO!”

You know those videos you see with the MILLIONS of Chinese walking the streets and subways shoulder to shoulder?

They are faked to make this place look less busy than it actually is. Chinese propaganda I say.

If I wasn’t such a large man, I probably could have pulled a Crocodile Dundee and walked on their heads and shoulders through the subway.  It really is that crowded. On second thought, they are packed so tight I don’t think anyone would fall over…maybe I will give it a try next time. 

So the children assured me over the length of a 15 minute walk from one train line to the other that they DID NOT have to go potty.  Now you parents out there are saying, “JUST TAKE THEM, YOU MORON!”  To you I say, “YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN IN A CHINESE PUBLIC WATER CLOSET, YOU JERK!”.

Just, and I mean at the very exact moment that we stand in line at the 10 Line and stop moving our feet, Emily speaks. Yup, you guessed it.  “I have to go potty".  At that very moment I pulled out remaining hairs from the top of my head.  It was a 10 minute walk BACK through the crowds to the nearest public toilet.

WARNING: I already told you once that this was not going to be pleasant.  You are still around, so either you are a sicko, a rubbernecker, or just flat out don’t believe me. (sicko).

When I followed the signs, I was at first confused.  The arrow pointed me into a hallway.  On one side was a line of sinks.  No soap, no paper towels, no air dryers.  On the right was a line of women standing just outside a blue cloth hanging only halfway down in a doorway.  At the end of the hallway I saw men going under a similar blue cloth. Both had only Chinese writing.  Yup.  This must be the place.

I squirmed and wiggled my way between the women and the sinks.  Holding Emily on my right arm, Braedyn by my right hand and the two shopping bags in my left. I was also wearing my jacket and already sweating like the overweight, out of shape American that I am.  As the sweat was dripping from my face, we went under the curtain and the heat and stench hit me.  Sewage, sweat and urine.  I immediately noticed the floor was muddy and wet, and I don’t think it was only water and dirt. 

It was a small room with perhaps 5 urinals closely spaced against one wall and two very narrow stalls at the end.  The men were lined up almost back to front, three deep behind each of the urinals.  There were two men standing in the corner by the stalls, and we took our place in line there.

And the stench was horrible.  Both my children were covering their noses and telling me how stinky it was.  I have stopped worrying about this offending anyone as most people speak as much English as I do Chinese. Braedyn was offering to go wait out in the subway. I asked him if he wanted a sign to wear around his neck that read “Take Me”, but I don’t think he thought that was funny.

So here we are.  I have a daughter who is wriggling and telling me she is going to pee on my arm, my son is struggling to stay in the room, and I am still holding the shopping bags and ABSOLUTELY cannot put anything on the floor.  And the two men in front of me?  They are smoking.  Yup.  It’s against the rules to smoke in the subway, but I guess bathroom smoking is like pirated DVDs. Tolerated.

And the men in the stalls took forever.  These Chinese guys must have quads, thighs and buns of steel, because I could never squat for as long as we waited outside those stalls. One man left and then, the guy right in front of us finished his cigarette and left. That’s right, he wasn’t even in line for a toilet.  He went into the nasty, rank public toilet to smoke his cigarette rather than leave the subway and pay the 30 cents to re-enter.  If my addiction is going to make me spend time in a place like that, it better make me feel REALLY good.  You know, like heroine or crack cocaine.  C’mon, you all know what I am talking about right?  You have all seen Trainspotting, you know, the GOOD stuff.  Trust me, you thought Marlboros smell bad, you should smell Chinese tobacco.  I’m not even sure it’s tobacco.  It might be recycled wallpaper based on the smell.

But I digress.  Again.  But I am doing this to give you one more warning.

WARNING: This is where it gets gross. Skip to the next bold words if you are afraid.

A tiny stall opens up.  I order Braedyn to stand just outside the stall in the corner and keep talking to me as Emily and I head in, and I thank the FSM that there is a HOOK, yes a a FLIPPING HOOK, to hang my bags on the inside of the stall.

You see, if I didn’t have a hook, I would likely have had to set my bags on the urine and feces covered floor in order to help my daughter pee.

Yes, there were yule logs on the footrests and lemonade covering the floor (I am using euphemism’s here, if you need help with these, then you should have stopped at the third warning), and I was shuffling my feet like an old man just so I didn’t slip. The garbage can in the corner is overflowing with used toilet paper. PLEASE, SOMEONE TELL ME WHY THEY DON’T FLUSH THEIR USED TP, OR AT LEAST FOLD IT OVER SO I DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT IT?!?

End Of Warnings: If you skipped to here, I just have to say…WIMP.

I managed to help Emily take care of business without ever putting her down and then, while I am trying to pull my personal stash of toilet paper out of the camera bag hanging around my neck, she starts squirming and the toilet paper slips from my fingers. And because there is some weird time continuum here, everything moved in slow motion again, and I watched my roll of toilet paper unfurl and float to the floor.  I quickly reach down and grabbed the last square a mere two feet from being moistened and stuck to the floor. The paper between my hand and the floor is still MINE, MINE I SAY!

YES! I still have toilet PAPER! What is happening to me that a few squares of my own personal toilet paper bring me joy?  Well, they did, and they probably will again before we leave Beijing.

Time returned to normal speed (it happens here), and I was able to finish our business, get my things and get the hell out of Dodge.

I am considering allowing my children to have a potty training setback and just start wearing diapers again.

