Thursday, December 31, 2009

Following tradition

Day one of the new year/decade, I shall follow a family tradition that was burned into the nuggets of my brain cells: be out of the house, travel, and the year that follows will be full of travel. Or at least spent out of the house. I'll be on the bus for a couple of hours, then on a plane to the frozen north. By evening, I shall be cavorting with friends, and spend two more days in the wintery capital, before heading back for more work and sober reflection.

Tonight, not much happening around these parts. Not a whisper of firecrackers popping, no feasts laid out, no champagne to guzzle. If there was a place to consider the past year, and lay plans for the future, this is it. Zero distractions. Instead, I think I shall make some strawberries with mint and vanilla and watch some Monty Python. Silliness is good for the soul.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The girl in my life

Gabi is not too far from my mind, but she is at my parent's home. Ebi, no longer the puppy, is also there, domiciled and giving my mom some needed pet love. I wasn't expecting to take on another pet while in China, but the opportunity arose, and I have a new feline in my life, a kitten, calico, and I've named her Loopi. She is probably the first kitten I've raised in over 20 years, so her playfulness, her acquiescence to my moments of overwhelming need to cuddle her, her demanding mews, her high spirited antics, her never ending motor of a purr, her dog like devotion which includes sitting between my feet when I'm on the throne (er, does she not understand the need for privacy in those moments? How would she feel if I bothered her while she was eliminating?), and her tiny warmth on these cold nights, how wonderful it is, how exasperating, how sweet and loving (or is that just me, anthropomorphic as ever?).
She is fearless, lets me rub any part of her body, rarely attempts to squirm away, and enjoys giving me love nips. I feel bad leaving her all alone so much of the time, but she hasn't started acting neurotic. On Christmas, I had four guests over for a long brunch and she ended up playing with everyone. A kitten definitely makes for easy conversation starters.
May she live long, purring her way through a good life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tableas, Nutella and sticky rice = champorado in China

Christmas is a week and a half away, it won't be much of a celebration over on this side of the Pacific, but we're going to make the students do a song and a dance and a play at some celebration outside of school, and then I'm going to go home to cook up some champorado for the other Filipino teacher, perhaps invite the other teachers to come along too. I did a bit of online research to make sure I got a decent recipe, and have improvised with the materials I found in several local stores. The amazing find was tableas, straight from the grinding stones of La Resurreccion in Binondo! I've made several cups of tsokolate eh (or ah), and am ready to make some chocolate goodness for a few guests. The one addition I've made is putting a dollop of nutella into each bowl before ladling some of the chocolate rice pudding in, since I've found that makes for an extra layer of chocolate-ness.

Champorado with Nutella:

1/2 cup of sticky rice
1/2 cup of short grain rice
whole milk (3 cups)
5 to 6 tableas, preferably grated or chopped into small pieces as they dissolved faster
sugar and evaporated milk to taste

Add the rice, the milk and the grated tablea chocolates in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir constantly. It takes about 20 minutes to get the rice tender. Put one tablespoon of Nutella in a cup or bowl, ladle the rice pudding into the bowl and serve with evapoated milk. Add sugar if needed.

Along with the champorado, I plan to serve some fresh strawberries (they're in season now), bread, cheeses, and a selection of jams. A student gave several of us a lot of good tea, but my only resort for coffee might be the instant stuff. Or I'll just make them drink tsokolate eh. A double dose of chocolate never killed anyone I think!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A day off

Autumn chill, layering and head gear, it's November.
A student who also teaches me piano invited me up to her place to have chinese dumplings with her family. I watched her mother fill the wrappers ("pi") with the pork and cabbage stuffing, and she tried to give me tips, but all the ones I attempted to fold were hideous. I did much better rolling out the pi after a few tries with the rolling pin; her mother was quite proud of me. We ended up eating and talking for four hours, which was mirrored by a two hour dinner with two other students. This has definitely been a belly busting day.
My student/piano teacher also introduced me to my first Chinese foodie, one of her students who has a keen hand at stove (and can sing Mozart arias!) and a keener interest in finding good eats all over town. I'm so going with him one of these days on a food trip around the city.
It's always a good sign when a fellow foodie suggests living next door to one another so he can cook a meal for you, in return for english lessons. If he finds me an apartment with a large enough kitchen, then I don't mind a wit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Transition phase

Six days in Wenzhou, two weeks in Quanzhou, two weeks in Fuzhou, and perhaps eventually settling down in Quanzhou if the big boss can make a decision for good. Teachers are shuttling around, some have left, new ones are entering into probationary periods, and I, as the understanding, flexible one, am being asked to hop around the different centers till they can figure out which center needs me more. Which means I also have to make decisions about what to bring, so I don't end up short on underpants.

If there's anything I over pack, it's the undies. Bras, panties, have to have enough. More than enough, I found out I brought pretty much every six pack of Hanes I had bought from Landmark or SM in the last year. About 6 packs of them, which meant, I wouldn't run out of clean whites for over a month. But it's remarkably bulky, undies. As I go through the large bag of undies I had in storage while I was away for two weeks, I realize I've got to cull. Undies are stubbornly unwilling to be tossed though. It's hard enough to find a t-shirt here that looks normal enough to wear, not to mention the right fit, what more cotton whites? What will I do if I can't find them? I pack all the undies away again and cast a glance at some of the clothes that I don't wear often enough.

My wardrobe is as boring as heck these days, and I'd love to toss the whole caboodle into a recycling bin, if not for the fact that they are still serviceable (hideous word) and there's no reason not to wear the blasted things. I give thanks for fall and winter as it lets me pull out my scarves which will add a bit more pizazz. I might give in and start buying some pieces of jewelry to stave off my lack of adornment. Or one of those cute knitted bonnets with crocheted gewgews on them when the silly mood strikes.

