Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who is your daddy...

... and what does he do?

That became a topic of conversation today while tutoring my little six year-old student, Xindy.  She has become one of my cutest buddies in Beijing.  Jason keeps encouraging me to give up tutoring her so I can have a little free time.  Sometimes, I do consider it, but then I'd miss out on conversations like these:

Rumble rumble.  Splish splash.  Whiiiiirrrrr.
Xindy: (startled) What is that noises?
Grace:  It's the washing machine.
Xindy:  Washing for what?
Grace:  洗衣服的 (translation: for washing clothes).  Jason is doing the laundry.
Xindy:  (more startled)  WHAAAAT?  He is washing the clothes!?
Grace:  Yeah... well, he's putting it into the machine.
Xindy:  He knows how to do it?
Grace:  ... Yes.  Doesn't your dad know how to use the washing machine?
Xindy:  No!
Grace:  (laughing)  Really?  So only your mommy does the laundry?
Xindy:  Eat, sleep, play iPad.  That's all my daddy knows.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Work of Someone Greater

When I happen upon difficult times in this place, when the winters are too cold, the summers are too sticky, and the food too oily.  After I've long forgotten that skies are meant to be various shades of blue, and not fluctuate between white, tan, and gray.  Long after the bags are packed, tickets bought, and miles traveled, I will know it was all worth it.

Because of this...

It's 9:36 AM

You're in your pajamas sitting at your desk.  Your laptop is open.  Your coffee cup is empty.  You've been awake since 7.

Do you know where your lesson plan is?


Monday, November 7, 2011

Fifteen Minutes or Less


Yes, that is how long I've given myself to do a post.  We've all heard that old saying, "There are 24 useful hours in a day," and ain't it just about the most bittersweet thing you've ever heard?  The fact that there are indeed 24 whole hours for you to have your way with, and yet knowing that only a fraction of that time gets used in worthwhile ways?

In any case, here is my super-quick update.

Fall is in full swing in Beijing, and it is without a doubt the loveliest time of the year.  I love the fall.  With fall has come a ridiculous onslaught of work, work, work, and opportunities for service.  At my other job, it's bazaar season which means lots and lots of selling, scheduling, and hair-pulling.  Oh, and (hopefully not feigned) Christmas cheer.  At my 'real' job (that I am quite eager to leave), it's midterms and grasping at straws for good lesson plans.  Today, my students learned "Killing Me Softly" to the tune of a poorly played ukulele, compliments of yours truly.  Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel.

As my schedule fills up and the number of daylight hours quickly dwindles, I find myself craving those fifteen minutes, just for myself.  I-- like many other women-- am a great multi-tasker, but I often find that I try to squeeze in a few relaxing/fun moments while working.  I open up multiple tabs on my browser, so I can answer emails, read the headlines, and download a trailer from Apple Trailers all at the same time.  The result?  A few emails inevitably get left unanswered, I still don't fully understand what crazy debacle happened during the Occupy Oakland protests, and all I know of new releases is that it's just a bunch more of the same old crap, crap, crap that Hollywood loves to churn out.

And of course, the first thing to go directly to the backburner is my quiet time.  I think many Christians can understand this plight.  Life happens, and spending time with God gets lost somewhere in the mix of work, family obligation, and errands.  After a while, though, it becomes easy to forget just what I'm working, spending time with family, and running errands for.  Furthermore, quiet time is a two-way interaction, and it is so easy to forget that God has a feeling about being left on the backburner, too.  It hurts Him, and He misses us.  Isn't that nuts?

I know old habits die hard, but one thing I'm trying to be intentional about is doing one thing at a time, and giving my full focus on Him for some portion of the day-- be it on the subway or in my non-existent prayer closet-- so that I can give full focus to my entire being.

Just for kicks, also, here's a photo of a lesson plan that is a surefire success.  Your perfect 24-hour day.  You'll notice that the majority of my time is spend eating.  And see that giant slot left open for shopping?  It's not for clothes.  It's for food.

END TIME: 1:47 PM.  Dang!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Anniversaries are funny things.  The majority of my students admit to having never celebrated a wedding anniversary as weddings tend to be tricky here in China.  Do they celebrate the day they signed their marriage contract, or the evening the couple hosted giant wedding reception/variety show in their honor?