Hell, if anyone wants to ship me some Depends I might start wearing them myself.

P.S. I promise not to tell anymore potty stories.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lady, This Not Joking Price

Posted by She Said

Anyone who knows me knows that I hate paying retail. For anything. I’m a sleuth at finding second-hand bargains in Reno. 50-ish pounds of Legos and Bionicles for $29. (Jason, I know this still really grosses you out! If you were here, you could run them through the ozoninator.) Like new Doc Martens for $2. A huge, beautifully framed mirror in my dining room for $40. And the list goes on. Hell, half my house is decorated with my finds. Greg will sport a new shirt at work, and coworkers, knowing his wife is a garage saling junkie, will come up and say, “There is no way that is a garage sale shirt!” Why yes, yes it is.

Through my many years of hunting for deals, I have acquired mad bargaining skills. I have a wicked ability to get things cheap. It’s a total rush for me. But, with all of my experience, all of my garage saling, and all of my asking for things at a dirt cheap price, nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, could have prepared me for my experience today at the Silk Market in Beijing.

SilkMarket

I was so excited about this trip; I was ready to give my negotiating skills a go in this gigantic mega-mart, filled with rows upon rows, and floor upon floor, of individual stalls selling everything from China silk and “traditional” Chinese clothes to, ahem, real “Calvin Klein” and Gortex. In fact, I must have been really focused on getting to the market, because it was Greg and not me who spotted the Starbucks right off of the subway.

After fueling up with my Caramel Macchiato, we met some of Greg’s coworkers in front of the market, and we started in, my head about to pop with anticipation. And by the time we finished walking down the first aisle, this is what I learned:

Knowing Kung Fu before going would be helpful. That way when the lady in the booth grabs your hand and won’t let you go, you could do a gentle but firm chop to her arm to let you go. If she still persists, this is the perfect time to practice your Vulcan nerve pinch.

The first price they give you is insanely high, so much so that it was impossible for me not to laugh. Well, snort and laugh, actually. I can’t tell you how many times I was assured, “Lady, this not joking price!” Oh, they SO did not realize who they were dealing with.

If you must take your children, teach them how to make a killer poker face. Why? Because if the seller knows your kids want something, you can forget getting a good price. Uh, and your kids will get what they want.

Always calculate your exit strategy when entering one of the 10’ x 10’ booths. The seller will block your way if you try to leave. It’s like being in a really bad high school dance – you know, in perfect unison step left, step right, step left, step right, step left.

The calculator is used as the super-secret negotiating prop so as to not inform others of the “best” price you are getting. Do not, as if your life depended on it, do NOT hold the calculator. The seller will use this as a way to keep you in the booth by not taking it back from you when you refuse to buy. Try as you might to get them to take the calculator from you with their “joking” price still displayed, they won’t. And none of the booths have shelves. If you find yourself with the instrument of torture, be prepared to drop it and run.

Become a female before you go. You will get a better price.

As cruel as it sounds, when the seller tells you to buy that piece of children’s clothing because you love your child, tell them your kids aren’t worth it.

Wear protective gear and be prepared to walk away when you will not go any higher on a price. Sometimes they will tackle you in the aisle and agree, begrudgingly, to your “final” price.

If your clothing items have words on them, check the spelling carefully. Just for the humor of it, I really wanted to buy the shirt with a little girl and the word “angle” above her. I was told it was “angel”, and I even though I insisted on getting a lower price because it was spelled wrong, they wouldn’t do it for me.

Again, if you find yourself going with your children, sellers will grab them and bring them into their booths. To prepare for this, either:

    • teach them Kung Fu so they can send some gentle but firm chops to their knees to get away, or
    • put them on a leash.

Be wary of your children’s leashes, the sellers can use them to not only drag your child into their booth but you as well.

And that was just the first aisle. I did mention there were like 4 or 5 floors, yes?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Bet Willy Wonka Had One Of These—Freak That He Was

Posted by He Said

Our apartment in Beijing has a few interesting details. 

It used to be a hotel. There are three towers in the building.  In two of the three towers the rooms were sold to private owners to be rented out as apartments. The apartment maintains much of this hotel “charm” as you might expect.

Here is the standard hotel office desk in the bedroom.

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There is the emergency flashlight mounted by the bed.

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There is the Maid “Call” button by the door.

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There is the phone in every room, including the one mounted by the toilet.

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There is the Push/Pull sign in English and Chinese on the glass shower door.

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It also has floor to ceiling windows on both bedrooms. This provides another challenge for me.  Remembering to close the curtains. Now maybe I am an exhibitionist, but at my home in Reno if I am getting dressed I don’t care if my bedroom curtains are open.  If someone happens to be in my backyard who shouldn’t be there and walks by and sees the elephant man here naked, well, it’s their own damn fault and they deserve to have their eyes melt out of their head. Well, here the office buildings across the way have full view to our bedroom and frankly I don’t want to go to Chinese jail for taking off my pants.

I do on the other hand have an obsessive need for privacy when I am using the toilet.  For both myself and my wife. Call me a prude if you will.  Perhaps it’s being a parent I understand that there is only one place in the world a parent can get 5 minutes of privacy. Ok 15 minutes, but any longer than that and my legs go to sleep. Don’t roll your eyes, you know what I am talking about.

This has proven to be a challenge here in the apartment. Every time I go to the bedroom I must pass by the “Master” WC in the bedroom. This privacy in the bathroom has proven to be a challenge for both Susanne and me. 

