Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Language Update

Michael is still a full time language student and Cara is taking 9 hours a week.

Michael is now capable of taking about the current economic conditions within China and the possible impact of Schwarzenegger's visit to China.

Cara can now ask for your name, birthday, and what you like to eat and drink. It is quite exciting to hold a conversation with her right now. As an interesting counterpoint, her English is getting worse. This is probably to make more room for the Chinese.
This exciting sentence says, "today I went to the 'bridge' school."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More From Coal Park

Remember that squirbit (the freaky squirrel/rabbit combo) a few days ago? These pictures were taken at the same park. Inside the west gate there was a large paved area with Chinese music playing. Most of the people were doing a synchronized dance (think Macarena but much more stylish). Around the edges there were couples doing their own dances.

We have come across this before. After dinner one night we walked by the People's Liberation Army Theater (I am not making that name up) and there was a stereo out on the side walk and about 4 middle aged couples dancing. It seems to be quite the thing to do.

These are persimmon trees with lots of ripe persimmons hanging from the branches. When they become overly ripe, the suckers just fall off, smack onto the ground with a very moist sound, and sort of explode all over the place. They become very soft when fully ripe, with a texture similar to pudding. We have one in the fridge right now. A ripe persimmon, that is; not one that fell off a tree and splattered all over the ground. Those ones are not so good for eating, though it is possible squirbits would take exception. Assuming we become motivated, a picture of that persimmon will be added to this site :)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

More From This Weekend

Starting with Michael and Cara in the back and going clockwise around the table, these are the names of our guests in the picture in yesterday's blog:
Paul, Natalie (who can also be seen in such blogs as forbidden-city), Patty, Yasmin, Gwynne, Jenny, and Anthony.
Please excuse any misspellings
As fellow cooks of the great feast, Jenny and Anthony will henceforth be referred to as J&A

Dinner menu (the picture of the table is actually from J&A's camera):
- Deep Fried Turkey (see J&A's page for some great action shots of Anthony out on our balcony with his brand new Chinese frialator. This is a very serious fryer, which held a full turkey along with over 32 liters of oil.)
- Roasted Chicken
- Mashed sweet potatoes made from hot sweet potatoes bought from the street vendors. This was J&A's very ingenious solution to 'how does one cook a potato when one has no oven?
- Squash cooked by using our bamboo steamers for the first time (they worked like a champ)
- Hawthorn berry sauce to replace cranberry sauce since there are no cranberries here. We know one family that 'smuggles' cranberries into China every time they fly back from the states in the fall. That family is clearly going overboard though because the hawthorn berry substitution was quite acceptable. We don't know how it even occurred to J&A to make such a dish, but it turned out great!
- Challah - our first loaves made from a wedding shower recipe. You can't tell from the picture, but the recipe made 2 HUGE loaves. The one in the picture is taking up most of a 19-inch cutting board. While the dinner group made it most of the way through the first loaf, the second loaf was turned into french toast, sandwiches, croutons and bread crumbs.
- Koogle made with fresh pineapple cut up by Michael and using cinnamon grated from the sticks as required. Michael didn't know that koogle was a critical part of any holiday meal, but Cara, Jenny, and Natalie straightened him out.
- Green Beans and Snap Peas with Garlic
- Apple Crisp
We ended up passing on the cookies because everyone claimed they were stuffed, which was of course an appropriate Thanksgiving response.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Thanks to everyone who dropped us a note to say Happy Thanksgiving! We had a few people over to our place yesterday :)
More pictures and food stories will be coming!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Met this little guy at a Jingshan or Coal Park
Is it a squirrel? a rabbit? some hybrid monster ready to take over the world one park at a time? (No big fangs yet.) You decide.
Michael suggests that maybe these squirrels are the first "broadband-enabled" mammals, using their enlarged ears to tune into and surf wireless networks. Either that or it's the latest trend in squirrel fashion, the oft-lamented "ear extensions."

More Guests!

When we first came to China, we thought it would be a while before we saw folks from back home. But this last weekend, we saw another couple from the states!

Judy and Peter just happened to be in Beijing as part of a tour. They found out we were in Beijing just 2 weeks before they came! It was great seeing them and checking out a new (to us) Sichuan (see: very hot) restaurant that Michael wanted to try. It also turned out to be Judy's birthday! Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Signs of Our Times

This sign shows that even though China no longer officially practices footbinding, unbound feet are not welcome in their parks. You will note in the background a bare spot in the grass that happens to be in the shape of a shoeprint, indicating that the Chinese visitors to this park take their signs seriously.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Wave of the Future

Michael is sitting next to me as I type this reading a Star Treck novel on his Palm PDA. Michael thinks it mildly ironic that his budget-level PDA is sleeker than half the technology contained in the sci-fi world of Star Trek.