Oddly enough, Jason and I had never celebrated an anniversary before.  We, like so many of our married Chinese counterparts, were a bit fuzzy on our details.  I mostly attribute this to a conversation that I love telling friends about.

On the afternoon of March 13, 2006...

G:  So I called my mom today to wish her a happy birthday.  She asked me about you.
J:  Mm-hmm...
G:  She asked about what's going on between you and me.
J:  Yeah?
G:  And I didn't know what to tell her.
J:  Well, I've been telling my friends you're my girlfriend for the past few weeks.
G:  ............

Yup, folks.  That's how a DTR happens.

Well, it's a good thing that wedding dates are a bit more definite.  And if this is where the bar is set for our very first anniversary celebration ever, then Jason has a lot to live up to for future anniversaries.

Here's how we celebrated our first year as a married couple:

We hopped onto our lovely e-scooter, Estelle, and made our way to the subway station.

En route to the restaurant...

...we saw dinosaurs in a shopping plaza!  Only in China...

We made it to our dinner spot and ordered up a Mediterranean feast that made us smile pitas.

We went for a stroll through brand new shopping malls with vacant store fronts.  Until I came to Beijing, I would never have expected to find a moment of peace away from crowds in a shopping mall.

We made our way to a Cantonese restaurant for a Chocolate Banana Ice Cream Parfait.  In the words of Donkey, "Everybody loves parfait!"  But Americans, take note.  Those are corn flakes on the bottom of the bowl.  This was one righteous parfait.
And here's the best part of our anniversary.  When we got married, Jason and I decided that we'd always give each other gifts made of the element that represents that anniversary.  Year one is represented by paper.  Jason commissioned a friend who is an art student to paint a watercolor of our first home as a married couple.

Everyone.  Welcome to our home.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Estelle: A Love Story

This post is not about the fabulous British singer who sings about American boys.  It is, however, a simple love story.

A few months ago, Jason and I started toying with the idea of getting an electric bicycle.  We had been living sans wheels for quite some time, and with summer fast approaching, the idea of zipping through the city instead of slowly trudging through the grueling Beijing hot smog started to seem more and more appealing.

We started checking internet classifieds for a second-hand dian dong che (electric bicycle) and hoping that we'd find one that hadn't been used too much and was the right price.  Often times, we came across ads for two-seater battery-powered pedal bikes.  Truth be told, they are not pretty.  Clunky and made mostly of cheap aluminum-like metal and often emblazoned with the image of some sort of infantile mascot (they like sheep here, for some reason), these bikes are long associated in my mind with the post-menopausal aunties I see picking their grandchildren up from primary school.

Even though I felt too foolish to verbalize it, I had a secret hope that the moped we found was of the fake-Vespa variety popular amongst over-privileged Korean students in Beijing.  It felt stupid to do so, but even when I prayed at night about whether or not a moped was waiting for us in our future, I asked that it would be one that wasn't an eyesore and would help me fulfill some silly fantasy of being like Audrey Tatou in Amelie, zipping around Paris on an adorable little Vespa, arms wrapped around the torso my Chinese-American version of Nino / Matthieu Kassovitz (with obvious, glaring differences, of course.  I mean, c'mon.  Who are we kidding?  Paris vs Beijing?).

"I know that if it's your will for us to buy this scooter," I'd pray at night, "then you will prepare the perfect one for us.  Even it may not be the one I have in mind."

Well... he is good.  He dresses the lilies of the valley, he gives the birds a home, and he prepares Beijing's most adorable, perfect scooter for us.  Estelle (my moniker for our perfect Chinese fake Vespa) was put up for sale late one night, and we were the first to respond to the ad.  Not only was she the most perfect scooter and in our price range, but Estelle's previous owner was an amazingly sweet Indonesian man studying Chinese on our very own campus.  Like all things pre-ordained and blessed, obtaining Estelle was easy, joyful, and beneficial to all parties involved.

So while you may have thought that this love story was going to be about my love for Estelle, it is more about the amazing love of a Father who provides and fulfills our every need AND desire.  I think living in China has often made me jaded to the idea that God actually wants to give us all that we desire and more.  But in my blindness and self-satisfying tendencies, I fix my eyes on what I can't have (easy access to cheese, open roads, trees, and clean air) instead of simply asking and receiving.