I think I have forgotten to mention a small detail. It’s another one of those small details that remind you this was a hotel (albeit a strange hotel).

THE BATHROOM WALLS AND DOOR ARE GLASS!

I just hope my kids are not scarred for life.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wine in a “Bottle”

Posted by She Said

My new friend, Lilian, and I went out for another girls’ night out last night, and I had a BLAST. She took me over to an area by one of the universities to have dinner and then to “shop” at the outdoor market. This outdoor market was basically a string of makeshift displays on the sidewalk along several city blocks. This is one of the places where you can negotiate price. Now THAT’S my kind of shopping.

The highlight on the taxi ride over to this area of Beijing was seeing two men in a van stop in the middle of an intersection and change positions (driver to passenger and passenger to driver). I SAW A BONA FIDE CHINESE FIRE DRILL!

I explained to Lilian that I was open to talking about anything, and if she had questions about the U.S., to please ask. We had a very interesting discussion that touched on capitalism, credit cards, and children. My favorite discussion, however, was this:

Me: What is your favorite Chinese holiday?
Lilian: Chinese New Year.
Me: How do you celebrate it?
Lilian: Family comes together and has a big meal. And many fireworks.
Me: Our Independence Day is when we use fireworks.
Lilian: Do you do the fireworks?
Me: No. It is illegal in most places. We watch shows put on by professionals.
Lilian: <looking perplexed> You can’t do fireworks, but you can have a gun?

Very observant. And funny.

While ordering, Lilian asked if I would like some wine with dinner. Um, does a dog want a bone? So, she ordered this wine, which was presented in a bamboo carafe, and with its cloudy white splendor, I thought I had finally found the right wine for me and Greg. It was a little sweet and it didn’t taste like Chinese White Not Wine.

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I pleaded with Lilian to take me to a store and show me where to get it, but she said, “I don’t think you can find. Maybe the restaurant will sell you one.” I figured, hey, here’s a way to see what the label looks like and I can keep my eye out for it at the market. Only, this is the way they delivered it:

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Even though the name is in Chinese, I have a sneaky suspicion all the ad campaigns in the States have paid off, and you can guess what was once in this bottle. Yup, Coca Cola. I guess if we really want more, we will have to go back to the restaurant to get it. Do you think we might get a percentage discount if we bring in our own empty Coke bottles?

I wish my negotiating skills as we shopped went as well as my conversation with Lilian. However, my suggested prices were turned down every time but once. I got a beautiful scarf for 15 yuan (a little over 2 bucks) when he was asking 20. I also got a new copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns for 15 yuan. Overall, it was a success in my book.

P3230009a One of the entrepreneurs I saw during our shopping spree. I’m just kicking myself for not taking a picture of the “Hello Kotty” [sic] wallet I saw.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Growling Might Land Me in Chinese Prison

Posted by She Said

My friend, Lindie, gave us a pocket-sized Frommer’s guide before we left for Beijing, which offers the following bit of advice about Chinese culture:

Never Get Angry in Public    The Chinese place a premium on group harmony, so foreigners should try to be polite and cope with frustrations privately.

In other words, I shouldn’t have growled at the guy at the grocery store today. OK, it wasn’t one of my full-fledged growls, but it was enough of one that he looked at me and realized his infraction – cutting in front of me in line at the market today. And I’m not talking just ANY line. I’m talking a line that was so enormous, it was the mama of all things colossal line. Seriously, I was at least fifteen people back and there were at least five people behind me when I paused and looked at one of the cookie packs in the aisle. Yes, I was far enough back in the line to be half way down an aisle, and EVERY register had a line like this. Apparently, pause and look at something means you are STILL SHOPPING AND NOT IN LINE. When I saw him cut in front of me, my instincts kicked in. And I growled. Bad American, BAD! I showed frustration in public!

Then he looked at me, realized what he did, and kindly and quickly got behind me. With his THREE items. Looking at my cart, I realized it would have been the nice thing to do to let him stay in front of me, but my pantomiming for him to go ahead of me didn’t work, and he insisted on staying behind us. And then we waited, and waited, and waited for our turn at the counter. I tried to slyly take a picture to show how many people were there today, but I don’t think this even comes close to shows the intensity of just how busy it was:

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As I stood in line there was another bit of advice in the Frommer’s guide that I remembered:

Never Accept Food, Drinks or Gifts without Refusing First    If someone offers you something in their home, no matter how eager you are to receive it, proper Chinese etiquette dictates that you not appear to greedy or eager. Politely refuse several times before grudgingly accepting.

So, in this scenario, I realized I didn’t offer enough times for him to go ahead of me in the colossal line. So, when there were only two more people ahead of me, I insisted with my mad charade skills that he go ahead of me again. This time he obliged. I figure he couldn’t be too angry for my infraction of not asking enough times until the Chinese etiquette light bulb clicked on, because I offered him front row seats to a major attraction – my kids.

I also snuck in a few pictures of the different fruits I have noticed here. Please don’t ask me what they are because the signs are all in Chinese (go figure):

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Since we have been here, the kids have not been eating as healthy as I would like them to be. At home, I am always trying out recipes from Deceptively Delicious to sneak in healthy fruits and veggies into their meals. Here, trying to get them to eat healthy is a major challenge. A lot of the foods I have cooking here are too spicy for them or doesn’t “look” like what they normally eat and therefore refuse to even try it. As a consequence of this, they have been eating more than their fair share of $2 boxes of Kraft mac & cheese and McDonald’s. Trust me, this is not something I am proud of, but scoff at me if you must.

