Zaijian Beijing!

Our family at the Summer Palace
Our family at the Summer Palace

“Zaijian” literally means “see you again” in Mandarin. I have a strong feeling that I will be back in this city again. We are ending our stay in a similar way to the start of our journey. The same hotel, the same time of year, and a shuttle full of luggage. As I navigate the Chinese breakfast buffet, I order my water or coffee in Mandarin, and the waitress looks at me, misunderstanding me. She doesn’t expect a western woman to be speaking to her in Mandarin in the hotel restaurant. Then she understands, and all is well. The hotel employees look at us differently. We do not fit the mold of the type of people who stay here. I remember when we first arrived, and we were so nervous walking down the road to Europlaza mall. This week, the girls closed their eyes and walked on the tactile sidewalk strip for the visually impaired, testing to see how it works.

It is an emotional time, as our stay here has been only a year. Too short, in my opinion. Despite the brevity, we have gotten to know some locals, and I write this blog post so that I will never forget them. These are the people that I saw on a daily basis, who I grew to trust and got to know a little bit. I practiced Mandarin with them. Some of them spoke a little English with me.

Chen Fun Lien is the guard who is stationed at our compound gate near the school. I passed through his gate 4-8 times a day. Each time, he greeted the girls and I with a huge smile. He would always say, “Good morning! I can help you please!” He would take my badge and scan it on the gate to open it for us. Finally, one day I asked him his name, and he was SO happy to tell me. I wondered how many other people made the effort with him, since he was always so polite and kind. His smile really brightened our day, and we were really distressed when, on June 1, he suddenly wasn’t at his post! It was getting close to move out day, and finally, I asked another guard at the main gate where he was. “He’s there today,” was the response. I went to check, and sure enough, he was there. I said hello, and he was so sweet, saying, “Hello! I have missed you! I am happy to see you!” The girls had a special surprise after school that day when we were able to say goodbye to Chen Fun Lien.

A salute to Chen Fun Lien.
A salute to Chen Fun Lien.
We HAD to say goodbye!
We HAD to say goodbye!

Another person that we will always remember is our driver, Mr. Shi. There have been many miscommunications and misunderstandings, but there have also been many moments of connection. I made the effort to get to know him, and his family. He, in turn, took us to his family peach orchard in the Spring. We met his parents. The girls will miss him for sure. I was glad that he was the one to drive us in the Beijing traffic. I will look forward to driving myself in Raleigh!

Mr. Shi!
Mr. Shi!

Summer, my tutor. Summer was the first person that I could speak to about my cultural misunderstandings. She helped me with problems. She cooked dinner for me. We went to the fabric market. She loved my girls. My younger daughter learned a lot of Mandarin by listening in to my Monday afternoon lessons. She was encouraging and challenging and a wonderful teacher.

A goofy evening with Summer
A goofy evening with Summer

The flower seller outside DD’s market. In the cycle of a year, I watched this lady and her family bringing seasonal plants to the sidewalk. In the winter, they sold Christmas trees, and then were gone. I hoped she made enough money to last through those cold months. I wanted to start a Spring garden, but knowing we were moving, I only bought small container plants.

My flower lady
My flower lady

Ah, the tuk tuk. What fun this was! We were so grateful for it in the winter when we could zip to school. Its been in our subdivision for years, and will continue to be there for several more. I sold it to a teacher who lives there. What a handy way to get the groceries (or plants) home.

Not a face, but the tuk tuk needed a mention.
Not a face, but the tuk tuk needed a mention.

A fuzzy face to remember China:
DSCN0026

The Ayi. What a relief to have someone to take care of the household with all the illnesses that went through our home. I could take care of the children and myself, and she kept the laundry going and cooked dinner. She really helped make everything run more smoothly. I did have my moments with her…it seemed that every other month I was unsure about her. Each monday, I would go through drawers, returning clothes to the proper owner. For some reason, she couldn’t understand the western sizes. My linen closet, however, never looked so good. She made really good dumplings too!

Wu Ayi, making dinner.
Wu Ayi, making dinner.

I had to throw in this picture to remind me of my Beijing flowers. The roses thrive here. As do peonies. Bouquets of fresh flowers that were a fraction of the price of an arrangement in the US. The peach blossoms! Dried pussy willows. Lavender. Lush orchids, bamboo, peace lilies. So gorgeous and fragrant.

My Spring peonies.
My Spring peonies.

Here is the man that handled all of my outgoing mail and packages. At first, I was REALLY hesitant to send out packages. But really, only once did a package come back to me. We chit chatted and I practiced my country names in Mandarin and my number words. He saw every item I mailed out as gifts. Everything ended up being re-packaged, as it had to be in his boxes. So here he is.

