Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can you hear me now?

This photo (with blue tint added to the sky for the sake of contrast; in reality it was a slate gray sky and pretty monotonous to look at, so please forgive our diddling with reality) was intended to capture the prolific display of television aerials scattered across this Beijing housing community. Note the cluster of satellite dishes toward the right-hand side of the photo. We're guessing cable TV hasn't arrived to this part of town yet. Although many parts of Beijing look as modern as any city in America, walking through neighborhoods where the "middle class" lives makes it clear that there is a LOT of basic infrastructure that we Americans take for granted (such as bathrooms in one's own home; the residents of the neighborhood pictured here must use public toilets).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kitty Monday and Quinn! (updated)

We know we missed kitty Friday, but since its Matt's birthday (well, tomorrow) and he put in the original request for kitty updates, we decided to go with Kitty Monday!

You may recall that one of our guests was 2 year old Quinn. Well, Quinn likes those cool interactive toys and made very nice with Cyrano. For our part, we were relieved to see that Cyrano also played nice with Quinn.

In a related note, Quinn's mom Sarah brought the pecan and pumpkin pies. (Also good for breakfast!)

Our other delicious desserts included

  • Two chocolate cakes with a banana pudding frosting courtesy of Natalie
  • A nut bread from Bec
  • Berry flavored and chocolate flavored homemade ice cream from Josh

You were right Niki, we can talk about the desserts and the kitties :)

We received some notes that the video was not working. We think this is fixed now.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Traditional Thanksgiving Samosas

In case you were not able to figure it out from the title, we are going with Thanksgiving menu for today's posting.

Now, it maybe that you have never heard of an Indian flavored Thanksgiving meals, but just talk to Michael and he can tell you all about it :)
(Before continuing we wish to clear up a possible mix up that might exist in your mind. Indian, as used in this blog refers to the food from the country of India and not to Native American cuisine, although the second option does seem appropriate for this holiday.)

So the run down:
Appetizers - nuts in their shells and fruits which included:
  • Roasted walnuts still in the shell - a startling delicious option that we bought purely by accident. If you have never had roasted walnut you should try them.
  • Hazelnuts - adequate but not be a repeat performer next year
  • Pistachios - a sure winner everywhere you go
  • Longans - a fruit with a tough outer skin that makes them look like a nut. They are about the size of a large red grape and have a gelatinous pale flesh around a hard stone. Very fun
  • Dried hawthorn bits
  • Dried figs - mmmmm


  • Fresh baked bread (of course)
  • Middle Eastern Squash and Couscous Soup which we made with pumpkins, rice, and lotus roots (which stay crunchy even in soup) - thanks Pam!
  • A HUGE turkey - We ordered a 14 pound bird but the folks at the embassy food locker who brought in turkeys apparently decided that bigger is better and we ended up with something around 22 lbs. It was by shear force of will and extraordinary use of his amazing mental powers that Michael was able to squeeze the thing into the oven. The fact that it actually came out tasty was simply astounding.
  • Turkey gravy in a real gravy boat!
  • Hawthorn chutney because you can not get cranberries in Beijing. Just in case you were thinking of trying it, it turns out that jujubes do not work in chutneys at all which was surprising since they make such a popular candy!
  • Ganbian sijidou (Dry-fried Green Beans) - This is actually a Chinese dish, but its one of our favorites though we had Li Ayi make the none pork option.
  • Palak with egg tofu - Li Ayi pointed out to Michael that this dish is usually made with a very soft cheese called paneer. But paneer is hard to come by so we asked her to make it with the tofu instead. She said that was okay since some Indian people like it that way also. Phew, close call.
  • Samosas - after all, they have potatoes in them :)
  • Mango chutney - cause you need it for the samosas
  • Mashed potatoes (from Chip and Sarah because otherwise it just would not be Thanksgiving)
  • Sweet potatoes with a brown sugar/apple crusty topping because Josh could not find marshmallows to put on top (Josh's comment about why we needed this dish was surprisingly similar to Chip and Sarah's comment above.)
  • Salad with those fresh greens from those monks. We also added some feta cheese which is a treat.