And let me tell you, this change in their diet is making me break Chinese harmony rules. The more crap they eat, the worse their behavior becomes. The worse their behavior becomes, the more frustrated in public I get. My eye rolling and finger snapping and jaw clenching and yelling and foot stomping is just not appropriate over here. So, I think I see more Chinese White Not Wine in my future.

Let’s just hope this phrase taught to me by Frommer’s under the Police Station section isn’t in my future:

Duìbùqǐ, wǒ yǒu méiyǒu zuò cuò le?

Translated: I’m sorry, have I done something wrong?

Hopefully rocking the harmony boat isn’t a criminal offense here. If so, anyone know a good lawyer?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Few Pics ….

Posted by He Said

Life
I just thought this guy’s shoes that I saw on the subway were cool.

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Secret Chinese Military Weapon Discovered
Moments after this was taken we were shoo’ed away by security telling us (I can only assume) “No Pictures.”  Should I forward these to the U.S. Governement?  Is this China’s new secret military weapon?

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Green Tea is NOT Good In Everything
And this my friend is Sprite.  Not just any Sprite, but Lemon Lime Green Tea Surprise. At least that’s what I THINK it was. Yeah, now I know how to avoid it.

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Sticker Shock
This is a book on display in the Chinese Museum of Natural History on loan from the U.S.  Let’s just put it this way.  It’s an ACTUAL copy of a book with an ACTUAL WARNING on it placed by a school district warning that the content within about evolution is a THEORY. Now don’t that just make us all look ready for some educatin. I was also wondering when the Bible was going to get these warnings. And yes. I broke the no camera rule just for this picture.

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I’m To Sexy To Need Puberty
Is it just me or are these “characters” just a TAD bit sexual for what, 12? The tissue paper on the “action figure” is to protect the innocent customers who may enter the store. And yes, I will take orders for the either the naked “action figure” or the mouse pad with bountiful wrist rest.

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I Think I Died And Went To Zhongguancun

Posted By He Said

I have heard so much about the bargain shopping and huge electronics markets in Beijing as best described by Wikipedia. “The name Zhongguancun to Beijingers is an abbreviation for these markets, where pirated software, gray market imports, refurbished and DIY products and fakes are widely perceived as being as common as legitimate products.”

What I didn’t realize is that my apartment is a mere 10 minutes away from the center of this hub of electronics heaven.  On our way to our first hot pot dining experience at Xiabu Xiabu (Shawbu Shawbu) we walked into one of these markets in a skyscraper.  At the time I had no idea where I was and was not prepared for the experience.

Websites list these places as markets within markets.  I describe them as unbelievable overwhelming amazing electronic heaven. In fact, there are so many things to look at and explore that the mind and body is overwhelmed and stimulated near physical arousal.  Yeah, it really is that cool, and I didn’t even buy anything. Ok, we did, but it wasn’t electronic and Susanne didn’t even try to bargain.  She must have been feeling a little tingling sensation too!

Now don’t tell anyone about this video because you aren’t supposed to take pictures.  I know this because the sign that said so in Chinese had the English subtitle “Do Not Teke (sic) Pictures”. But I took this before I knew where I was or had read any signs.

Today we were out walking and we explored a store called Off-Price Shopping Mall (上品优价百货).  This was like a Marshalls on steroids, with 7 levels.  The top level being a food court.  After a major disappointment that the 2 electronics levels were closed (whether temporarily or not I cannot say). This was the store I had been told to go to for good deals that could be trusted. When you ask locals if they would shop at the other e-markets the answer is either “If I go with you and you know what you want” or “no, they are crooks, they cheat you!”  So, with nothing else to do and me itchin’ for an electronics fix we we headed back to the area where I had recorded the crazy video above.

That’s when we met the Camera and PC pimps.  As we waited to cross the street two men approached us and pitched their wares in Chinese.  “English” we say. They smile.  It’s like that look that Bruce the shark gets in Nemo right before he says “I’m having fish TONIGHT!”

“Ah, you need PC? Good deal,” and the other man says “Camera? Cannon, Cannon?” and the chase begins.  They follow us across the street as we keep saying “no, no, no”. This was the moment that we quickly learned to spot the electronics pimps and we learned the easiest way to avoid them is to ignore them or act like you don’t understand a word they are saying (which is most often the case).  They are everywhere, and if you could see the inside of this building you would understand why.

Imagine if you will a football field, and on that field in the endzone you put 5 to 10 small booths (some with only enough room for one person to sit in), each selling something slightly different.  One has iPhone accessories, the other Nokia, Laptops, Netbooks, PC hard drives, webcams and more.  Make up your own electronic dream market in that endzone.

Now copy and paste it until the entire field is filled with copy after copy of that small electronic end zone bazaar that you have imagined in your head.

Now double it.

Now, copy that and put it on 6 different floors.

Now realize that is only ONE of the “markets” we have explored.

I will wait while you let that sink in - oh, and to stop laughing at the fact that I used a sports object for this analogy.

Now in reality each floor is heavier in focus than others.  One floor would be all laptop and PC’s, another all phone accessories.  I must have passed 5 Apple Authorised Retailor’s(sic) alone. Yeah, I am a little suspicious about that myself.  I am still baffled that any of the vendors in these buildings make a living doing this. Maybe its because there are SO many people here that they can based on the fact that if one booth is too busy, you will just go to the next?  How can 50 places selling all the same stuff in the same building make a profit?