The man at the mail center.
The man at the mail center.

We grew to LOVE sushi this year. This is the chef at our clubhouse teppanyaki restaurant. He cooks at the table, so he got to know our preferences pretty well. He was fun to watch and put together a great meal.

The chef at our favorite teppanyaki restaurant.
The chef at our favorite teppanyaki restaurant.

Another person that I must mention is the gardener that worked in my area of the compound. I don’t know his name, and I wasn’t able to get a photo of his face. We always greeted each other, and he was the one that I communicated with and who coordinated the tilling and planting of grass in our little square of a backyard. In turn, he was able to come use my bicycle pump anytime he had a flat tire on his bike cart. I think he spread the word about that, because one day some random young man showed up and asked for it. No problem. “Mei guanxi”.

Other things that I will miss:
Being able to call the spa and get a massage appointment in an hour. $40 massage. Divine.
30 minute scalp massage included with haircuts. Wow. I will be speaking with my US hair salon about starting this!
Biking to school. We all loved this. At the end of the year, Hollis was so proud to be able to ride her balance bike to school.
Sun parasols. You will see me using mine in Raleigh, for sure. I don’t know why it isn’t more popular in the West!
Excellent Asian food. I’ll be looking for Black Fungus with walnuts and Sichuan Bean Curd (tofu) on the menus in Raleigh…I don’t know if I’ll find it….My older daughter will be looking for roast duck and bok choy, and my younger daughter really likes fried rice. I’ll learn to make my own Shumai.
The markets. I’m scared to see what things cost in the US. The real price is about 1/10th of what we pay. Even when I haggled at the markets, I know the locals could get things even cheaper. As I westerner, I paid more.
Exploring the sites. The history of China is amazing. I will have to come back to see and explore more!
Learning and speaking Mandarin. I really enjoyed learning Mandarin, and I think that if I had more locals to practice with, it would have been better.
Asian fruits. I tried the dragon fruit, the pomelo, the custard apple, the lychee, and more. All delicious.
Green tea. My favorite is jasmine, but I also like pu ‘er with citrus in the winter.
The people. Fascinated by children, blond hair, blue eyes and foreigners. I wish I had photographed more young children and elderly folk. There have been some personalities for sure!

Zaijian!

My Chinese Cooking Adventure

That is a HUGE knife!
That is a HUGE knife!

I’ve been wanting to take a cooking class for awhile, and was thrilled when a new cooking school recently opened up down the road in Shunyi! (88 Shun Huang Beilu) I went with a small group of women to learn how to make three dishes. We were able to make requests, and the chef made us fried caramelized apples for dessert.

Chinese Cooking Adventure in Shunyi, Beijing
Chinese Cooking Adventure in Shunyi, Beijing

The first thing that Chef Wang showed us how to do was to appropriately cut a zucchini for our Vegetable Shumai. It is SO important to curve your fingers, otherwise, you’ll be headed to the hospital for a finger re-attachment surgery! Chef also explained that when you properly cut vegetables, the flavors are released in the best way and the meal tastes better. Hmmm, maybe I need to work on that!

DSCN0597

The appropriate way to use this knife to chop zucchini.
The appropriate way to use this knife to chop zucchini.

Here are all the ingredients chopped and ready to go in the Vegetable Shumai. Delish! Black Fungus, egg, zucchini, green onion.

DSCN0605

Chinese chefs really use minimal cooking implements. Chopsticks work just fine for cooking, stirring, and eating!

DSCN0607

Using your palm to roll out the dough for the shumai. These small rolling pins are great!

DSCN0608

Make a flower shape with the rolled out dough in your hand, add the filling ingredients, and keep turning it around to seal it up.

DSCN0610

Here are my shumai, ready to go in the steamer.

DSCN0611

Now, Chef demonstrates his ability in slicing a round eggplant with the big knife! I didn’t attempt that one.

DSCN0618

Here are my ingredients, that I chopped and have ready for Fish Flavor Eggplant.

DSCN0621

Next, we learn how to make Fish Flavored Tofu, which uses this type of Japanese tofu, sold in tubes.
It has a nice flavor and texture, that is different from the white tofu sold in blocks.

DSCN0622

DSCN0623

Here are the Vegetable Shumai, just out of the steamer! We added shrimp to them about 3 minutes before completion. They were delicious! I have to admit that I ate them all!

DSCN0626

My tray of cooking spices for Fish Flavor Eggplant and Tofu. These dishes are Sichuan, which is quite spicy. The flavor can be adjusted.