Thankfully, with His grace and through these small acts of love, I don't have to be a slave to what I "have-nots," but I daily have the joy of receiving all that I need, and more.

Estelle has changed our lives.  I know that sounds a little dramatic, but I guess if I compared it to having a car in downtown LA and not having a car, you would see how it would open up so many opportunities and save a ton of energy.  Plus, whenever I take Estelle out for a trip to the veg market, or to meet a friend, or to drop off my dry cleaning, I don't just enjoy the feeling of being a Chinese version of Amelie, but I am reminded of how deep the Father's love is for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Big Plate o' Chicken

Ahh, Xinjiang food.  If I ever leave this crazy country, I may bid its traffic, crowds, and pollution good riddance, but I will be eternally grateful for being introduced to Xinjiang food.

Xinjiang is the very large province (technically 'autonomous region') in northwest China populated mostly by the Uyghur minority... and some of the most delectable sheep you've ever encountered.  The land is dry, which means less rice and more wheat, yielding a cuisine rounded out mostly by some tasty flour-based carbs such as noodles and bread that is baked in wood-fired tandoori-like ovens.

Despite Xinjiang's abundance in tasty lamb, one of my favorite Xinjiang dishes is Da Pan Ji (大盘鸡), literally meaning Big Plate o' Chicken.  And a big plate of chicken it indeed is: a giant platter of chicken pieces tossed with potatoes, green peppers, and leeks.  Fresh, wide, chewy flour noodles are added afterward and tossed in the remaining sauce.

Are you drooling yet?

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching a group of primary school teachers from Xinjiang, and decided to let them put their teaching skills to the test and teach me how to make Da Pan Ji.  It certainly wasn't easy or quick, but I was pleasantly surprised by how do-able it is and that Da Pan Ji is a one pot recipe is an added bonus.

Well, I couldn't keep the joy of Da Pan Ji to myself, so here is the recipe for one of the tastiest things that China has to offer.  And I promise you, it will taste nothing like Panda Express.  In a good way.

Xinjiang dinner, compliments of my amazing students.

You will need:

For the noodles:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt-- dissolve salt into water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the Da Pan Ji:
1 whole chicken-- cleaned well outside and inside the cavity, giblets removed, separated and cut into small pieces (keep bone in)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3-4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 liter light beer
1 cup hot water
3 potatoes-- peeled and cut into 3 inch cubes, then tossed with a little salt
2 Anaheim peppers, cut into 3 inch squares
salt to taste

Flavor Bouquet-- place all ingredients into a small bowl
3/4 cup dried red chilis
1 whole star anise
4-6 Bay leaves
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
4 inch knob of ginger-- peeled and sliced into strips
2 leeks cut into 4 inch pieces, then sliced lengthwise
1 whole bulb of garlic-- peeled, then crushed lightly to release flavor

Note:  For those of you who lack the butchering skills (or a mini chainsaw) to take apart an entire chicken, I cheated the second time I made Da Pan Ji by using drumettes and chicken wings.  Saves a TON of time, and if you live in China, you don't have to deal with the whole chickens coming with the head and the claws.  For me, personally, that's just a little to 'real.'

First, prep the noodles.  Put the flour into a large bowl, then add salted water little by little, incorporated it into the flour by hand.  Continue to add water until the dough comes together and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.  Knead the dough on a board (no need to flour the board) until it softens.  Put the dough on a board with the bowl inverted over it to keep the dough moist.  Allow the dough to rest.

AJ kneading the noodle dough
Pour oil into a large wok over high heat until the oil is about 2-3 inches deep.  When the oil begins to smoke, add all of the chicken pieces.  Stir carefully, and add a few pieces of ginger to stop the smell.  Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of salt over the chicken to render its juices.  Cook over high heat for 10-15 minutes, until all juices have reduced and the oil begins popping gently.

Add soy sauce to the chicken, until it turns into a deep caramel color.  Add the flavor bouquet all at once.  When the chicken begins fragrant, pour in the beer, and hot water.  Allow to simmer for a few minutes, stirring the chicken and spices gently.  Ladle out about three ladle-spoons of the broth, and reserve for later.