After lunch at a McDonalds (yeah, don’t laugh, we have kids in China) where we were lucky enough to be offered a seat by an English speaking Egyptian Pastor on a mission (there is a joke here somewhere),  we were contemplating where to get our next iFix when we read a sign warning against the “illegal vendor” iPimps. As if on cue as we stepped onto the escalator to the basement level a man practically snuggled up against me showing me his worn out HP business card (yeah, in Chinese, like that helps) and was trying to usher us to his basement computer store.  Susanne and I took one look around and thought it was time to climb back on the up escalator. 

The iPimps sign on the way to the basement was appropriately placed.

During our wandering Susanne’s Starbucks detector went off and we were swiftly escorted (ok, we ran after her, me scooping up the kids and screaming for her to slow down) to get a coffee. 

While Susanne was off with Braedyn making the sacrifice, Emily and I watched from inside as a Logitech marketer shouted something obviously very important to the Chinese crowd growing around her.  She kept holding up these bags with the Logitech logo and something white and bulky inside with the same logo printed on it. While I sipped my Mocha (which was frickin’ heavenly btw after the Lemon Lime Sprite Green Tea Surprise), the music started and three women danced in unison outside the window.  I don’t know what it was they were dancing for, all I know is I didn’t know enough Chinese to score one of the giveaway items.

A Logitech branded work napping pillow.

Learning To Swear In Chinese

Posted by He Said

We have a fairly regular routine here.  Almost every evening (yes every evening, shut up) I send Susanne off to the 7-Eleven across the street to pick up some of our favorite (ok, cheap) beer. 

You see without a 5 liter box of wine in the fridge, or a car to drive home the suitcase of PBR or even the room in the fridge to KEEP a suitcase of beer we have to purchase our evening adult beverage on regular basis.

Today it was my turn.  As we headed home after a long day of shopping and electronics browsing (oh, that is another blog in itself) I offered to head over to 7-Eleven to pick up some beer.  Susanne pulled the shopping bag out of the backpack, you see they charge you for plastic bags here, and I headed over as she headed home with the kids.

Once in the store I knew right where the beers were, because I can see Susanne selecting the beer in the store from our apartment window on the 10th floor.  I promptly grabbed four large bottles.  Let me tell you, these bottles are HEAVY (thick glass and NOT 12 ounces). I knew right away I was doing a bit of a balancing act trying to hold four large bottles of beer against my chest. 

Then what do I do? I start looking at wine. Like I needed ANOTHER bottle to carry.  Any normal human being would have put the bottles in the bag or looked for a shopping basket.  But I am a AMERICAN MALE in China for crying out loud.  I don’t need any help. I can do this and I was doing fine until I spotted the bottle of Jack and Coke for under 3 bucks.  Way cheaper for the cost/buzz ratio than the wine which we find very expensive at 7-Eleven.

This is when I made my fatal mistake.  I reached out to pick up a bottle of the dark beverage of the gods (bottled in Australia of all places ).

I had just reached for one to many items when a bottle of the beer slips from my grasp.

It was as though time slowed.  I could feel the bottle sliding down my body and I know there was no way to catch it without throwing all 4 other bottles I was now holding, the three remaining bottles of beer and a bottle of jack and coke, into the air and trying to juggle them.  I can assure you.  I cannot juggle. I felt the cold bottle slide down my inner thigh and I tried to catch the bottle with my foot. I am thinking if my foot can take the impact the bottle will roll away.

I missed.

The last thought that raced through my mind was “Those glass bottles are thick, that baby is going to bounce, please bounce.”  Guess what dear reader, it didn’t.  It shattered like the dream of a virgin’s perfectly planned first sexual experience.  It shattered and sprayed cheap foamy beer and glass down three different aisles. 

_IGP6691Thank the FSM that THIS made it home.

And as it shattered I heard myself say “oooohhh Sheaaaahhhh.” 

Out of my mouth slides “Oh Sheaaaahhhh!” What? What did I just say?

That’s right.  I censored myself in China. Oh, the irony. I apologized over and over again in English knowing full well they could not understand a word I was saying.

The checker knew perfectly well how to charge me for the broken bottle of beer.  When I got back to the apartment the first thing I looked up was how to say “oh shit” in Chinese.

I may go back and break another bottle just so I can shout out as loud as I can “oh gŏu-shĭ!” (哦狗屎).  It will be worth the 50 cents it will cost me.

I will learn how to say “sorry” later. I think I will use the swear words more often, or maybe I should just send Susanne to 7-Eleven instead.

About A Buck For Both

Posted By She Said

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Nuff said.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dem Bones

I think today’s activities and experiences could fill an entire book, but I will stick to the highlights. No need to thank me for this; the bribes I received will suffice.

Today we had plans to go to the Beijing Museum of Natural History to see dinosaur bones. This is one of the excursions we have been looking forward to since we heard we were coming here. And did we ever pick the perfect day to go somewhere indoors. The wind was blowing sand from the Gobi Dessert in Mongolia so fiercely we decided to buy respirator masks for the kids. Thank goodness the 7-Eleven across the street from our apartment stocks up on them.

These severe dust storms from the dessert is typical of the spring here. In fact, we learned today there is a forest being planted outside of the city to try and help protect it from this onslaught.