I'm looking forward to the changes, but they don't come without some sacrifice. Lack of a proper kitchen for at least 5 weeks, dragging my suitcase all over the place, and the cost of finding new digs after all this hullabaloo is over. Just discovered that hullabaloo only has three l's. Good to know.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

First one I remember seeing on this topic was Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant; this year another book on the same theme, What We Eat When We Eat Alone, pursued the idea of what sole diners munch on, and now famed editor Judith Jones has released a book The Pleasures of Cooking for One. The idea of eating solo is nothing new, but for three books in a matter of two years to focus on it, seems to highlight the fact that there are more lone diners out there.
Over the last few weeks, I've encountered more people, men in particular, who pointedly spoke out against eating alone. "I hate eating alone." They're grown men, so perhaps they just feel that dining alone is a social anomaly. One of them seeks company out for lunch no matter who he can corral. Let's just say I've avoided the opportunity to watch him masticate.
I've eaten alone too often in my life, and I don't mind the quiet. I also like to read when eating, sometimes not a good idea if it contradicts the eating and focusing on what I eat. But I prefer the company of a good book over a noisy companion. And many of the meals I've posted in this forum are just that, meals eaten solo. I don't need anymore books to tell me that they are pleasurable in themselves.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

In hindsight

"How could you stay so calm?" he asked me. To be honest, I replied to him, thinking back to the events of Saturday and Sunday, I really can't say why I wasn't freaking out. Probably because there was little I could do, so in the face of a lot of craziness, you either let things roll or fight it so much you lose track of what's important.

Most people have their share of stories about facing difficult moments. The last weekend will definitely generate enough to fill volumes. Mine tends to be dependent on whether I'm alone or if I have to take care of people, and Saturday and Sunday was about the latter. The first case came when I was asked by two travellers to help them get to their hotel or as close to it as possible. I was willing to do as much as I could, but I also knew it could be a difficult situation for everyone. I didn't really know the extent of Ondoy's fury and the floods that were killing so many people. All I knew was that roads were blocked, traffic was hellish, and that I was lucky to have use of a vehicle. My temporary guests were kind enough to chip in for gas and I made sure everyone was fed and watered. We didn't get them to the hotel, but they got through with some fortitude, a willingness to brave EDSA on foot (once we got to the corner of EDSA and Macapagal, all was at a standstill), and the MRT (thank goodness for the light rail!). I was not so lucky, as my driver, my dad's secretary and I were in for a long night. We got dinner first, then attempted the roads leading into the heart of Manila. All routes were blocked by the high water. We chose to take shelter at a Petron gas station, which wasn't perfect, but it had lights and a bathroom. Having to wade in a foot of water deterred me from needing the bathroom, and thankfully I hadn't gulped down gallons of water. Sleeping in the car wasn't ideal, but the winds made it cool, and the location was safe. I did a few rows of my knitting project for good measure. But most of the time I was dozing, watching the shadows and light, and thinking how my two companions wished they didn't have to be where they were.

By early morning, the water had subsided a bit, we tried a few routes again, but traffic was still too much. Having been in the same clothes for 24 hours, I needed at least a shower, and we searched for a hotel that would have any occupancy, resorting to going in Victoria Court. At the back of my mind, I knew my dad would have a conniption fit if he knew we were there, but it was a far better choice than staying out on the streets. A few hours of sleep, hot water, clean toilets, and food, and we finally made it home around 4 pm. All of us had been on the road since 11 the day before, so it was a welcome relief to not be in a plane or a car.

Under different circumstances, I'd probably have been less stoic, but living in a country so full of natural disasters has its advantages. You learn to live with the punches, and you face the downturns with more grace. Sometimes you give up too fast, and expect less than you deserve. I sometimes know that I shouldn't be too fatalistic, but I think I'm getting to a point in life that it makes little sense to keep beating my head against a wall. So, perhaps my sense of calm starts from having given up control over everything. I'm still learning when to fight, and I still misjudge matters, but I'm still alive, I've still got a chance to be better, and I'm not going to get hysterical about it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Ondoy has left us to spew further damage on the Indochinese peninsula, but a new set of storms are in our waters. The first one, int'l codename Parma (I can't help but think of it as a large leg of ham), is blowing in at 150 kph. It may lose strength and head out into oblivion, but there's also the possibility that it will howl straight at us, and then veer back on itself. The remaining days of my vacation may all be about staying dry.

Went to Manila Ocean Park today with a friend, the aquariums are much nicer now, less fake corals, and the sharks look so sleek, like siamese cats in color, not to mention that sharklike grace. However, I wouldn't recommend the mermaid show at all. Beyond tacky. I think I'll try to go catch the jellyfish show before I head north.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I have five days left before I leave for my long journey home (given the bus trip down to Xiamen and the two hour plane ride home, it feels like I'm travelling as far as Hawaii for such a short distance), my main objective this week is to store my things with my friend M, and dispose, use up everything else, particularly anything edible. I've kept grocery shopping to a minimum over the last three weeks, and haven't cooked a great deal. I have two packs of dumplings to eat for lunch and dinner tomorrow, but I have been keen on making japanese curry for some time. I have a packet of the curry paste, and an apple, so I trotted down to the supermarket to get some vegies, chopped them up (one onion, a head of garlic, two medium potatoes, two carrots) and began the layering in the pot. First rough chopped onions fry up in oil, letting it caramelize for added smokiness, toss in the garlic, and a splosh of fish sauce since I am out of salt. While those flavors start creating a heady aroma along with a bit too much pepper, I rough chop the potatoes and carrots, and don't forget the apple. They go in, one by one, letting the potatoes soak up the flavors first, then the carrots, finally the apple chips. Crumble the curry paste into the pot, and let it envelope the vegetables before adding broth (I used vegetable broth), about 3 cups of it to make the sauce thick enough once it cooks on low heat for at least thirty minutes. One of the other things I had leftover in the kitchen was some corned beef that I had cooked two days ago and not wanting to waste it, I've put it into the curry for some meaty tastes.
The plate lying next to me reminds me of some japanese ramen place in HK that serves a mound of rice, some meat (usually tonkatsu but I must make do with the dried corned beef flakes), and the curry sinking into the rice. Comfort food, Sunday night, it's a perfect pairing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I made my weekly call home and was sad to hear that my mom's longtime feline companion has died. I met Mika when she was given to my mom by a Japanese client of hers. She was 2 or 3 years old at the time, and that was in the early 90's. She continued to terrorize any other animal throughout her reign as queen cat, making it seemingly impossible to bring in another animal. Through events outside her control, I eased the dog and my own cat into her domain last year and early this year respectively. Needless to say she probably didn't think too highly of me at the end of her life.
She died quietly, my mom found her by the bed, in perpetual sleep. RIP.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Acoustic evening

Crash! Boom! Drip! There's a concert outside my window, no musical instruments, none of the traditional kind anyhow. It's Mother Nature, water cascading down from the clouds, at times intense, climactic, currently, softer, tender, with irregular beats. The aria sung by the thunder, this is no clapping, sharp staccato. This is rolling, moaning then intense. Reverberates through my shelter's walls, long beats, bass sounds. Boooooom.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First love

The car - a white Porsche (methinks a Carrera), parked in front of a gate. The boy - about 4, walking behind his dad. He sees the car, walks close to it and peers through the dark windows, perhaps hoping to see the interior detailing. He continues to walk towards his dad, but his head is swivelled towards the car, gazing it at its curves, lines, low to the ground body. He's transfixed. "Hey!" his dad shouts at him. He has nearly walked right into the street, in front of traffic. He's smitten.