Flavor bouquet!

Rinse the salt off the potatoes and drain well.  Place potatoes on top of the chicken in a single layer, but do not mix them.  Cover the wok with a lid, and turn down the heat to medium.  Let the broth simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (and can be pierced easily with a chopstick).

While the potatoes are cooking, push down the noodle dough into a large patty.  Rub the oil over the top of the patty, turning it over once so it is well coated by oil.  Cover with the bowl again, and let it rest a second time.

At this point, the potatoes should be cooked through.  Add the reserved broth back on top of the potatoes, toss in the green peppers, and mix everything together, and transfer to the biggest plate you own, preferably one with a generous lip to catch all the good broth.

Now, to finish off the noodles!  Slice up your patty into long strips about 1 inch thick.  Squeeze the strips in between your fingers to create a wide, flat noodle.  If you're feeling brave, you can try holding your noodle on each end between your index finger and thumb and waving it up and down to stretch it out.

Once your noodles are good and stretched, fill up your wok (no need to clean it!) with water and bring the water to a boil.  Push your noodles into the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes.  You can put the noodles over the chicken, or divide it between your guests bowls, and ladle the Da Pan Ji over the noodles.

Wipe the drool from your chin, and savor the product of all your hard labor.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

White Privilege: Not Just for Americans

Before coming to China, Jason and I were hoping to teach English in Korea.  Of course, now we know that it was simply not in the plans for us to avoid going to China, but I had a hard time grappling with the reasons for why we couldn't find a position teaching English.

"Hi, you are Korean American, right?" the girl at the teaching agency asked.

"Yes, I am.  But I was born in America and I've lived there my entire life."

"Yes, but it is very difficult to find a school that will take a teacher who does not look like an American."

To which my next question should have been, "Well, what the hell does an American look like?"  I suppose people everywhere are ignorant of the fact that different countries contain a diverse range of physicalities.  I'll admit that it still surprised me just a little bit (ok, maybe more) when I met a Chinese-South African, or when I realized that there is a huge Asian-Australian population-- a group of people who look a lot like me but speak with a way cooler accent.

Does it get frustrating when I walk into a class full of students fully expecting a "foreign-looking" teacher whose disappointment is clearly written all over their faces because I look Chinese?  Yes, and the whole explanation about not being from Korea, and having not much of a Korean national identity, is never easy to get out.

But what is more infuriating than having to explain myself a hundred times a week to taxi drivers, restaurant workers, office workers, sales clerks, and nearly every other person in China is that I could never get the job in Korea, or the job posted here on the blog, simply because I don't enjoy white privilege.  Not only that, but the job very well may go to some idiot whose Modus Operandi it is to sleep with as many unsuspecting Asian women and get as plastered as possible every night while still being able to show up to class the next morning, just to play a pirated DVD of Friends and sleep off his hangover at his desk.  But it doesn't matter.  Because he is white.

So what do I hope to gain from my little rant?  Really, nothing.  I'm as little of a fan of white guilt as I am of white privilege.  Am I saying all Chinese people are ignorant for thinking that I look Chinese?  No.  Because frankly, so would Dave Chapelle.

I suppose I'd like to say just this: WAKE UP.  It's no surprise that the world is a diverse place, and thankfully, the media is just starting to catch onto it.  Racism is still a problem today, but namely because of things like this advertisement and the people who perpetrate the problem are those who assume that one's ability is based on the color of their skin.  If the Chinese continue to believe that because "we all look the same," racism is not a problem in this society, they are sorely wrong and will continue to fall short of the social advances of their world power neighbors, who are just now learning to embrace their diversity as an asset.

'marshawu,' you should seriously start reconsidering the wording on your advertisement.  And I'm not your friend.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Direct Message

Sometimes, we get subtle, gentle reminders of bigger things that happen around us.  Things like hunches, feelings, or "movement in the spirit" that lead us down one path or another.

Other times, we get hit right over the head with something so direct and undeniable, it takes your breath away.