Our gracious hosts, Lee and Ray, were just as excited to go to the museum as we were since neither of them had ever been. So, we headed to the subway for our first ride.

What a pleasure it was to ride on such a clean subway. Greg and I were very impressed with the ease of travel it provided. Well, except for the speed of the gates that open and quickly close after you pay. The kids get to go for free, but the catch is you have to get them AND you through the gate before it closes. WAY easier said than done. I have a bruise on my hip to prove that. I will not be posting a picture of this; you can thank me later.

BraedynOnSubway

Lee wanted to make sure we had full tummies and brought us “breakfast” in case any of us were hungry. These, ahem, breakfast items included the Chinese versions of kit kats and moon pies. It’s no wonder the kids never want to go home when that is what they get to eat for breakfast!

After the subway ride, we had a quick bus ride to the museum. The interspersing of old and crumbling buildings, still called home to many, with the new sky scrapers provided such an odd and jarring juxtaposition. Literally, the old was shadowed by the new.

When we arrived at the museum, which was free with a reservation and a minimum group of five, it was full, and I mean ALIVE and THRIVING, with children. The palpable joy of the children, including our own, as they marveled at the dinosaur bones was so invigorating. All of us were entranced by the size and presence of the old bones. But what would an experience be without our CHILDREN STEALING THE THUNDER AWAY FROM THESE ANCIENT MARVELS? I know we sound like a broken record when we talk about this, but the stares, smiles, and cheek stroking was so prevalent today that even our hosts were surprised by the intensity.

Here is a picture Greg took of a couple of women wanting a picture with Emily:

_IGP6667 The woman taking the picture was trying her very best to get Emily to cooperate and smile, but, well, Emily is her own person and simply frowned. After this encounter, Lee and Ray mentioned that the two women had been following us for quite some time.

Here is another example of a family wanting a picture of Braedyn and Emily with their son, who, by the way, looks to me like he is wondering what all this fuss is about.

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The dinosaur bones were really amazing. Here are a couple of our favorite pics:

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P3200070(Greg felt this was a face that just needed to be kissed.)

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Uh, yeah, this last one was a ride that cost 15 yuan (a little over 2 bucks). At the end of the ride, the dinosaur lays a toy egg that you get to keep. Braedyn is waiting with fascination for the birthing.

The bus ride back to the subway station was just as full of patron saints of Braedyn and Emily as the museum had been. A very kind older woman insisted that Greg, who was holding Emily, take her seat. Then she and another older woman began to chat with Lee and Ray about the kids. Braedyn impressed them with his few words of Chinese. A seat opened up further back on the bus, and it was surreal to watch the flutter of activity around the kids from this slight distance. One father grabbed his son out of his seat to try and get him a better look at Braedyn. The women chatted on and on about how beautiful our children were and then provided a laundry list of places we should take them while we are here.

After a lovely, surreal, and introspective day in Beijing and at the museum, we convinced our hosts that we were going to DIE WITHOUT A HOTPOT FIX.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Amazing Weight Loss Stop Discovered

Posted by He Said

The first 2 weeks that our family was here in Beijing I lost 10 pounds.  Now this is a good thing as I could stand to lose 40 more.

As of this morning this is all going to end.  I found the perfect Weight Loss Stop solution.

I had in a previous post mentioned the little shop in the sidestreet that I would likely never venture into. Today they gave me a reason to eat without entering their establishment.  They came to me.  As I walked around the corner I was greeted with pleasant smells of cooking.  Not just any cooking, but DEEP FRYING cooking.  Yes, this picture is blurred.  Since Susanne got yelled at for taking pictures I have been a little hesitant to slow down to take pictures.  Since I was using my iPhone, the issue is compounded. So I apologize.



They have been here a couple times on prior walks but I have been too afraid to even slow down to browse.  Not today.  Today I was going to be a NEW MAN!  Not only did I stop, but I stopped and I (insert crazy Susanne hand gestures) managed to ask to take a photo. 

Ah, Deep Fried Breaded Goodness for breakfast (and for about 15cents).

No, you can’t have any.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Makes Life In Beijing Unique For An American

Posted by He Said
Contributions by He Said and She Said
Inspired by Marc Tiar

All the locals speak Chinese (go figure).

There is a little fence that runs down the middle of all the streets. I think this serves two purposes – to keep people from crossing where they shouldn't (because they would) and to keep the cars from going where they shouldn't (and again, I guarantee they would).

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The roads are also divided on the sides with additional mini fences on both sides which delineates an area not to be driven on by cars. This is labeled as a bike path, but everyone calls them sidewalks.

The actual sidewalks are used for parking (and they park in the bike paths too).

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Bicycles are EVERYWHERE. There are three wheeled bikes, electric bikes, bikes with trailers, and bikes with built in gloves on the handlebars. You can usually tell when one is coming up behind you by the rust induced squeaking and the rattling of the loose chain. The electric ones will quietly sneak up on you and run your ass over.

 

Bikes also park on the actual sidewalks in every space that the cars can't fit.

McDonalds tastes the same. BUT THE MENU IS IN CHINESE!

The buildings have no 4th or 14th floor. BAD JUJU (ok, my words, but the numbers are bad luck here).

The buildings do however have a 13th floor. All I can say is that I thank the FSM I live on the 10th. At work I am on the 11th floor, which is really the 12th, so we are all good there too.

The street names and store names are all in Chinese. This makes going anywhere a challenge.