Tater tots

Around the corner from the school lies a street without much too brag about, as ordinary a street in this city as any other. However, it does have a good assortment of streetfood carts, and being less than 5 minutes away, a good place for a local snack. WZhou isn't a big streetfood place, not much of what I'd call an indigenous food culture about, so most of the food carts tend to tout either Sichuan style or Fujian style food. I'd had a few bowls of the cold noodles over summer, heavily spiced, and a bowl of their dumpling soup (shui jiao, tang) with tidbits of dried shrimp. One of my favorite choices late in the day is the spicy flatbread, freshly heated in the tandoori-style coal oven. For three renmimbi, a wonderful and slightly oily snack. Today, I think I may have found my other new favorite - a bowl of fried potatoes mixed with onions, coriander, shredded cucumber, and chilli. Oh my, another 3 rmb wonder. Just never get it less than 15 minutes before a meeting or class as it should be savored. It's too fiery to gulp down anyway, spearing each tater, blowing on the tongue searing edges; it would be perfect with an ice cold beer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Times are changing

Dark at 6, gusts, a certain nip, yes, autumn is not far. Rain this late afternoon/early evening, cool enough not to need the airconditioner on till later. I know I must prepare for winter, is this why I feel the urge to eat? Am I being bearlike and preparing for hibernation? I can't escape for months till spring, although at times I wish there was such an option.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's a seller's market

The landlord of my current apartment is in the process of selling the place, and there are regular visitors everyday to view the apartment. This means in the mornings when I am usually doing little of no value, I end up welcoming the real estate agent and prospective buyers to wander at will around the rooms. However, I prefer not to be around when they show up, as it feels odd to be something of the human dummy showcasing what it looks like to live here.
The real estate market of this city is something to behold. Old and new apartments are priced beyond what one would expect of a second rate city, but that has a little to do with the general assumptions for the national housing market according to what my students have told me. The value of owning an apartment is rather high among newlyweds, absolutely imperative for a new couple to have one before the wedding, and parents cough up their savings to buy their children a home. Financial crisis or not, apartments are a good commodity over here, resale value of this place made me do a double take. I look at it with a critical eye, consider how much the new owner will have to spend to update the facilities, particularly the bathroom, and wonder if they notice all the cracks and concerns I see. That large-ish line running down the first third of the master bedroom, I would definitely want to know how that's going to work out. The flooring needs to be ripped out, redone, hopefully with real wood or tile, not the cheap pseudo-linoleum crap placed there in the first place.
I was also curious to hear that the current landlord had no interest in selling off his furniture. "I don't have space in my current home, so I'm throwing away everything here." I'd suggest he do a garage sale, but remembered that this is China, most people don't seem to go for second hand things. Maybe he figures reselling all of it would be more difficult, not to mention hauling it down the flights of stairs.
As for my next abode, I will wait till after I return in October. Why fork over three months rent and deposit now when I don't know the exact date of my return? I'm viewing neighborhoods on my free days to see what areas I would prefer to live in, and how long it would take to walk to work. Am certain that neighborhoods east and south of the office are out, as the issue of safety is paramount. North and West are familiar, and now that I found out I am a mere stone's throw from the cult status moon bar, I might not want to leave the district.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bits and pieces of my 9/11

Morning fight with a colleague. Bitchy me comes out and makes the other person mad. He says "you're not in charge here!" and threatens to quit. Er, what a baby! Plus he should change his cologne, he reeks. The issue I raised (his gf hangs around the teachers room the entire day using the computers and telephone) is unresolved, he has her sitting there again in the afternoon, and the lady in charge is a putz so she can't put her foot down. He makes nice later, saying let's be friends. The other person I butted heads with two months ago left, not sure why though. At least that one was doing his job. This one, ugh, a dom, smelly one too.

Head to the neighborhood Korean resto for bibimpap but get sidetracked by what looks like interesting noodles with seafood. Unfortunately I should have stuck with the bibimpap, the noodles are gloopy with some bean based sauce, the squid is tougher to chew than leather.

New impetus to go to Shanghai in a week, two friends will be attending the edu fair there. How to figure out my schedule though....

Raised my flagging spirits by watching Avenue Montaigne, fluffy French movie, lit in bright colors, about music, love, art, the passage of time, youth. Charming lead actress, chirpy and "a ray of sunshine", with the requisite Roman nosed leading men. One character is supposed to be a classical pianist but he exudes raw peasant energy. Strips down to his shirtsleeves in the climactic concert scene, now that's how they should all look if they want us to attend concerts. Well, maybe not all of them. The only line I will remember "never do anything for nothing" - spoken by Sydney Pollack (who gets mistaken for Martin Scorcese).

Withdrawal symptoms - nothing to read, worse when I'm having a meal and need a book to take me away from my surroundings. Regret not having raided M's library before leaving Xiamen. Two weeks to go before home, so must control myself till then.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

testing, testing

Lay's potato chips in China is available in a lot of flavors. Plain (here called American style), barbecue, roast chicken, and I've come across one that looks like it incorporates chilli peppers and tomato. But the most mindboggling are the fruit flavors. Today at the supermarket, I took a serious look at the offerings. Mango, cucumber, lime, blueberry, cherry tomato, and out now - lychee. I could have stuck to the basic plain which is my go to comfort food of late. But my hand strayed, and thought why not? I don't think I'm ready for blueberry potato chips, but the lime doesn't sound too bad.
The flavor of the product is citrusy, a bit too sweet for me, but not all together horrible. I could see myself making a spicy salsa to go with this.
When I go home, I shall pack a few bags for a shared test taste. Who wants in?