The cool thing is that eReader automatically bookmarks the last page read, so that upon opening eReader it automatically opens to the correct page.

We are feeling all kinds of high tech.

Maj Jong

Michael found this hand-made maj jongg set at an open market this weekend. Cara has been looking for a set that would be different from the ones she can find back home, and this fits the bill perfectly.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Grocery Shopping

For tonight's dinner we needed some lemon juice and some bok choy. The lemon juice cost 17 kuai, about 2 bucks. The tender, young, fresh bok choy cost 1 kuai, about 13 cents.

We were even prepared to bargain for the bok choy, especially when the vendor put waaay more in the bag then we needed. Apparently she was just trying to sell us enough so she could get away with charging us 1 whole kuai.

We decided not to try to bargain down.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rules to Live By

Michael has found that while China certainly has more rules and regulations than the free-swingin' U.S. of A., they have done foreigners the favor of using signs to communicate these restrictions without having to rely on lots of crazy Chinese characters.
For example, this sign to the left - seen at the entrance to a nice park on the east side of town, reminds visitors that invading China is against the law here, especially in public parks.

And, just to make the point abundantly clear, a park on the north side of Beijing reminds visitors to leave sniper rifles and bayonets at home with this sign:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Clever Names

This is a sign I came across on Gouzijian jie (a street in north Beijing). While it was a busy street, it was not a particularly foreign heavy street, so this was especially surprising.
he he

Now if I can find one that says 'Waiting for Guffman' I'll really be impressed.


This is a sign for special olympics. Signs just like it are up in all the subway stations.
I didn't even know that Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke Chinese.
You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Great Wall

When Joy and Harvey the other week, I joined them on a trip to a nearby section of the great wall. Do you see the high bit in the center-top of the picture on the left? We had just walked from up there. The unevenness of the step spacing was surprising and made for some slow going, but now we can say, "I climbed the great wall!" Well... part of it at least.
The picture on the right is the view from the tower at the high-center of the left-hand side picture.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Beijing Colds and New Soups

One of the lovely things with having so much pollution in this city, is that it allows everyone who lives here for any length of time to develop a really impressive cough. Cara was granted hers last Saturday when the 'air' was so thick we thought the rest of the world had been teleported away. Cara's cough managed to develop into a interesting cough/hack. She is doing much better now because she was able to pass the nasty thing off to Michael.

To help recover from this fun Beijing right of passage, we made another soup tonight. This one, called Galilee Spinach Soup, is from The Foods of Israel Today and is very simple and soothing.

The good news is that while everyone seems to get a cough within their first few months of living here, it rarely lasts more than 6 months.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Gwyneth and Craig were in Beijing this weekend. We were able to get together for dinner and introduce them to the Beijing subway system. (no problem)

Why were they in China? Because they are adopting a little girl. Today they should have met their daughter in person. Yay!

Friday, November 11, 2005

More Stuff!

Cara's stuff from the US arrived Friday!
Now we just need to figure out where to put everything.

Dinner almost looks like the picture

We made Baozi for dinner. You can use many different meats for the stuffing, we used beef with spices. These are actually pretty close to how they look in the book amazingly enough. Well, maybe not an exact match, but close enough that we could recognize it as the same food! And they tasted great! Watch out for the pressurized juice in the center though. It turns out that juice can travel upwards of 12 inches and while it didn't damage the table, it did scare Michael a little.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


There are not a lot of baked good in China. 'Ovens' are a relatively new item. Traditionally all cooking was done over a flame which meant using a wok for frying or adding water to a wok and then steaming food. Now, while steaming does cook bread, it gives it a very thick, doughy, denseness. It is possible to buy baked bread, (there are even bakeries with cakes!) but there are not quite the options we are familiar with. Anything other than sliced white bread is a lost cause.

I bought this bread yesterday. A normal loaf, right? Almost - but it turns out it has a jam/raisin center. Yummy surprise.

Grocery Shopping (Rated PG)

It was surprising at first how much the stores here in Beijing are so much like the stores in the US. We often go to Century Mart, about a 20 minute walk away. Think Super Walmart. While that image in not exactly reassuring, most of the things you need can be found somewhere in the store. On the other hand, there are some things you just don't see back in the states.
In case you were wondering, this second picture is of goose parts.
And we're not even getting into the live fish corner.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dong Yue Mio - Daoist Temple

Layout of the (still active) temple.

