My adventures in the Chinese restaurant: Part I

          I’ve been gathering photos of food I’ve tried here in Beijing for awhile, and its time to share! As soon as we arrived here, the food made me a little anxious. I had a minor freak out at a restaurant when they gave the girls and I water in glasses. I didn’t know how to ask for bottled water and I certainly didn’t want the three of us stuck in the bathroom for the next day with travelers diarrhea! It turned out to be water from a water cooler! I’ve learned that in most restaurants frequented by expats, this is a standard practice. You wouldn’t know this unless you ask or saw the water cooler though. I’d heard stories about what to eat and what not to eat. I was warned multiple times about food and water safety. Vegetables need to be cleaned with bottled water. Meats and fish need to be washed and handled properly. Dairy is of questionable origin. The same goes for eggs. 

Luckily, my husband has travelled here many times and knows of a good number of reputable restaurants. Before we go out to eat, we look online for reviewed restaurants. We’ve had excellent food so far using this method! 

We stayed in a hotel for our first week here, and it was a good introduction into “safe” Chinese food. I was pretty overwhelmed by the choices at the Chinese restaurant, which included many sorts of delicacies from the sea and land, such as marinated jellyfish and black fungus.

Black Fungus
Black Fungus
We actually love Black Fungus, which are slippery black mushrooms, served cold, usually in a vinegar type dressing. It can also be served Sichuan style, which is a lot spicier, but less kid friendly! Another positive about the black fungus dish, is that it is supposed to help you lose weight…

Use of chopsticks: the early days.
Use of chopsticks: the early days.
Another favorite appetizer of ours is Marinated Cucumber Slices. These are usually served in a garlic vinegar sauce. Everyone in our family loves these!
Here are traditional Chinese breakfast foods:
Congee
Congee

Traditional vegetables for breakfast. Delish!
Traditional vegetables for breakfast. Delish!

Congee is a warm rice soup, which I would compare to hot oatmeal, except that its a lot runnier. As far as I could tell, it was simply rice cooked in soy milk. I ate this a lot for breakfast, and would like to start making it at home when cooler weather sets in. I think it could be made child friendly by adding some raisins and brown sugar or cinnamon. (I hope this doesn’t offend the Chinese, but it would work in my house!)
The table.
The table.

When ordering in a Chinese restaurant, one person does all the ordering. For our family of four, we typically order six dishes plus steamed rice for everyone. The dishes are placed in the center, and each person serves him/herself. When you dine out with a large group, you sit at a table with a lazy susan in the middle, so you can gently rotate the entrees and each person takes what they wish. As I said, there is a lot to tell you about food, so look out for more to come later! I will also do a soy sauce taste test, just for Hunter back home in Raleigh.

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Peace and Tranquility at the Lama Temple

On Saturday we took the subway downtown to the Lama Temple. ImageFrom our house, it took about 45 minutes and three line changes. Looking out the window of the train, we could see the traffic that we avoided!  We’ve gotten better at navigating the subway with two children and a stroller. 

The Lama Temple was the home of Count Yin Zhen, who became the emperor in 1723 and then moved to the Forbidden City. In 1744 his former residence became a monastery of lamas and home to monks from Mongolia and Tibet. Premier Zhou Enlai protected the temple during cultural uprisings, and today it is an active place of worship. 

It has five halls, Buddha statues of various sizes, revolving prayer wheels, and a large bell. As we walked through the halls, we were constantly in awe of the statues…then we went into the next hall, where we would find an even larger Buddha statue, until finally, in the last hall, there was the 18meter tall statue of Buddha in his Tibetan form!! This one is supposedly carved from a single piece of sandalwood. Impressive! 

Practicing Buddhists brought in long sticks of incense to light in big fire boxes.
Burning incense at Lama Temple The Lama Temple was similar to the Forbidden City in that we saw the familiar Lion with the Earth under his paw. 

All in all, it was a very peaceful day, and it marked the six week point of living in Beijing. Along with that came a sense of belonging and acceptance. 


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The "BIG Buddha!"
The “BIG Buddha!”