Monday, September 07, 2009


I am thankful:
1. for a roof over my head, even if it meant waiting for over an hour for the landlord to figure out which keys go with which lock. So close to a toilet and a wash, and yet so far.
2. for clean clothes, especially upon finding my stash of clothes that I left in the closet missing, along with the suitcase I had put it in. My shoes were subsequently found in another closet, but my two wrap dresses, my Indonesian batik, my favorite jogging pants, my new sheer white kimono, and my winter coat, gone. Who took it, why, I have my suspicions, I have no proof, but who else I ask myself. In the meantime, I'm thankful for the remaining pieces I do have.
3. for friends, colleagues, and kindness from strangers.
4. for not being in a war zone, or on a ferry in my own country
5. for water. Cold, refreshing. For washing the white dust from my travel bags. For making me feel human again.
6. for distractions; I miss downloading and listening to podcasts, and I finally got to update my itunes list. Thank you for Garrison Keillor, poetry, humor, All Songs Considered, Splendid Table, The Moth....
7. for a phonecall from someone who wants me to join them in Shanghai in a few weeks. Tempting, very tempting.
8. for a good connection, for the internet
9. for the ability to see beyond the mess
10. for finding my nail clipper.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Xiamen food plans

Spiffiest bathroom in a Xiamen restaurant - The House 2, Coffee St/Yundang Lu, near the Marco Polo hotel. Note: the coffee was horrible (they may be using Illy but it tasted like dark dishwater).

Cutest hole in the wall: Planttime - an alley off Zhong Shan Lu, near the main port to Gulangyu island. After looting the stacks of dvds in the green door store, I walked down the alley and saw this verdant looking front door, found myself in a cafe that served vegetarian food, painted in soft pink, cream, and green. I felt like I was in a Chinese shabby chic cafe. Food was passable, and the service gently respectful. Points for not allowing smoking, and a general sense of ease and comfort throughout the place. A good place to rest between shopping sprees and the heat, if you can find the place.

Points off to McDonalds (not sure if it's all the McD's in Xiamen) which touts itself as 24 hours but was closed when friends went there for a 3:30 am snack. No way would that ever happen in the Pinas. I sort of miss the neverending food delivery opportunities in Manila, not that I had many 2 am munchy moments. It's just the idea that if you want something, it will be delivered!

Avoid in the future: any of the ground beef burritos/enchiladas at Coyote, along Yundang Rd, near the Marco Polo. I don't know why the beef tastes like it was dried and reconstituted but there's nothing palatable about it. I might ask for a vegetarian one if I ever go back. However, the service there is very pleasant, the waiter remembered how I like my bloody mary's even if I'd only been there once before. And I'll definitely splurge 25 RMB for a large plate of nachos before heading into the hinterlands.

Heading into my last week here in Xiamen, I'm cooking for friends on my day off (Wed): adobo (will toss in some roast duck from the market with the chicken), bicol express (lots of chillis!), and maybe pinakbet. Friend E has a jar of bagoong in his ref so I could use it, with the help of Marketman's recipe (it won't be over a woodfire stove, but I'll use a clay pot to toss the vegies in). I toyed with the idea of making a guava sinigang since there's a lot of guava in season now, but that will take too much energy to boil the fruit, squeeze out all the essence and add souring agents. Meh.

Speaking of soups, why are the free soups that come with set meals here so insipid? To the point of being just hot water with some vegies tossed in it, who wants to drink something without any flavor? The little veg cafe Planttime (above) is probably the only place I found that had a flavorful free soup, it tasted rather meaty for a soup that was made with vegies and mushrooms.

Overheard - there's a pinoy resto in town near the Pan Pacific Hotel, strangely named Tuscany. I shall check it out tomorrow night.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wet and wooly

There's been a larger than normal amount of western food taking a detour down my gullet of late, and is probably the reason my clothes are feeling like they are a tad tighter than a few weeks ago. While Xiamen is as chinese a city as any other, the more cosmopolitan opportunities make it easier to slip into a cafe for texmex greasy food and a drink, or giving into one baked potato laden with sour cream. Walking is still required, but the heat and humidity push me towards getting taxis more if I'm going out of my way to a cafe. If I were to stick to my walk to work and back without a detour, my wallet would be fatter, and not my belly.
Another blackhole has been purchasing a lot of dvds to keep me "sane" when I don't have anything to do. Bad excuse, it just sucks time away from being "productive" and in terms of liquidity wastes money.
Walking around in the humidity is not just a physical drain, but it makes my head feel waterlogged/sweatlogged. Emotionally I feel less happy in this environment, and not even a dose of caffeine seems to lift the spirits. I suspect it doesn't help that I've been surrounded by a lot of grouchy, menopausal, and strange people. So much disappointment and disdain, a litany of complaints about everything and everyone, are they affected by the heat or is it something about the environment that pushes people to grumble non-stop?
At least the void of animals up north is not the same here. I see people walking their dogs often, everyday, and other than the little gray cat who comes to us everyday after work (and who I wish to find a home), there hasn't been a week where I've not come across other well taken of cats. Yesterday I spotted two rivals, one black with white mittens and an orange tabby, both far from each other but the black one taking a serious yowl at the other when they glanced at one another. The houseware store down from where I'm living has a lovely calico with big round eyes, reminds me of J's cats in HK, and who has suffered my attentions a few times, the closest it lets me come near is a foot away if I have some kibble. Mr. Grey however is the one cat that rarely fails me, he is a sweetheart (if only men were as easy), and I do hope someone with a good heart cares for him permanently. It will be hard not to stuff him in my suitcase in a week's time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

things we have to do for a job

here's the scenario: late sunday afternoon, three higher level students, with a better grasp of english. lesson topic: stress management; i printed out meditation exercises, one on breathing, one on muscle relaxation. when we got to the muscle relaxation exercise, one of the instructions was "clench your butt, relax. Do three times."
so first of all - chinese have no butts, or very few that are worth mentioning
second, we're talking of a part of the body they try to avoid thinking about
third - they're like teenage boys when it comes to anatomical parts like the butt. You say butt, they laugh nervously
so I try to explain, they titter, and struggle to do the exercise
i try to say they can do this while standing in line, good for the posture, core yada yada
one girl says to me "but it will look strange!"
I tell her and try to show them that (pointing to my ass) "see? can you see if my butt is clenched? Nope!"
i'm standing sideways mind you, and one relatively buff guy is sitting in front, his eyes now forced to look at his english teacher explain that her butt is clenching, relaxing, clenching, relaxing

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday eats

9 am: one peach, a bit too firm, and not too sweet. More for crunch and aroma. It hasn't been a good summer for juicy, eat-over-a-sink peaches.