Case in point:

from our weekly church bulletin

Staring at me right in the face was a question that I had a hard time answering.  Am I still amazed, or do I still take His grace, mercy, and power for granted?  After living in a foreign country for a while, the challenges of getting through daily life become commonplace, and the work I do starts to become routine.  It becomes so easy to lose sight of the fact that the work I do, the life I live, the marriage I am a part of, the relationships I've been blessed by, the food I eat, the joy I feel, the sorrow I share-- are not simple coincidences.  In every facet of even the simplest life are opportunities to be amazed by how He loves.  As simple as the perfect cup of coffee (although, that's not so simple where I am) or a blue sky in the middle of a cloudy week.  Or as complex as a divine appointment or situations that unfold and seem to defy all scientific or logical explanation.  Yet, how easily we pass over the beautiful ways that we are reminded of His unending love and vastness in favor of mundane, circumstantial explanations!  

I could say that this was just a funny coincidence-- that my name happened to appear on our bulletin.   Printed with such urgency and accented by an exclamation point that just seems to express a cross between excitement, frustration, and perhaps final resorts at getting my attention.  Anxious to stir up the fire and wonder I once experienced when we were closer, the title simply asks if I've lost my sense of amazement.  

Sure, it's just the title of a sermon.  

But I'd rather not see it that way.  Instead, I am dumbstruck, overwhelmed, and amazed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Channel surfing has its consequences

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you a fantastical Chinese creature who seems to have grown an enlarged scrotum on his forehead.

Brownie points to whomever can come up with the best captions for these photos.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Humble Return

I've been absent for quite some time.  While I'm sure it was an absence not deeply felt, I can't attribute it to unbearable busy-ness, mundaneness of daily Beijing living, or even laziness.

This semester has been extremely long for multiple reasons- difficult students, boring curriculum, and adjustments to married life, being among them.  At the end of the semester, I had a bit of a meltdown when I realized how I'd let myself down in nearly all capacities.  I hadn't kept up my first home, or cooked enough, I didn't spend enough quality time with Chinese friends and students, I hadn't been the teacher my students deserved, I didn't exercise enough, and as we all know, I didn't keep up the blog.

I've started this blog entry about eight times.  Each time I did, the entry felt inadequate.  Who would actually be interested in reading about a new recipe I'd tried or the new oven we finally got, or my first disappointing trip I took to the ocean?  Who was interested in my photos when there are thousands of blogs out there brimming with DSLR gems and impressive angles?  And as I kept thinking about how overwhelmingly average I was, I found just another reason to delete my drafts.  And while this blog isn't truly an extension of my entire being, it seems that the inadequacy I felt about my blog stemmed from feeling inadequate myself.  Why would anyone be interested in anything I had to share when it would simply be disappointing?

Well, here we are, eight drafts later, and somehow I found something to write about.  Today, I was singing in the shower (Jason is away for two weeks, teaching at an English camp, so I indulged myself), and the song that kept coming back to me was one by David Crowder.

"He is jealous for me.  Loves like a hurricane, and I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy... He loves us, oh how he loves us."

I've heard and sung this song hundreds of times, but this time, I was struck by the amazing juxtaposition of those first two lines.  Overwhelmed by a love that is more powerful, wider, and weightier than anything I could possibly imagine, I am simply a sprout in the ground encased in the typhoon of his greatness.  His power transforms lives and maintains galaxies.  The creator of love, justice, mercy, and goodness.

And yet, he is jealous for me.  

He feels pain when I reject him.  He longs for my company when I am caught up in the little, meaningless things in life that too easily become so important.  In my underdeveloped sapling state, he fights for me, and finds me absolutely adequate.  More than simply adequate.  He finds me precious.

All this to say, life hasn't been especially interesting.  Yes, I do have a few things I'd like to share from the past few months that I haven't managed to post up on this blog.  But this necessary reminder forgoes any sort of China-anecdote or rant that my experience on this world could offer.  Because the experience of being pursued relentlessly by the Author of Love is certainly enough to get me to start writing again.

Because it's by His grace and love that I am adequate.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whoo-Wee! (Jie)

May 1st was China's May Day Holiday, otherwise known as Wu Yi Jie (which sounds like "Whoo-Wee!" if you say it really quickly).  I'm not really sure of the origins of Wu Yi Jie, but I believe it's something akin to America's Labor Day.  It began as a one-week holiday, but I guess that was just too much fun for a country like China, so they shortened it to a measly 24-hours.  My students usually go shopping that day because there are a ton of good deals.  A ton of people brave the crowds and travel.