Dessert - well, there is a lot more to add to this, so desserts will just have to wait for another day. We can tell you that they were good enough that we both had double servings of pie today :)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mmmm... Tryptophan*

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
The cast starting at the bottom left of the table
(and we have included how we met them)
Cara is taking the photo
Quinn (work)
Sarah (work)
Adam (Natalie's friend)
Natalie (synagogue)
Jonathon (synagogue)
Philip (Frank's friend)
Sean (Natalie's friend)
Bec (synagogue)
Frank (work)
Chip (work)
Kim (work)
Josh (work)

Tomorrow - The menu!
(or maybe silly kitties - we'll have to see)

*tryptophan Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is that really necessary?

When Ben was staying at his hotel in Beijing, this one of the things he found in his closet. It was about the size of a shoe box.

Doesn't exactly give you a warm fuzzy does it? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let me take care of that child for you

We have mentioned before about how complete strangers will help care for small children, whether or not you want them to. Well, when we were out for dinner the other night, we were able to acquire proof of this phenomenon. Our group was comprised of 5 adults and one small 2-year-old child. We managed to hold the wait staff at bay until about 3/4 through the meal when the little guy was trying desperately to get out of his seat and we did not attend him quickly enough. One of waitresses saw the opening in our line of defense and moved in. She quickly had Quinn (the little guy) distracted by talking to him and washing his hands. (Check out the first picture.)
Then she helped him out of his seat and took him over to the stage where the night’s show had not yet started and encouraged him to not only run around, but maybe try to use the sound equipment. We were not so sure this was a great idea, but hey – who were we to stop her?

Eventually she got called away (maybe to wait on one of her tables) but that was okay, because the rest of the wait staff was happy to pick up where she left out. You can see the waitress in the last picture is not the same one as the woman in the first 3 pictures.

What we didn't get, was a picture of the 6 men at the table next to us who tried to play with Quinn all through their meal. This was particularly shocking as Quinn was being a little fussy and yet every time he made a loud noise, the men would try tickling his feet or hands or otherwise distracting him. They were quite enthralled as opposed to a similar situation in the States where they would have shot us dirty looks and made snide comments under their breath.

This is definitely a culture that values community! Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chinese chopper copies a clone

So here's the odd progression from American iron to the streets of Beijing: Harley-Davidson made bank on a motorcycle image, and then Honda copied the basic design and named it the "American Classic Edition" of the Honda Shadow. Now, some Chinese company has decided to copy the copy of the original, as their version even mimicks Honda's gas tank logo. Too funny. Note that the Chinese motorcycle, however, only has one cylinder. We're not sure why it is, but the vast majority of motorcycles in Beijing only have one cylinder. Those that have two cylinders are typically lugging a sidecar and are therefore three-wheeled vehicles. We suspect that this might be a regulation of some kind, though we've seen at least four tricked-out Harleys (with full V-twin motors) here in town, so if there's a rule, there's also an exception (or four).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Guests at the Airport - Also called Bye Bye Ben

Despite our best efforts, Ben did make it to the airport today and headed back to the states.

It is just as well too, because it turned out that we were slowly killing him through the devious and difficult to thwart method of cat. That's right, Ben was very, very allergic to our dear kitties. The kitties were most apologetic for causing such a reaction and constantly tried to make it up to Ben by following him around the house and trying to climb into his lap at every possible opportunity.

While we don't have a picture of the kitties stalking Ben, we do have this video clip of the kitties. We wanted to show you the kitties in action, so we were trying to catch them chasing after the hair elastics they love so much. That didn't work so well, but before we could turn off the camera, Cyrano randomly went into action. Crazy spaz cat.

We tried to imbed the clip into this blog below but if that doesn't work, you can find the clip here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Guests at the Beijing City Planning Center

So today Ben and Cara (really I do work sometimes, I swear) checked out the Beijing City Planning Center (BCPC) whose primary claim to fame is a model of the city of Beijing as planned by the year 2008. This picture shows the apartments where we live and also shows all the buildings people are planning on building around us. (We live in the very tiny looking matching towers about midway down on the left hand side of the image.) To give you a sense of scale (which according to Ben is universally lacking in all Beijing maps):

Actual size - our apartment buildings are about 30 stories tall
BCPC model - our apartment buildings are about 4 inches tall

This model has an entire section of the building devoted to it.