12:30 pm: a plate of jiaozi (pork and chive dumplings), got the large plate - 20 dumplings, for $1.50. A cold bottle of Sprite, I should bring my own Coke next time. Satisfying, perhaps too much so. Comfort food at its best.

1:00 pm: a large glass of chocolate milk tea. I wasn't sure it would work, and I still prefer regular milk tea, but it wasn't a bad way to cap my midday meal.

Contemplating dinner options, nothing attractive. I may have to wait till after work, maybe get one of the roasted chickens from the street grillers.

Was hit in the nostalgic solar plexus to find that the row of stores and restaurants that used to border the gate of Xiamen University and Nanputuo Temple are gone. Two years of walking up and down that path, buying cds, eating in the little eateries, gone. All the memories no longer have a place. The Uni is probably on an expansion fit again, or beautification roll. I think it leaves the atmosphere a bit lacking. But that's China for you. Neverending change.

Walked around Xiada, students will be flooding in in two weeks, so this is the perfect time to visit campus. Relatively quiet, a bit too hot and humid, but a pleasant walk down tree laden streets, and enjoyed strolling around the park. Walked down to the beach through a hidden path I remembered and it was as pleasant as ever. Nothing much changed down that walk. I would love to go back after a rainstorm, when the paths are wet, and the leaves carpet the way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

the proxy ate my post

The big C over here isn't just the country, but also the censors, who create barriers we must learn to jump over - good for the butt all that jumping. So to the proxies we go, trying one here, one there. Found one today that I thought would work, but it gave me access without the ability to write anything. I've found another one that might work, and it is through it that I am writing this post, a few weeks into August. Let us see if this will go through.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Milk walk

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, perhaps in the dairy department. Last year I overdid ice cream "tastings" in DC, and yesterday I might have matched the intake of all things that can come from a cow. Two containers of full fat Fage yogurt (isn't that a healthy thing???), a double scoop of Mado Turkish ice cream (now that I think of it, that came from a goat), double cream brie on crackers nibbled at the park, and then I had to go have hot chocolate at agnes b (they have some delectable looking desserts but all I wanted was the hot c).

How to offset all that milk? I decided to take a long walk, specifically from Tai Koo to Causeway Bay. I estimate that long course was around 4 km, and following the tram/bus routes, King's road all the way along the northern front of the island, it was a good tramp through some of the least touristy bits of the city. I finally finished my walk at the Central Library, with it's 9 floors of learning a comfortable beacon for my feet. It may also have the best bathrooms that side of the city.

I took to the streets again this morning to have a Cantonese version of diner food. Why go to McDonalds or Starbucks when there's egg fry ups with butter bread accompanied by a large bowl of shredded abalone and ham with macaroni? Add a steaming cup of milky tea, and I'm set to go. I decided to pick up two large buns at the restaurants bread display, a cha siu bao and an egg bun, as part of the provisions for my trip back up into the border. Comfort food aka defense against the elements.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

48 hours in Hong Kong

Another of those long coast trips down to Hong Kong, with time enough to just chill, tramp around old haunts, and munch - Indian, Vietnamese, a good burger, ice cream, cheese, and chocolates. Is it a silly bad habit to go straight to a bookstore (one I had never been to, I felt like I should make a wish, a habit that my mother fostered in us when we'd go to a new church), and buy a book, some magazines, knowing I could have saved money on buying used books, but the smell, oh the smell of a bookstore, the paper, the chemicals, the silly knick-knacks?
My rented room is along a row of pet stores, and the one next door has a number of pure breed cats on show. One of them, a scottish fold, looked up at me, raised its paws, and mewed. Oh, be still my melting knees. If only I could take you home with me, such a cutie.
Before taking refuge in the airconditioned chill of the movie theatre (HP6; why am I damned never to see UP in a theater? It opens the day I go back to China.), I wander the lower bowels of SOGO. I used to live a stone's throw away from SOGO in the late 90's, and I mourn how little I took advantage of it's amazing fruit selections, the fun little cooking items from Japan. Now, I wish I had time, money, and suitcase space enough to take them all home. Isn't that always the case?
I'm heading into Indian food territory later, expecting to reek of spice and garlic. Then a night of street food noshing, soaking in all the neon lights, people watching, window shopping, fantasizing about who would want a plastic raincoat studded with grommets (K, I'm thinking you), and maybe meowing back at the kitty cat before it gets taken to a new home. Or should I plan a cat heist??

Monday, June 29, 2009

24 hours

I'm no Jack Bauer, wouldn't sacrifice my life for the sitting President, and my real question is, when does he ever go to the toilet. Why don't tv dramas ever show anyone going to the bathroom? Eating, sleeping, they are there, but never the throne.
In the next 24 hours, I will prepare to leave again. Finally. Two week delay nonewithstanding, it's been a vacation, with some productivity thrown in. Three weekends of dog training, completed one knitting project, ate a lot of things I won't get in China, and read, read, read.
Google is out of sorts in China, I even read that people can't access gmail. Returning to the vacuum.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Get off my chest!

Some things that I just have to write before they take over my subconscious, I don't want any of these things making weird insinuations in my dreams so best to just write them and be done with them, right? Akin to last song syndrome, I better speak now or forever be stuck with them.

