Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Birthday to Remember

A quick note to say we're safe and sound here in Jiangyin. Thankfully we didn't feel any of the earthquakes, nor was the area affected by the tsunami. Such a tragedy. I spent the day glued to CNN and the BBC for updates on the explosion at the nuclear reactor--certainly nerve-racking at times, considering our proximity now. I never imagined having to spend my birthday worried about such things when I woke up....but for now it seems like Japan is staving. off an even greater crisis.

On a much happier note, we're off to Shanghai tomorrow. It's our first time going in to the city. The goal is to buy a cello since I didn't bring mine with me. Can't wait to experience Shanghai!

p.s. yup--the photo from the last post was of water chestnuts....most of you who emailed me knew that....I was clueless when I saw them at the store!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's cookin?

My boss and co-workers gave me a fantastic Chinese cookbook as a going away gift.  I’ve already tried 4 recipes from it, and thought I’d share the winner so far. It’s just a stir-fry sauce, but we really like it and have made it twice so far—once with chicken, once vegetarian, and we think it’s better just with veggies. In fact, I think we’d eat it just sauce and noodles—the noodles here are so good! But it was a nice marinade for the chicken as well.

1 cup chicken stock
4 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (an amber-colored Chinese rice wine)
2 tsp light soy sauce (light in color, not light sodium. There’s an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to the many types of soy sauce!)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt (I skimped on this)
¼ tsp pepper

Here’s what I did: Heat peanut oil in wok until it begins to smoke. Add minced ginger until just golden. In this order, add carrots and broccoli, blanched bok choy, onions, peppers. When veggies are just about ready, add soybeans, snow peas, al dente egg noodles, and sauce.  The noodles will absorb most of the sauce in just a minute or two. YUM!

And for my BSO ladies who suggested I post pictures of bizarre foods for you all to guess, here goes. I’m starting with one I had no idea what it was in raw form, even though I’ve had this before. And now it’s sitting prepared in my fridge. In fact, as a hint, I could have added it to our stir-fry. Happy guessing!

An op ed by Brian on Chinese driving

The driving here is INSANE!  Pedestrians, bikes, scooters, buses, motorized bicycles and cars attempt to share the road but there are absolutely no rules. Red light? Just ride your scooter diagonally through the intersection. U-turn across 4 lanes of traffic? Why not? If you come to a traffic jam and the oncoming lane is free what do you do?  Go into the oncoming lane to pass it!  Does it matter if there’s a mile worth of traffic?  Nah, just keep going, dodging oncoming cars as you go!  What if there’s traffic in that lane too?  Well just go down the bike lane, they’ll move and if they don’t, well, you’re not responsible, you were avoiding traffic!  Pedestrians crossing the road slowing you down?  Not a problem, just honk your horn to give them fair warning that you’re coming through and then dodge them as come…  and best of all (they need to bring this to Boston), no on street parking?  No PROBLEM!  Just drive up onto the sidewalk, back right up to the door of the store where you want to go, and park.

After watching this from the back of cabs and shuttle busses on countless white knuckle rides, I was paranoid to cross ANY street or even walk more than like 2 feet from any wall (since I hoped cars didn’t drive through them too). Wandering through the park near the hotel, I came to a HUGE 4 way intersection with at least 8 lanes to cross in any direction and what do I see on the other side?  A mother walks with her 6 or 7 year-old son (she’s walking, he’s ahead skipping) to the corner of this giant intersection and then sort of waves him off and just walks off as he skips through the intersection, not a care for the cars weaving their way by him! 

He made it safely across.

I went back to the hotel to get a clean pair of pants!

It's a long one!

So, I didn’t plan well, and came to China already desperately in need of a haircut. It took me so long to find a stylist in Boston that I liked, that I was really nervous about having someone I’m not yet capable of communicating with, cut my hair. Three days in a row Brian left for work with me telling him “I’m going to get a haircut today!” Finally, I walked two doors down, armed with a picture of the haircut I wanted and took the plunge.  I’ll admit, the first 30 minutes I was really scared after the young guy with the beginnings of Howard Hughes nails made some horribly blunt chops with kitchen shears, but in the end it turns out I’d worried for nothing. The best part is, it was only $3!!!! The first week here I’d just been going around in a baseball cap, figuring, I’m not going to run in to anyone I know, so why bother gussying up? But I tell you, that $3 haircut got me feeling all spunky, like a good haircut tends to do, and I’m feeling like this town is my oyster! No more lazy days lady! (Even though they were great!) But it’s time to get out and explore!