DSCN0630

I cooked this! Deliciously spicy Fish Flavor Eggplant.
DSCN0633

Here’s the dessert that Chef Wang cooked up for us in the wok. Fried Apples with caramelized sugar and sesame drizzled over them. These were so sticky and delicious. Thank you Chef Wang and Chinese Cooking Adventure! I wish I was here longer to take more classes!

DSCN0640

http://www.chinesecookingadventure.com

The Terracotta Army at Xian

Our time in China is really winding down. We only have five nights left in our townhouse and thirteen total until we fly home. We managed to make the quickest trip to Xian this week, taking the “fast train” 5 1/2 hours south. We travelled an average of 310 km an hour, or 192 miles an hour. This train was the opposite of the slow train we took to Datong. It was quiet, we had a row of seats to ourselves, and there were tv screens on the ceiling which showed a variety of things, including a panda documentary. The toilets were sit down instead of squat, and basically reminded me of an airplane bathroom. An ayi would come by every hour to mop the aisles and sweep under our feet, which was reassuring. It was temperature regulated, which was a really nice thing considering it was close to 100 degrees outside. We spent one night in Xian, leaving a morning to tour and then hopped back on the train to Beijing. We hired an English speaking tour guide and van to take us out to the site, about 1 hour outside of town.

Image

 

The story behind these warriors is that the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, 210-109 BCE, had these 8,000 warriors made to protect him in the afterlife. They were discovered in the mid 1970’s when farmers digging a well found terra-cotta fragments. The soldiers are all different, and there are differing ranks among the men. There were wooden chariots as well as wooden weapons, but those have since disintegrated. They are housed in multiple “pits”. The exterior of the largest is pictured below. The emperors tomb was built in a pyramid shape with multiple entrances and wall boundaries. We only visited the main site.

Image

 

The most impressive pit.
The most impressive pit.

When you first walk in the huge terminal, it is really just amazing to see this army of protectors facing you. Years of meticulous archeology has restored many of the men to their original state. The work is still going on, as we witnessed in Pit 1.

Cleaning and repairing is still going on.
Cleaning and repairing is still going on.

In another of the pits, the work has not even begun, and there are thousands of soldiers broken and buried under collapsed wooden roof beams.

DSCN0708

The deeper pit.
The deeper pit.

In the third pit that we visited, our guide explained that this was one of great moral importance. The soldiers were buried even deeper, and faced each other. There were terra-cotta horses in this pit. The closer to the emperors tomb, the deeper the pits were.

FSCN0733

A seated archer.
A seated archer.
Detail of the back of the archer.
Detail of the back of the archer.
Evidence of a wooden chariot.
Evidence of a wooden chariot.

 

To market, to market…

Last week I went into town to go to the Sanyuanli Market. On a good traffic day, its about 20 minutes from my house. I really enjoy going to the market. I love picking out the stand where I will shop, discussing prices, browsing, and people watching. The first time I went to this market was with my friend  Julie, and our little girls. The vendors loved seeing the girls, and they were given little tidbits of fruit, here and there. Lychees were a favorite.

Image
A little girl (complete with Angry bird sandals) helping her mom at work.

Prices really are better at this market, and I’m sure they are EVEN better if you are a local! This is what I bought for around $35:

8 bananas (from China)

3 avocado

1 large papaya

1 large zucchini-like fruit to try

garlic

500g bok choy

1 head broccoli

2 zucchini

2 bunches spinach

1 bunch asparagus

2 packages of mushrooms

1 small jar of kewpie mayonnaise

1 jar of peanut butter (imported)

500g almonds

500g large blossoming jasmine tea

The fruit vendors are at the front, then you have the nut/dried fruit and tea vendors. Then some random grocery vendors. Next is the raw meat. Its quite warm this week, and being a vegetarian, I just walked through this section quickly. Next is the fish, and then the dumplings and noodles. Then come the vegetables. In the back are a couple vendors who sell housewares and shoes. There is also a tailor in the back. So really, you could buy your food, buy your skillet, have your dress made, and buy some shoes for your husband, all in one stop.

If you go out the back door, there is a nice lady in the street who sells fruit. She showed me this long green fruit that looked like a cucumber or zucchini. It tastes like a cross between a cantaloupe and a honey dew melon, but not quite as sweet.

On my way back to the front, I stopped at a tea vendor. She had some really nice smelling jasmine blossom tea. She also let me try a cold tea made from Hibiscus, Hawthorne, Stevia leaf (!), licorice, and lemongrass. It was really good! Definitely something to bring back to North Carolina to sip on my porch.

Here are pictures of the different sections:

Image

 

 

This is the section I walk through quickly.
This is the section I walk through quickly.
The Mushroom Lady
The Mushroom Lady

 

The best tea lady.
The Nut Vendor