Ornate celings and walls
Ornate celings and walls

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To squat, or not?

Squatting Monk
Squatting Monk

You may think this post is about using the toilet in China, but, in fact, that is a post for another day! I want to tell you about the physical act of squatting in Asia. Squatting is a part of daily life in China.

Squat break!
Squat break!
Workers squat during rest breaks.
Squatting painter
Squatting painter
Painters squat to reach lower walls. Gardeners squat while weeding.
Squatting gardener
Squatting gardener
Toilets sometimes require you to squat. Personally, I find squatting to be a comfortable way to sit! While I was teaching 3-6 year olds in my Montessori classroom, I would often squat to speak to them at eye level. Children worked on the floor so I would squat to get down to help with their work. Children squat all the time! 20130807_162459For most Westerners, squatting is awkward, even difficult. We sit at desks to work and use sit down toilets. When you weed the garden, do you squat or use a kneeling pad? Why should we squat anyway?

Garland pose, or Malasana, is a yoga pose that is basically, a squat! Malasana stretches the ankles, hips and groin, tones the belly, and is actually really good for low back pain! It is recommended for pregnant women to practice as way to prepare for labor. 

To practice this pose, squat down with your heels flat on the floor and hip-width apart (or slightly wider if necessary), toes pointing out on a diagonal. Bring your torso forward between the thighs, brace your elbows against the inside of your thighs and press your hands together in front of your chest. Stay in the pose for five breaths. If your heels do not touch the floor, place a folded blanket underneath them. If the pose is easy, work on bringing your feet together. 

Namaste!

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I challenge you to try to squat this week while doing some household task…or just try the yoga pose!

Be careful of your pants when you squat!!
Be careful of your pants when you squat!!

Our mental state after 1 month in Beijing

We have officially been in Beijing for one month now. We are in our home, living out of our suitcases. We have purchased the necessary household items (towels, dishes, sheets, pillows, pots) to get by until our “shipment” arrives. Brian and I feel settled for the most part, however, the girls are missing friends, the dog, and some of their comfort items that were to big to carry in suitcases. 

I’ve reflected over the past month and decided that there are certain traits that are crucial in order to get through this adjustment period. It also helps if you have blond or curly hair. Chinese folks are fascinated by both and kinder to you. 

1. Adaptability. Its evident at every meal in China. Chopsticks instead of forks. Get used to drinking room temperature drinks. Water is non-potable, so avoid the ice.) Cooking a meal and teeth brushing are like camping: use bottled water.  Even for your most basic needs….such as using the toilet, you must adapt. Sometimes there is a sit down toilet, sometimes not. If you are lucky, you find a clean bathroom. If you are luckier, you find a clean bathroom with toilet paper, and in the most fortuitous situation, you will find a clean toilet, toilet paper, soap, and a hand dryer. 

2. Patience. You know you have mail on the way, but you don’t know when it will arrive in the country, pass through customs, and arrive in your mailbox. If there is a problem, sometimes you get a quick response, but sometimes you communicate the issue and must wait to see if there is a response. It could be later that day, or it could be weeks. Be patient and it will be revealed to you. 

3. Creativity. What do you do when you have limited belongings and are sometimes required to stay indoors? You must think out of the box. Use what you have and create a game. 

4. Faith. That things will proceed and everything will be all right in the end. We have been placed here for a reason! 

5. Strong partner. You and your partner need to  be able to lean on each other for support, understanding, and be each other’s best friend. 

6. Spontaneity. Bad air day? Pesticide application day? No drive day? Think of a new plan on the spot and proceed. 

7. Determination/Resolve. I’m reminded of the children’s book, Pancakes for Breakfast, where the plan of the main character is ruined by her pets, but she tries again and succeeds! In China, you have to keep trying until you get what you need/want. Its taken me multiple shopping trips to find a source for gluten free bread. I’ve got my source now, and yesterday I baked my first loaf! Delicious! I found quinoa in one store, but I asked today at my local grocer if they would order it and carry it for me. 