We were lucky this year because our buddy Lance came to visit us while he was in China on a month-long business trip in Shanghai.  Beijing is just a quick two-hour plane ride or so, and it was such a blessing to see a familiar face and share our lives in China with him.

When tourists attack...
Given that it was an official holiday, we fully expected there to be a ton of crowds at all the major tourist sites, so we decided to give Lance a more local walking tour of Beijing.  We walked through the hutongs and down Nanluoguxiang-- a really neat "bohemian" street with a ton of little shops, bars and restaurants, and snack stalls.  We walked through Houhai Lake and past the Drum and Bell Tower.  Basically, we walked a lot.

We took public transportation a LOT.

And we didn't just take pictures of the backs of each others' heads.

Of course, we ate a lot of really tasty grub.  Lance is a fellow yogurt enthusiast (Jason isn't so much into yogurt), and his wife, Amy, had told him about famous Beijing yogurt.  Plus, eating yogurt is one of the best ways to fight indigestion or traveler's diarrhea-- two things that are almost guaranteed to visit you while you visit China.  Suffice it to say that a good deal of yogurt was consumed in our three days together.

Iced fruit tea at Bellagio 
Mango Coconut Milk shaved ice at Bellagio

Lance and his first cup of Beijing yogurt

Beijing Yogurt comes in a tiny clay jug that you can keep for an extra 1 kuai.
Each cup is covered by a little piece of printed wax paper, secured by a rubber band.

Lance and me with some friends having hot pot for dinner.
Even though we wished his trip could have lasted longer, we were so glad to have our very first visitor to our home.  We miss you, Lance!  Hurry back, and bring Amy with you next time!

Lance in his favorite chair at our apartment

Oh, the times...

... they are a-changin'.  As evidenced by these two construction site signs.

Spotted in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province.  February 2009

Spotted near the Forbidden City in Beijing.  May 2011

I'm not going to try and assign some symbolic significance to this change, although I have to say it might be a sign that things are starting to be taken less seriously around these parts.  Or... things are starting to be cuter.  Or... construction workers are getting to be too young.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Bagels

When living in China, you find that the littlest joys of life are what redeem all of your gloomy China days.  For me, the littlest joys often come in the form of food (not surprisingly)-- namely shopping for food.  Shopping for home comforts in Beijing is certainly easier than it is in other parts of good ol' Zhongguo (that's 'China' in Mandarin), but one cannot imagine the joy that comes with discovering that the things that seemed unattainable can be reached just by going around the corner.

Bagels:  Not available right around the corner, unfortunately.
Parchment paper, aluminum foil, soda water, decent non-sweet cheese, unsalted butter, and-- my personal favorite--cream cheese.  There's a local Chinese brand here that makes a great cream cheese, and say what you may about the safety of Chinese dairy, I'll risk it if it means I can sink my teeth into that creamy, buttery, sour tart goodness that is cream cheese.  (By the looks of it, if the food here hasn't severely harmed my health by now, then I'm probably good to go.  At least, until I grow a third eye or my urine becomes radioactive, or something.)

Contrary to what the brand may state, the cream cheese is not "suki."  Haha.
Finding cream cheese, of course, means that bagels must also be found.  Let me tell you something about Chinese bread.  Well, it sucks.  It's full of air, with absolutely no nutritional value.  So I set out to make my own bagels.  One recipe I used came from Budget Bytes, which is much faster and yields a decent crop of bagels.  The other recipe was a combination of one for Sourdough Bagels from one of my favorite cooking blogs, Chocolate and Zucchini, and another recipe from my other favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen.  Both cite the same recipe from Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice, with their own personal tweaks.  The latter recipe requires a sponge to be made, then the dough to be proofed overnight, then the bagels are shaped, boiled, then baked.  If you don't know what that means, that's okay, most people don't.