To round out the day, we also went and got Ben his first massage. Sadly no photos were taken to commemorate the event.
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Guests at the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is something that every tourist must see, so today Ben and Cara went looking for it. The directions were terrible, the signs were in Chinese, and the maps were non-existent, but eventually we made it to a really spectacular section of the wall and it was all worth while. What made today an especially nice wall visit was
a) The company (i.e. Ben the guest)
b) The absolutely glorious Beijing weather that is continuing in spite of everything that we have claimed about it being terrible in the past
c) The fact that we went to a section of the wall that is so difficult to get to there are NO OTHER TOURISTS and NO VENDORS. If you have never visited China's Great Wall you may not appreciate this last aspect enough, but trust us, it is a VERY big deal.

This is a shot of the section of the wall to which we decided to climb.

This is us on the wall (in case that was not obvious). You may notice that we are trying to direct your attention to the magnificent wall stretching out behind us.

This section of the wall is not restored so there are many trees trying to reclaim it as there own. This picture is of the top of the wall as we walked along it.

And the top of the nearest guard house in this picture is where we ate lunch while enjoying the scenery. What a great day! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Guests at the Temple of Heaven

That's right - someone was foolish enough to come out and stay with us even after Mari's warnings from way back in the spring. Actually Ben came out here for a conference and we are just sort of an added delightful bonus :)

Today, Cara left work early and went and visited the Temple of Heaven with Ben. (If you look very carefully, you can see Ben in front of the building in the first shot.)
Given that we have a lot on the slate for tomorrow and need to get to bed in order to be up for it all (especially those tiring foot massages), there won't be a lot of commentary about the Temple of Heaven park right now, but we will include a few shots of the inside of the building.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what the cows are all about. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 13, 2006

If the One Child Policy didn't convince you to get neutered, perhaps this bus sign will give you that nudge you need...

This photo was taken of a sign at a bus stop in downtown Beijing. Onceupon a time, Westerners painted a picture of Asians as inscrutably subtle in their expressions. It turns out 57 years of merciless propaganda campaigns and Communist Party sloganizing has pretty much beaten Chinese subtlety to death.

Curious, we checked out their website (listed on a part of the sign not pictured here), and discovered that it isn't just a place to unplug your babymaker, it's a fertility clinic that happens to do quite a bit of business helping locals comply with China's mandated birth control program.

For those of you who have checked out their website from the link providing in this blog post, the English looks a little funny because it was done automagically by Google, rather than by a human translator.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Chinese math

Our good friends Will and Olivia asked us if we wouldn't mind sharing a professionally-cooked meal with them and two of their friends. The catch? We has to let the chef use our kitchen to prepare the food. What a deal! Naturally, after wiping the drool from our chins, we agreed to offer up our pad for the party.

Here's where the Chinese math comes in to play: the meal was a set deal, dinner for six. Unsurprisingly, Will and Olivia organized a group of six hungry people to sit down and enjoy this meal. As you can see from the photo, however, there was enough food to easily feed ten half-starved teenagers, let alone six normally-metabolic adults.

You will note that there are seven dishes laid out: rice with vegetables, sweet-and-sour chicken, seasoned flank steak, braised fish, stewed lamb ribs with potatoes and onoins, egg-battered tofu, and steamed vegetables. You will also note that this photo was taken after everyone had eaten through their first servings. By the way, the chef whipped all this stuff out in under four hours, including time spent cleaning the kitchen after he finished; not only that, but he brought everything he needed to create this spread in two small handbags). The guy was a machine, and clearly has an enviable work efficiency in the kitchen. We were suitably awed and hope to match his performance after another twenty or thirty years of practice. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Christmas or Sino-African Summit?

About 2 weeks ago while coming home from work, Cara noticed that the local municipality had put up their Christmas trees and lights.

Even though we definitely noticed how much Beijing liked dressing up the city for Christmas last year, the last week of October still seems kind of early.