8. A sense of adventure. If you don’t have it, you miss out. Good things can be found in weird places! 

9. Makeshift communication skills. Learn the language, and if you don’t know it yet, develop some nonverbal gestures to create your own language until you do. Use a combination of English with some Mandarin thrown in and just keep repeating it until you get the pronunciation right. 

10. Confidence. In China, if you need to board an elevator in a crowded place, you’ve got to be confident. Otherwise, you’ll never get on that elevator!

11. Acceptance. Some things you will never understand. Such as why a person delivers 2 reams of trash bags to your house and doesn’t ask for money. 

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Forbidden City and more downtown adventures

Looking at the Meridian Gate of Forbidden City from Tain'anmen Square
Looking at the Meridian Gate of Forbidden City from Tain’anmen Square
  Yesterday was an awesome “weather” day, with blue skies, and slightly cooler temperatures in the shade. (note, I said, in the shade…) We had Mr. Shi pick us up at 8am to head downtown. During the ride, Sophie and I read up on the history of the Forbidden City, which was built between 1406 and 1420. Its location is the exact center of Beijing. Along the way, we drove by many government buildings and with gorgeous fountains and greenery. As you approach Tian’anmen Square and the Meridian Gate (southern) to the Forbidden City, the throngs of tourists carrying parasols increase. For a moment I was a bit overwhelmed thinking of seeing these sites with a 3 year old in a stroller and an 8 year old, but the sites are so amazing that you just have to go. Once we got into the crowds, I realized that getting through them is similar to the ocean’s riptide. You have to find an opening and take it. Tian’anmen Square was impressive in its size, but there really isn’t much to see besides the the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the guards. 
        DSC_0549 We walked onward to the Forbidden City. You enter under the huge picture of Chairman Mao, walk further into a courtyard to buy tickets and then onward into another gate. The City is a series of courtyards and stairways. DSC_0559There is a huge moat surrounding the entire city and a smaller one inside the Meridian Gate. DSC_0560There are huge statues of lions guarding the important buildings. We stayed to the western side of the complex, which housed the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Hall of Supreme Harmony
Hall of Supreme Harmony
Due to the crowds, it was really hard to see inside the hall, so I’m really glad I purchased postcards so we could examine the details more closely. The vast size and age of the palace is just amazing. DSC_0580Each courtyard had an enormous doorway with big red doors and ornately carved designs surrounding it. I really liked the Imperial Garden with rock structures, pools, flowering plants and cypress trees. DSC_0582We spent two hours touring just 1/3 of the palace, but that was enough for our first visit. We plan to come back in cooler temperatures…We really liked the walk back to the car, through shady streets with locals going about their daily routines. DSC_0624I have to give credit to my children, especially Sophie, who walked for four hours in the heat and didn’t complain once.

Our next stop was Temple Restaurant Beijing. Brian had found this online at Trip Advisor. Our driver took us to a questionable looking street and parked. Hmmm…we weren’t sure we were in the right place. There was a “western grocery store”, but no sign of a restaurant. Mr. Shi took off to talk to someone. When he returned he said we could walk to the restaurant from here. He led us down a one lane street with little corner grocery stores and tiny shops. DSC_0621Eggs were for sale in crates on the street. Corn was piled up on the sidewalk. Handmade straw brooms were for sale alongside hangers and electric kettles. (We did buy a broom to use in our courtyard patio.) Finally we reached some men in suits who approached us and asked if we were looking for Temple. Yes!! Success! We found it just in time, because we were all hot, tired, hungry and sweaty. In the courtyard of the restaurant were six squatting monk statues. DSC_0620This restaurant was built in a 600 year old temple. The host brought the girls some croissants and water and within 25 minutes we had a table. The service and food were excellent, although Sophie quipped, “I think this is just a snack restaurant!” when our food arrived. For Saturday brunch they offered western/French style brunch food. I had the Butterfish with Pumpkin Seed Relish, Eggplant, and Raisins. It was a delicious respite in the middle of downtown. Afterwards, we explored the Temple garden, which was gorgeous and fun for the girls. I highly recommend the restaurant…if you can find it! DSC_0614