Top: Sponge for Peter Reinhart's Bagels fermenting.  Bottom: Budget Bytes bagel dough

Budget Bytes bagels after second rise
The final word is that work and time definitely pay off.  While the Budget Bytes recipe delivered nice, speedy results, they weren't as chewy on the outside and soft on the inside, the way bagels ought to be, and how I remember them.  That said, the work and time are quite an investment.  Between proofing the dough, shaping the bagels, letting them rest, boiling them, then baking them, I found myself wondering why I would go through such great lengths for just a taste of home.

Sesame Bagels straight out of the oven

All I can think of is this: I don't know when I'll be going "home" to America.  And to be extremely honest, I don't know where home is.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that China is my home, but I would say that living with the expectation and to want move on as quickly as I can to the next thing--simply because I'm not comfortable--is no way to live at all.  And so, even if it takes 24 hours of proofing and a few minutes of boiling and baking, we do our best to make a home here with what we have.

And in the meantime, I've also learned new things to add to this whole idea of what "home" is.  Like putting peanut butter and tomato slices on a toasted bagel.  Yeah, it sounds crazy, but you'd be surprised at how incredibly tasty it is!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

American English and Old Beijing

The American accent is high in demand in China, where it's considered "standard" English.  In China, there is "Standard Mandarin"-- a pure, unaccented version of good ol' putonghua, the language Chairman Mao enforced to become the language of the nation, simply because it was what was spoken in the capital.  I keep reminding my students that there's really no such thing as "Standard English," but years of watching Friends and Prison Break has given many Chinese the impression that if one wants to speak English, they should speak it as Monica and Rachel do when they're bickering in their fabulous Manhattan flat.

Being from California-- where most American TV shows and films are from-- and having a Western American accent has blessed me in the TESL department, since I was born with the "standard" accent.  So it was only natural that my friend and colleague, Zhang Kun, asked me to co-teach a Pronunciation Class with him.

My buddy Zhang Kun and me
Teaching Pronunciation is a really tricky thing.  Imagine trying to tell someone how exactly to manipulate their mouth to make them pronounce "usually," when what keeps coming out is "urally," or to say "think" instead of "sink."  Or explaining why your sentences drift up and sink down at certain parts.  It ain't easy.  Fortunately, Zhang Kun had undergone the long arduous task of trying to perfect the American English accent, though what comes out now is more of a charming marriage of British and Chinese English.

After a few hard weeks of class, Kun offered to give Jason and me a proper introduction to Old Beijing snacks, since we still didn't really know exactly what Beijing cuisine was.  He took us to a place that is just about as old school as you can get.  You first go to a ticket window, where you buy 50 RMB worth of paper tickets.  Then, you go from window to window, exchanging tickets for snacks.
Snack offerings and illustrated menus
Beijing snacks are-- at best-- interesting.  It's mostly marked by fatty meats, sesame flavoring, and a lot of heavy, oil-laden fried things.  Neither Jason nor I were big fans, but we were grateful for the experience.

No, this is not a bowl brimming with sewage!  It's sesame soup!  It's basically made of a thick, starchy paste topped with sesame paste mixed with oil.  I wasn't nuts about it, but I managed to put down a few spoonfuls before feeling completely full from all the oil and starch sitting like a rock in my stomach.  But there was plenty more to consume, of course...

 It's not an authentic Chinese meal until you eat some unusual animal part.  This is a plate of flash-boiled tripe.  Despite the aforementioned piping-hot bowl of thick, oily sesame soup waiting for me, the tripe comes with a bowl of sesame paste sauce meant for dipping.  I actually quite like tripe, but this wasn't my favorite incarnation of it.

These little sandwiches were what I had my hope for a good meal riding on.  Sadly, they didn't deliver.  I've had some excellent versions of the sandwich (called bing in Mandarin), where the meat is juicy, flavorful, and dripping with yummy fats that are soaked in by the sesame seeded bun.  What we found were two sad, cold, dry sandwiches lacking in any flavor except salt.

After our meal (on which Jason later commented that he'd never eaten at a meal where he didn't like a single thing on the menu), we three decided to take advantage of the rare beautiful Spring weather and take a walk through Beijing's historic area.  We passed the back end of the Forbidden City, and Zhang Kun took us to one of the oldest standing Catholic cathedrals in Beijing.

While we weren't thrilled about the grub, it was a good day.