There are street vendors cooking and selling all sorts of food, everywhere. I can't say for sure, but I suspect there are not too many health inspectors.

No one wears a helmet while riding their bikes. This is particularly disconcerting because they TEXT and ride while driving on the sidewalk! I might start wearing one to walk on the sidewalk.

The major grocery store has pushers on every aisle giving samples or pointing you to the more expensive brands. I haven't found one that samples alcohol, but I haven't given up on that yet.

Government buildings and 7-Elevens have marble steps and entryways. Have you ever walked on polished marble in a snowstorm? Neither have we, we but slid faster than Apolo Ohno.

They don't have wine in a box, but we make up for it by drinking out of a paper cup.

The public restrooms are called Water Closets.

You can buy coagulated blood. To eat. Don't worry, you cook it first.

They have live turtles and fish in the grocery store. These are NOT in the pet section.

Some people like to eat dog. Some restaurants serve dog, but don't worry, I am told they don't eat any of the cute ones.

They don't appear to eat cat. But I am working on changing that.

You can buy almost anything on the streets. "Rolex" watches, DVD's of movies that are still in the theatres, "Gucci" bags and more. But not drugs. They execute you for that.

You know all that cool stuff at home that says Made In China? You can't buy it here.

McDonalds delivers (on a bike btw) if you call in to place your order, which doesn’t help us because we DON’T SPEAK CHINESE.

The public restrooms have a communal roll of toilet paper at the entrance with a sign (yes, in English and Chinese) that says “Conserve Use”.  It’s always empty.  The soap dispensers if they have any are usually empty. I have yet to see a paper towel dispenser or air hand dryer.  I guess this makes sense because if you didn’t wipe ,then didn’t wash your hands, what do you need a hand towel for?

After using the restroom I understand why and am glad that people don’t shake hands here.

You can watch pirated movies all you want and the government doesn't seem to care. They just don't let you post it on Blogger, Facebook or Twitter.

Several of the public men’s restrooms have had an employee just standing there.  I don’t understand why, and that’s why I keep telling myself they are employees. It makes it easier to stand there and pee with a total stranger watching me for no apparent reason.

Everyone we have met here is generous, kind and helpful. It's like the opposite of New Yorkers.

There are lots of stations on the TV here, but only the Bloomberg Channel is in English. This makes watching our shows a challenge.

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Hickory. Dickory. Dock. Greg Needs to Get Around the Block.

Posted by She Said.

Greg is such a wimp. I know, he looks all big and strong with his 6’3” height and his shaved (OK, stubbly head) and goatee. But don’t let him fool you. He’s a big scaredy cat. Let me give you an example. Oh, and don’t worry, I can feel the retribution coming my way for telling you this through a blog post about how I am having nightmares about losing one of the kids on the subway I HAVE YET TO TRY in Beijing.

So anyway, Greg has been eye-balling these twisty breads every day on his way to and from work. He comes home and tells me all about this little hut that slightly moves position in the alley on his way to work. How this little hut has the most amazingly good smelling bread for sale. How he would like to try one.

And did he try one? Yes! But only because I BOUGHT IT FOR HIM. Apparently in my life, and in particular in my relationship with Greg, I am the one willing to ask for directions, and most recently, the one to ask for twisty bread from the woman in the moving hut. (There is a story about my teen years and Jeremy Miller in there, but I’ll save that for another day.)

I held up one finger and then pointed to the bread. She held up two fingers. I gave her two yuan (roughly 30 cents), and she handed us a twisty bread. Or shall I say a twisty bit of heaven? Maybe a twisty bit of savory goodness? Whatever. We all devoured the scrumptiousness thanks to my willingness to use my mad charade skills and look like a fool. Susanne – 1, Language Barrier – 0

MovingHut (The hut used to be where Greg was standing to take this picture.)

Twice at the market, I have called Greg at work and asked to speak with Chang. I desperately wanted some of that satay-like sauce we had at the hotpot restaurant, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Once Chang was on the phone, I found an employee of the market, smiled a “please forgive me for being an idiot and not knowing this on my own” look and thrust the phone to her. She reluctantly took it from me, but after a very brief conversation with Chang, she directed me to the sauce. Susanne – 2, Language Barrier – 0.

The second time I used this phone technique was today when I was looking for the special vinegar we put into the satay-like sauce we had at the hotpot restaurant. (Yes, I am profoundly determined to recreate what we had!) However, as I stood in the vinegar aisle with its dozens of different kinds of Chinese-labeled vinegars, there was no market employee. Chang was ready on the other end of the phone, but there was no employee in sight. But wait! There was a customer! Yup, that’s right. In my quest for this culinary masterpiece, I put on my best “please help me” smile, thrust the phone at this gentleman (a complete stranger), and as he looked at me like I was crazy (zip it), he took the phone from me. My pink Motorola Razr, by the way. He nodded, repeated something to his wife and then they both started looking in the vinegars. AND THEY FOUND THE RIGHT VINEGAR! Susanne – 3, Language Barrier – 0.

Greg thinks this is hilarious because it is not anything he would ever dream of doing. But hey, I am a woman on a mission.

Today’s trip to the market was the same as our other trips there in several ways. Both kids had their cheeks gently stroked by strangers, and we had one woman bring her adorable little 16 month old baby boy over to say hi to the kids, who were completely zoned out in the cart with their iPods. I told them I would take them away forever if they didn’t stop playing for two seconds and be polite and say hello. Damn iPods, they are a blessing AND a curse.