In no particular order, or importance:
*Jon and Kate - boo. You have 8 kids who are going to suffer. Put them out of their misery and get real jobs and real lives and get off the tv.
*deaths all around - while I feel for Ed, everyone's focusing on MJ, while FF is off the radar. Pity she and RO'N didn't get hitched, or maybe it's best she didn't.
*the citizens of S. Carolina should impeach their governor, he's a wimp and a hypocrite. Crying in Argentina, double boo. And his wife, seriously? You'd take him back?
*am incensed at the news that the local government has passed a bill to allow greyhound racing in the country, and I do hope by petitioning those dolts, it won't push through. However, the case against the dolphin show in Subic was tossed out, so knowing our lovely government who cares not a whit for animal wellbeing, it will not be easy to sway them not to allow the poor dogs to be run to death, abused, and worse.
*what is it with the increasing number of incorrectly used prepositions all around? I see it in the road signs, tv ads, it's becoming a real annoyance to me anyway. I know most people don't give a rat's ass. Must learn to turn my eyes away.

And what is it about coincidences that lead me to temptation, deliver me from evil damnit! Argh, two sightings that raise thoughts I would like to put aside, one indirect, but one so near I could have touched it. Shivers me timbers, I'm glad I had things to do and didn't give into my first instinct. I may hear the devil on my shoulder but I don't give in, maybe that's why I keep gaining weight though....
Have read with trepidation that Google is under attack by the mainland government, the latter complaining about all the sexual references online, but I will assume it's to "clean up" house before the 60th birthday of the government. I will also have to assume that once I'm there again, whenever that happens, I will not have access to my blog, I begin to wonder if I shouldn't have a backup blog, somewhere else online that I can access that won't be blockaded by government censors. Of course a written, paper-pencil journal will do, and I have many a notebook filled with my illegible jottings. There's always Facebook of course.
I feel a bit like those seafarers between sojourns on board their rickety ships; doing the rounds of all the food places I won't be seeing for awhile, reading as much as I can, tramping up and down favorite spots, playing with the pets, writing, reviewing what I should add to my very bored list of clothing, adding to my dvd collection. There is also a sense of what to path to take next, should this episode not take fruit. What will I end up exploring? Dog training? A job with commercial, ie financial, opportunities? Beach tramp? The possibilities seem endless, if one knows where to look.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday rapture

On a blazing hot Friday, I run through the city taking care of errands, paying bills that are long overdue, bringing the dog to the vet for a check-up, having shoes fixed, going down the list of things to bring before I leave, calling the travel agent one more time to check if it's all ok this time. Sigh. I head to one of my regular cafes for a lunch fix and am slightly disappointed with what I have to eat, but the disappointment doesn't sit long, as I'm engrossed, absolutely engrossed in what I'm reading. East of Eden, Steinbeck, he is a god! My goodness, this is amazing stuff, am truly enthralled with his realism, the quirky moments of side stories cutting through the rich batter of his main story, that of the Trasks and Hamiltons. I don't want to rush it, but I think I'll be raring to finish the several hundred pages I have to finish soon. She's just shot him in the shoulder, leaving him and his twins to suffer!

I stand from my lunch table and head in an aimless direction, attracted by the prints in the window; a salesman calls out to come into his store, but I veer into the bakery instead, Jipan, known for it's murphy bread (or is it muffin bread??), a buttery flaky brioche, good for french toast. I cursorily scan the stacks, see some samples on a lower shelf (someone needs to tell the owner how to make her display more appealing), sample something a bit dry and am about to move on when a small sign catches my attention. "Kouin aman", could it be? I see a small sample available to taste, I bite, it's sticky, crunchy, buttery. Oh my. Yes it is. David Lebovitz wrote out a recipe for Kouign Amann in 2005, and here it is in front of me, a few pieces hidden among a large tray of other bready morsels. I buy two of them, along with some large pain de chocolat and what looks like a cinnamon loaf with almonds. I'm carbo loading tonight!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keeping my eyes peeled

Sign number one: 8th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day shares the banner space with the 110th anniversar of the Siege of Baler. I learned about what took place in Baler due to the movie that was released in one of the recent local film festivals. Spanish soldiers were under siege by Filipino troops during the war for independence, the Filipinos starved the Spanish out in the church located in the town of Baler (Pampanga?), and their final surrender after months stuck inside the church highlighted the final straw of Spanish control of our first set of colonizers. I find it interesting that they'd use the siege as a counterpoint to the friendship day between the two nations. Is it a bit of a poke in our previous rulers ribs? Or simply the lack of political tact?

Sign number two: SM San Juan (I didn't know SM had a mall in San Juan!) is on sale over a few days this month, but the sign I saw on Ramon Magsaysay Blvd doesn't highlight the mall sale, it states "SALE City of San Juan Selected items..." - if I wasn't paying close attention I would not have seen the logo of SM. Is the city of San Juan not doing that well then? Or have the Estradas decided it's better to have Henry Sy's consortium raise funds for the city?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dusting off

Father's Day, 2009. When did we become so overwrought over fake holidays? Is it Valentine's Day's fault that we now kowtow to specific days? Or is Hallmark to blame?
In any case, we're off to a FD dinner, which is also an excuse to see how tall the kids have grown, eat too much, and be grumpy later because the favorite tv show was missed (that'll be my mother).
Before I return to the mothership up north, I am revelling in the books I have left from my booksale in February and March. I still have a good number of books left, although I culled the ones I sold carefully, and also portioned some for the consignment store. My mother found an unused bookshelf to stock the books I left behind, with a smaller number stuffed into an old cabinet. I spend a good couple of hours each day, pulling one book or another out, reading a few chapters, feeling a sense of urgency since I know I won't be surrounded by my babies in a few days.
Another baby I abandoned (yes, she is feeling abandoned I tell you!) is my feline companion, who noticeably ignored me when I first got home, but finally deigned to stay with me yesterday, while I puttered about the house. She and the other cat (who is getting very old, but is quite feisty, doesn't enjoy having to share her turf) hiss and snarl when they get within 3 feet of each other, so there's a sense of detente when we know one is approaching the other. Nothing untoward ever happens, they simply express the antipathy of seeing one another, and then one stalks away, ever so upset of the encroachment. I slowly guide my cat into my shared space, and try to keep her occupied for a few hours, including making sure she's not flea bitten. Granted, she's not the most amiable creature, but I do miss her pumpkin/raccoon like features when I'm doing nada in my Chinese abode. Not her hair all over the place, but definitely her presence and her zen like state even in the most distressful times.
The puppy, who isn't so much a puppy as a young female dog, ie bitch, is going back for her uncasting tomorrow, the removal of her cast, the removal of her collar, and hopefully a really good bath. We can't get her cast wet, so we're stuck wiping her down, combing, but the eau de pooch is getting worse. I want to make sure she is in less odorous state before I go. Plus I must decide, snip or not to snip? She had her first mens a couple of months back, and she's likely to go a bit delirious with hormonal changes, not that she has the companionship of any male doggies; if she were to get pregnant, it would likely make my mother fall down to her knees in belief of immaculate conception. And she's not likely to tell me about it either, just like the dog's accident.
Stopped by Legaspi Market this morning, wandered through the stalls to find things to try before I go back. Now that I think about it, the week I left for China in March was punctuated by a trip the Legaspi market as well. Hmmm. Anyway, had chorizo paella, bought some chicken pate from Pamora, and decided to buy some avocados to make guac at home. Why I can't find avocados in China I don't know. Not native perhaps, and maybe the flavor just doesn't rock Chinese people's worlds. Not something I've ever seen in Chinese cuisine for sure, not even avocado shakes. Anyway, some lemon, cilantro, and jalapenos for good measure and I'll be double dipping myself tomorrow when it's all made.
I also bought two sheer embroidered kimonos, a steal for P800; I remember seeing something similar, but far more detailed and lush at a department store, not to mention leaps and bounds more expensive. I figure these loose tops will be a good way to punch up a pair of jeans. Good thing about kimonos: loose sleeves, a nice summery pick me up. A detour to the Aroomatherapy table for a ginger mist spritz and I think I'm ready to head back.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Comfort food