Turns out all the lights and tree decorations were for the China-African summit. And the lights and such were pretty easy to enjoy since all factory work inside the 5th ring rode was shut down to help make the weather clearer. (While this seems very likely and we had it from a good source who shall remain nameless, unfortunately we cannot find a collaborating source to which to direct you.) It was perhaps the nicest two week period that we have ever seen here - especially this time of year.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

css posting

So China has once again decided that Blogger is bad for the common good and has re-blocked not only blogspot viewings, which means we once again can't view what we post, but also blogspot postings which means we can't even log on to let you know what we are doing. This is new. We tried to send you our exciting life story by email, but that was rejected. So now we are using a sophisticated proxy (Cara's mom) just to help us put up this one post so that we might explain our absence. We apologize of any inconvenience.

Friday, November 03, 2006

As requested - Kitty Friday!

We had no idea that Roxanne was so exercise conscientious, but it turns out that use of the home gym is very important to her and she tries to get in at least 30 minutes on it every day.

Exhibit A: Home Gym

Exhibit B: Roxanne on the home gym (as stated above)

Exhibit C: Not content with a single exercise, Roxanne tries to use at least a few different features of the gym equipment.

Exhibit D: And this is the result.

Sure she looks cute and fuzzy and soft but its all a ruse to cover up her 6 pack abs and mad clawing capabilities!

(ps - mom, i'm really sorry but i just can't make her eyes blue like they are in real life. Maybe next time.) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 02, 2006

We mentioned before that we are now getting vegetables every week from some Buddhists with some green thumbs and a few green houses to go with them. One of the fun things with the vegetable delivery service is that the Buddhists simply give you a selection of whatever happen to ripen that week so not only are we getting a nice selection of really fresh vegetables, we are also receiving a selection of things that we would probably never think to buy on our own. In the last batch we got a red winter radish (which is actually white and green on the outside), some wee little white radishes and these teeny tiny green bell peppers. We only managed to catch the bell peppers in a picture because the other items were cooked and consumed before we could round them up for a group photo – they’re really quick these fresh veggies. One of the other nice things is that the growers deliver a list (in Chinese AND English) of all the vegetables that they grow along with the bag of assorted stuff. This list really helps in the identification process. Just goes to show, these Buddhists are really thoughtful and considerate folks. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Trick or treat? Where do you think you are?

Ah, yes. Hallowe'en. That magical holiday of monsters, mayhem, and enough candy to make every 7-year-old in America thoroughly ill. And that, dear readers, is where we run into a little problem. No, not the getting sick part. The "in America" part. Hallowe'en isn't exactly a widely-observed festival. In Beijing, it is only observed in small pockets of houses out in the suburbs, in places that have an unusually high number of American families.

We went out to just such a suburb in time to watch some brave bands of trick-or-treaters making their rounds, when we were struck by the true horror of it all: these poor kids were being handed a lot of Chinese candy. Oh, sure, a few dedicated families went through the trouble to track down candy bars and the like, but - tragically - the huge shipment of Hallowe'en candy that was due to arrive for sale at the U.S. Embassy's AEA Locker store got held up in Chinese customs and hasn't been approved for entry into the country as of this writing. The result is that a number of families in Beijing were forced to (gasp!) buy candy on the local economy.

Normally, we're all in favor of pumping money into the cash-strapped Chinese economy. But if you've ever had Chinese candy, we think you will agree with us that it is more trick than treat.

On the bright side, the end result (or so we've been told) is that kids tend to not eat all of their haul in the first 48 hours after trick-or-treating. One parent even told us that she found candy still sitting in the bottom of her daughter's collection bag when she dug it out of the closet for this year's event.

For those of you who don't understand how any country can produce 1.3 billion people without a single great candy bar to show for it, we wish to point out that while Chinese cooks recognize sugar and salt, they aren't particularly comfortable using them in concert. Thus, Chinese sweets tend to have no salt whatsoever, an imbalance that renders the final confection (or cake, or whatever) sweet without being remotely satisfying.

So, Happy Hallowe'en to all you back in the 'States; and while we'll gladly remind you that October is indeed the finest month of the year in which to visit Beijing, you might want to schedule yourself to be back in the safe cocoon of candy coma that is America by the end of the month. Until next time, then, good night and sweet dreams.