Ah, but today’s trip home from the market had a pleasant (not) little twist on it. As I shifted groceries from the bags into my backpack to make the bags lighter for the walk home, Emily started to scream. We have mentioned Emily’s screams before, I’m certain. They are ear-shattering and I swear could wake coma patients. And the thing is, WE DON’T NEED ANYMORE ATTENTION AT THE MARKET, thank you very much. However, there is she is, tears popping out of her eyes and hitting her shirt and the floor, uttering a scream that each second increased in volume and pitch.

AND WHY????

Because she just remembered she had A PAPER CUT. Not ANY paper cut. A paper cut that happened HOURS AGO. In the States when something like that happens, you can tell instantly the people who have kids and give you the “oh, honey, I have BEEN there” look, and those that don’t have any kids and give you the “oh. my. god. could you be any more annoying” look. Here, I don’t know what people were thinking, but I do know this – THEY WERE WATCHING. I thought we got a lot of stares before; it paled in comparison to my walk home today. I SO wanted to crack open that 50 cent drink labeled “Plum Juice” that I bought and try it, because I was suspicious it was actually plum WINE. I just wasn’t sure if I could plead “stupid” getting caught breaking some (unknown to me) open container law.

I will save our pizza ordering experience for another post, but I’ll leave you with this hint. Susanne – 3, Language Barrier – 1.

Oopsie

Posted by She Said.

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Guess I needed to learn the Chinese character for “permanent” before buying those markers for the kids today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Give That Man a Truck

Posted by He Said

Each and every day I walk down a small alley on my way to work.  It’s not really an alley, but more of a small side street.  If it weren’t for the small bottled water shop (with its army of electric bicycles and attached flatbed trailers) on one side and on the other a restaurant (which at first, second, and third glance I will likely never enter) and finally the “Stemed Dumping Shop”, which I hear has tasty dumpings, this would be any other dirty side street in any other town.  Well, not really, this is Beijing after all.

Just past the Stemed Dumping shop the smell hits me.  Not the powerful smell of Asian food, but of garbage.

This is the next visual attraction that I pass each and every morning.  Piles and piles of garbage on the side of the road. The first few times I walked past it, it was quite early and I was just surprised and frankly a little grossed out by the volume of garbage piled so high directly across from the restaurant that was now so aptly named.

It took several passes through the alley before I noticed a man hanging around the garbage, then another few times before I noticed him sifting through the garbage. 

My first American impulse is that poor man, scrounging for what he can find.

After a few more passes through the alley a new picture emerged.  This was not a homeless man looking for a bite to eat.

This was the garbage man. 

Each and every day that pile reappears, and each and every day he is seen sorting, sifting and bagging the garbage.  On cold days I have seen him wearing gloves, but lately he has been doing this barehanded.  He sorts, flattens and stacks the cardboard.  He separates the bottles and cans.  He bags the miscellaneous garbage together.

And he stacks it onto his bike.

This is the life of the Beijing Garbage Man.  Once his bike is loaded, he then takes it to a central collection location.  There are no garbage trucks (at least in this area).  There is an army of men on bikes.  Men who have meticulously sorted the trash and loaded it on their bicycles which they then climb on and pedal to the “dump”, wherever that might be.

You have a hard life, sir, and I suspect you don’t get the respect you deserve. Thank you.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

I’ve Died and Gone to Cilantro Heaven

Posted by She Said.

 

I had my dream meal last Saturday after our visit to The Summer Palace. Chang was very excited to take us to one of his favorite places to eat. But first, we took the kids to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger before we went to lunch so they would actually EAT SOMETHING. I’m not thrilled about feeding them McDonald’s, but I have to say, not having to bribe our children with 99 cent iTunes games to TASTE SOMETHING NEW is kind of nice. And, well, the cheeseburgers taste just like they do back home. Hooray for them. Ewww for me.

I couldn’t begin to tell you the name of the restaurant we went to, and sadly (for Greg and me) there was no English on the menu, making it hard for us to go back without someone who speaks Chinese. Based on my experience with this place however, I will be begging people to take us back.

The table has a built in “hotpot” in the middle of it. The waiters bring over a huge pot of water that is divided into two sides, one flavored with hot spices and one spiced regularly. A dial on the table allows you to control the amount of heat that goes to the pot. Chang then ordered a plethora of items for us to cook in the boiling broths.

hotpot(the hotpot)

veggies(the veggies, tofu, and an egg)

meats (the meats and fresh noodles)

_IGP6584 (the calamari and… squid balls?)

And then, as if it were created for me personally, you dip all of the cooked goodness into a bowl of peanut sauce, called satay in the States, and if you wish, you can add cilantro to this. IF YOU WISH. Hello? Anyone who has been around me long enough knows that I would bathe in juiced cilantro and lick myself clean if I could. I risked the whole fresh herbs thing because IT WAS CILANTRO IN PEANUT SAUCE!

_IGP6585(Greg’s peanut sauce, minus the cilantro and with spicy oils added)

 _IGP6587(Greg’s blood tofu ready to take the plunge)

This was seriously one of the best meals I have ever had. In addition to the mouth-watering food itself, the very nature of cooking your meal together has a very intimate feel to it. Even though language can be a hurdle at times, there’s nothing like cooking food together and then dipping it in CILANTRO LADEN PEANUT SAUCE to bring people together.