I had what may have been the best chocolate mousse of my life yesterday at La Cabane. Lunch with K and J and A, watching the rains wash the streets clean, cosily ensconced by the window in plushy seats. K was not in tip-top dessert mood, and when faced with choices, we only got two - the mousse and the tarte tatin. I decided on the former by sheer chance of seeing it being served at another table. Over the years I've unfortunately tasted some pallid c/m's, usually lacking in any chocolate flavor, perhaps made with powdered chocolate, and kept firm with gelatin. Blech. La Cabane's c/m was a dark color, and when spooned, you could see the bounce of the eggwhite froth. The flavor was a rush of chocolate, with a hint of brandy or maybe cointreau; it didn't hit you in the face, it was subtle, a slinky taste on the palate. I could imagine eating cup of rich mousse when I've accomplished a good deed for myself, a sweet pat on the back.

That feeling of accomplishment is in short supply these days. My knitting project feels stalled, as the person helping me complete the project is out of town and I don't know how to wrap it up. And just when I thought I'd be done with the to-ing and fro-ing for my visa, there's another hiccup. I steel myself for more hiccups. But I may need a way to vent my frustration very soon. The last thing I need is an ulcer.

What I did discover through reading my last medical checkup details is that I have a fatty liver. My last blood pressure reading shows that I've recovered some ground from the higher than normal rate I noticed earlier this year, my diastolic is down to 80. But I will have to drink more tea, bitter foods like ampalaya, and reduce all the good tasty things in life while I coddle my liver back to health. Well, I can do that in China.

In the meantime, a slice of chocolate cake before I return to where there is no place for cake, or where they put full tomatoes on their cakes. And I may mash up some avocadoes for some guacamole goodness. Topped with bacon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Staying up till 2 am with friends, bellybuster of a dinner, sleeping the day away (utter lack of anything to do), followed by munching on all the chocolate lace cookies, listening to podcasts on backlog, sleeping in the afternoon, watching a really boring BBC production of Mansfield Park, sleeping at 3 am, waking up at 10 realizing I'm running late for dog training, taking the dreaded step to get all my facial bumps removed, will I sleep early tonight or just attempt to wake up at 6 am tomorrow so I can go to the gym early in the morning, weighed in and found 2 lbs regained erp, not caring enough to skip pork bbq with garlic rice, guilty thoughts over buying a new pair of sandals that I'll have to lug back to China or it'll molder, stressed out over when the darn visa will be released, annoyed at the other visa that I'm going to cut up asap, what will my fb username be - ah go the whole hog, who cares anyway, more walking, less eating, well maybe a few times this week, catch up with friends, spent more on the face products than the procedure, search for cheapflight. More water, less caffeine.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

All Sunday, all dog

Last Sunday, I joined my dog training group for a small reunion of sorts. The first batch of trainers were nearly all there, minus L and K, and joined the second batch of trainers to work with some of the new dogs, and for a special case - our very first behavioral analysis of one dog (with owners in attendance). JI plans to get us to build skills towards helping analyze what makes problem dogs tick and it was a great training day for those of us; I wish I could stay on and do more weeks with this side of the program. JI will also be setting up a training academy soon, I'd join it in a heartbeat if I wasn't out of the country.

We also had a mishap with one of the puppies, 9 weeks old, and very bright. I was holding the puppy, and it decided that it was a cat, and leaped out of my arms 4 feet down onto a hard tiled floor. It landed hard, and took a painful spill. We worried it was a dislocated shoulder, but after the vet took the x-ray, we learned it was a sprained muscle. Such relief. With my own dog all bound up and in a cast, I don't think I can take more animal mishaps.

Unfortunately, we witnessed the sorrow of another family whose 10 year old pet had to be put down; a failing kidney and deteriorating health forced them to the painful decision. Owner, yaya, all were keening with sorrow.

We ended the long day at E's home, eating ice cream and talking about the future, observing her own dogs and the new puppy she's training, who was confident and full of puppy joy. Before we left, she showed us just how confident she was, falling into the carp pond, but swimming ably to the side to get herself out of her own predicament if not for E coming to her rescue. I think the humans were far more concerned than the dog! E's black lab decided that a soggy puppy was the perfect patient for his ministering tongue, that dog is a bit OC when it comes to cleaning!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

There be stories

In the few days of being home, taking care of some of life's necessities, seeing friends, sharing stories, catching up with life, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. Life in China is a lot better now than it was 15 years ago. When I try to share what little I've learned about my life over the last two months have been like, some of the interesting social/anthropological issues I've encountered, I realize that I must preface it with comparing it to what I experienced when I was studying chinese over a decade ago in Xiamen. The then and now are stark. Where there were no roads, barely any infrastructure, few choices, and a lot less freedom to speak to locals, there are now large freeways, tall buildings sprouting like mushrooms, opportunity to satiate oneself with Asian and Western goods, and open social intercourse. I remember one German friend sharing her paranoia living in an industrial city fifteen years ago in the Western part of China, feeling shadowed every day, finding her things rifled. These days, the government has better things to do, and they prefer harassing foreigners by charging us fees because we are outsiders. Otherwise, it's just business, walang personalahan.