We’ve had several great meals so far. There’s a fantastic Korean restaurant we went to with Brian’s office. And we found a Japanese restaurant just around the corner where we had sushi and drinks last night. (Don’t worry mom and dad, it’s been 24 hours and we aren’t sick, so the fish probably didn’t come out of the Yangtze!) And Brian’s boss took us to a tea house/bar in the middle of a beautiful park that I’m eager to go back to with my camera. In fact, there have been several missed photo ops just running around town doing errands, so I vow to always carry my camera with me in the future. Sadly, I can’t show you pictures of the soldiers with huge guns randomly patrolling the entrance to the grocery store. Nor can I show you Chinese street cleaning—on my way to the haircut, water trucks drove by spraying down our street—a very busy 4 lane road. On my way back from the haircut, 5 men were in the middle of the street with brooms scrubbing the road! The omnipresent smog makes the city look and feel pretty dingy, but they seem to work hard at keeping it tidy. Right now gardeners are planting flowers (and using HIDEOUS smelling fertilizer) at the many parks and large squares, so hopefully spring is on its way!

I went to Brian’s office at the shipyard on Friday and watched a ship launch with him. It wasn’t for his company, but it was interesting to watch nevertheless.  Just the hull was built in a slipway (a big ramp that can slide in to the water) and we watched them slide it out into the river. It was amazing how quickly it happened. The shipyard is huge and it is one of many in Jiangyin. The Yangtze is absolutely filled with ships coming and going. As the ship was being launched there were tiny rowboats crowding around to watch—I can only imagine the safety precautions if this were to happen in the States! Also reminded me of Darcy taking our little Hobie Cat out on Lake Shasta and getting too close to the dam and the security going nuts waving her off because the flood gates were open…. But in Jiangyin, if you want to row your 6’ homemade rowboat right behind 45,000 tons of steel, you go right ahead! I’m sending photos and a video to Darcy so she can post them here for me. Thanks Darc!

Lost in Translation:
 - "Soiled dish in a pot" (item menu at the Japanese restaurant last night)   
 - A store around the corner named HoLike  (I guess we have to go inside to determine if this is or isn’t lost in translation???)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

First Impressions

What a fantastic day! For the first time in a long time I had an honest-to-goodness do-nothing day. It was amazing….knitting, Pilates, cooking, vegging…only what I felt like doing…..which includes bringing you all up to date now that we have the internet set up!

I can’t believe we haven’t even been here a week yet—the first few days are an absolute blur! Arriving in Shanghai late Wednesday night, instead of the van that was supposed to pick us up, we were greeted by a Buick Sedan that groaned as we crammed all 10 bags in.  We got to the hotel around 1am and absolutely died. We noticed a letter in the room telling us “general tidying up” construction work would be occurring from 8am-noon. Turns out this translates as “even though you haven’t showered since Tuesday, the water will be off indefinitely, so be thankful we left water bottles in the room for you to wash your face and brush your teeth.” Fun. Luckily the water was on by Thursday night, so we started to feel human again.

Turns out, right next to the hotel is a German brewery--the Hofbrauhaus from Munich! There’s a large contingent of German expats in town I’m told, as there’s a German electronics company here. We haven’t sampled the beer yet, but they do sell decent bread (most Chinese bread is very sweet) and it really amuses me that we go half way around the world, and of all the familiar things, it’s a beer hall from Germany.

Brian’s boss’s girlfriend escorted us all around town on Thursday—we had to buy dishes, sheets, towels, pots/pans, cleaning supplies (heavy emphasis on the cleaning supplies) because it turns out our furnished apartment wasn’t exactly furnished.  Or clean. At the end of day 1, the bottoms of our socks were black. And the master bathroom was the mother of all mold colonies. Cue the meltdown I thought I’d escaped….over a moldy shower. But Friday and Saturday we cleaned and cleaned and we were both feeling much better about the situation. We were completely exhausted and so in a moment of weakness we walked a few doors down and had KFC for dinner (my first time ever!)….both nights.You can get it delivered, by the way.

Sunday’s adventure was the grocery store---I would love to take pictures of the meat department, but I feel strange doing so, since it isn’t exactly a tourist attraction…although it could be! All the bizarre meats you could ever imagine are just raw, unpackaged, unrefrigerated for shoppers to rummage thru with their bare hands! It’s going to take some getting used to…. So far I've stuck to recognizable fish and chicken. I'd thought I saw mussles and was excited about that--turned out to be live turtles.

Okay, well I've been trying to upload photos for almost an hour....we're on a vpn because this blog site is blocked, but the vpn doesn't want me to show you any pictures....a project for tomorrow I guess... Until then!