This is a temple devoted to the worship of Taishan, the Great Mountain, and was intended for all the people. Taishan is a deity that presides over all the other daoist gods (see below).

You see this giant abacus when you walk in. Its about 4 feet tall. It is suppose to "warn those who enter that they would be judged."

These cool beasties are water dragons and usually found on the roof of buildings. All the old buildings were made from very flammable materials (go figure, rice paper and woods burns waaay easy) and prone to fires on a pretty regular basis. In addition to lots of big water containers (we're talking 4 person hot-tub size), water dragons were put on building roofs to ward off fires.

He he
This one is for Molly and Kristi.

As much as these may look like large turtles, they are in fact very squat, round, and shelled dragons. They would have made some really cool looking turtles. Aw well.

But the real meat of this stop are all the little temples and 72(!) cubicles with plaster figurines representing the 73 Chiefs of Departments (all of which are gods) and at least 5 or more figurines of some of the folks they control, rule, watch, reward, or punish. There were also rooms for the 18 Layers of Hell. The figurines go from 2 stories high to slightly smaller than real life. I'm sorry there are no pictures of the figures themselves, but they are still being used as active religious artifacts and there are signs requesting no photographs be taken. They were pretty wild though, and the monsters were downright scary.

Here are just a few of the departments
Department of Flying Birds
Department of Opposing Obscene Acts
Department of Controlling Bullying
Department of Resurrection
Department of Accumulation of Justifiable Wealth
Department of Raising Descendants
Department of Petty-Officials
Department of Monsters, of Hell, for Implementing Fifteen Kinds of Violent Death.

Just to give you an idea, this is a picture of the plaque from the Department of Promotion of 15 Kinds of Decent Life Style.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Soup Success

As you may have noticed, we have been trying lots of different meals. On this particular night we were feeling pretty industrious so we cooked Teriyaki Beef with Rainbow Vegetables from Everybody's Wokking and Curried Potato Soup from Soup: A Kosher Collection. The teriyaki came out pretty well although the beef was way tough. And really, how bad can teriyaki be? The more enjoyable piece of dinner was the lovely soup. While we are personal fans of the author, we believe we are being impartial to say this turned out really well (though Michael confesses to adding a dollop of Sechuan pepper paste to his bowl). Thanks Pam!

Today's Park

From Cara's keyboard
This is where I went to read my new book today. (More about the book later.) I left shortly after the kids left because the sun was no longer shining on my bench and it was getting too cold. FYI, that was at 3:45pm.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Shabbat Shalom

We lit Shabbat candles in our home for the first time last night. Usually we light them at the Friday night service with Kehillat Beijing.
It was a very special event.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sacred Way

This is the Shendao (spirit way) of 13 mausoleums of the Ming Dynasty. We did not look at the mausoleums here, we just enjoyed the walking path.

There were statues all along the path - officials from the court and beasties, both real and imaginary. Half are standing and half are sitting to show that they are on guard both day and night. Notice that the elephant legs bend the wrong way when they are sitting down. This is particularly confusing as there were elephants at court, so the artists should have known how to correctly sit an elephant.

The horse-ish body with the lion or maybe a wolf head and a single horn is a unicorn. (I didn't recognize it either.) The scaly creature with the 2 horns is a qilin or kylin, I think. There are conflicting accounts of what these things are.

There were also statues of officials from the court. They are very solemn.

Joy and Harvey from Florida were in town. They let me join them on the day's excursion with their tour group. This was the last stop for the day.

If you want some more details you can read this plaque.

A Word About Milk

Most ethnic Chinese are lactose intolerant, which means that milk, cheese, and butter are primarily consumed only by foreigners and, as such, particularly difficult to come by. We had some friends from Florida visiting town a few days ago and upon hearing of our dairy woes, they started pocketing every pat of butter they encountered - they were staying at a hotel that caters to Westerners and was flush with dairy products. We were unable to find their cows but we are certain they must have their own stock somewhere nearby. So now we have enough butter - in very convenient, single-pat portions - to last us until the cows come home. So to speak.
You can see here the windfall we scored, with the butter at the heart of it all.

This is how you say...

Cara started language classes today and is very excited! She was heard saying the following to Michael upon greeting him after class,
wo so happy kan ni!
Which, though an atrocious abuse of the languge, does translate into something resembling a sentance.*

It is a good thing the class started, because before today the most recent word that Cara learned was "da," which means to strike (or to use the hand) and it is used in the phrase, 'to beat to death'. We feel that Cara's new vocabulary options are much less aggressive when employed on the streets of Beijing.

*Key: wo = I, kan= see/read, ni= you