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!