2. Fifteen years have brought changes to the cities, and to the people. They're still very conservative, mind you, and so many traditional ways have returned (or perhaps, like viruses, they were merely latent), but they are less likely to wear drab clothes - instead they've taken to shiny things like Gollum. The brighter, the fluffier, the tackier, the better! They'd paste the sequins on their forehead if they could. And for every brillo pad hairdo, there are tons more women who enjoy letting their tresses shine and glow with natural luster. We used to oggle the complicated superstructures some salesladies would twist their ringlets into, but I haven't seen any of those in a long time. The worst I've encountered so far this year was an older woman who had her bouffant teased, lacquered, and dyed; it looked like a dark blonde caramel candy bird's nest, which did nothing for the rest of her round body shape.

3. I have regular jaw dropping conversations, usually in class. It teaches me so much, and I do appreciate the honesty of those discussions. I won't exploit what the students tell me, it's not for titillation and gossip. They share because they are learning English and they answer my questions because I'm their teacher. They definitely enrich my world view, and understanding of how people think.

4. The China diet, for me, is a success. I weighed in at the gym yesterday, discovered I lost 10 lbs in 10 weeks, and that's including all the bags of potato chips (no, not the weird tasting ones) during feeling-sorry-for-myself moments. I should write a silly diet book: "Eat Potato Chips and Still Lose 10 lbs! Hahahaha! Seriously though, the biggest thrill has been the ability to wear a pair of brown pants that I thought I'd have to sell at the garage sale, I can button it up and there's a couple of inches allowance around the waist too. Yahoo! Chinese food may be one of the greatest culinary choices in the world, but the monotony of eating the same thing day in and day out will chisel away at your appetite.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Access is mine!!

It's been a few weeks since sites have been out of the loop in my corner of the world, it is assumed it was the lead in to the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen, and there's hope (of which I am full of no matter what) that when I go back I won't have to look frustrated at my pile of notes, unable to write and get stuff off my chest, for this is ultimately what my blog is, therapy! Heehee

I'm in Manila for a week or two, in what is called Step 3 of my work visa process. I was only informed it was called step 3 yesterday, in between getting off the night bus from Wenzhou to Xiamen, and waiting (to no avail) for documents I was told were on their way from another city. The documents will now be couriered to me in Manila, as I couldn't get the extension I was promised earlier. China's like that, raises your hopes, dashes them, then leads you on towards more hopes and dreams. Sounds like some people I know.

While I'm home, I have a list of things to do: pay bills, haircut, see friends, eat bacon, eat cheese! And Manila laid quite the welcome home last night, Roxas Boulevard was practically a parking lot, the rains pounded the car roofs, the wind ruffled more than a few feathers. I found out that a tree came crashing down on a few cars in my parents family compound, I saw the debris this morning. And my dog, my poor puppy, has had her front right leg in a cast for a few weeks, after an accident, good thing I didn't know about that while I was in China. Suddenly I wished to be back in the ignorance of my Wenzhou existence.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Savings Fail

Coming to China might be considered a big leap, a considerable sacrifice, and perhaps foolhardy to many. I decided to take this adventure since how often will this opportunity come again? I know there are enough reasons not to do something risky, but it's not in the same league as jumping out a plane without checking if the parachute works.

It is however a financial leap, and one that carries a large risk. If I end up not saving anything at all, there goes the last of my savings and I would prefer not to wonder how to recoup everything in my forties. I live considerably leaner and tighter than I did in Manila, and perhaps the choice of city is a good one; this place has little to offer in terms of cultural curiousity.

Each week, I set out a day I call "No spending day," usually a day I spend at home, doing chores, reading, writing, knitting, meditating, listening to music, doodling, daydreaming. Today was meant to be one of those days, but, I failed today's goal. After going through my list of to do's and having fulfilled them to the best of my ability, I figured I should go to the supermarket to get two things I did need. I ate some edamame so I wouldn't be tempted to buy food, and had written down the two things I planned to buy. I ended up lugging home two bags of things, and noting down some interesting items I sure would like to get the next time I have to go to the supermarket (not the next NSD!).

For example, I mentioned to friend J that I saw a whole roasted rabbit in the pre-cooked section of the supermarket (it sat near the whole roasted ducks, and other roasted meats). At 20 yuan per 500 grams, I think that might be quite a gourmet steal for the next group dinner. I believe the rabbit has been roasted in a soy-based marinade, but will have to update this information after I get to taste it. The rabbit looks quite lean, but meaty, this is no tiny bunny.

The other item that caught my eye were little pots of caviar for 60 yuan each. Granted this isn't beluga we're talking about, merely lumpfish or wild alaskan salmon fish roe, but it is a nice little luxury I feel will go well the next time I make poached eggs.

The damage I ran up for the day was pretty much what I planned to spend the entire week. Since most of the items I purchased were food products, there's no reason why I can't just do packed lunches every day. At least till the next NSD.

Back to the wok

Grazing online I saw that Wandering Chopsticks has a weekend wok round up going on, while on EatingAsia, Robyn and Dave shared their recipe for a sausage and cucumber salad that sounds quite delicious. I might make that salad later in the week, all the ingredients are easy to find in my neighborhood markets.
But what caught my attention was the notion of the wok. I grew up with woks around the house, but I knew them as more like your regular frying pans without knowing they had a special name; my mother may have just called them calderos. We had several of varying sizes, most of them were iron or steel, quite heavy and I learned how to make fried rice, eggs, and fried chicken on them when I was a kid. We always used gas burners, the maids only seemed to know one level of heat, and that was high. Took my mother time to get them to understand they could adjust the level of heat, especially if it was a new maid.
Over the years, in different homes in my life, I have had to cook with a variety of heat sources, and in some dorms, we were forced to cook on little electric burners, or built in cookers that didn't cause the fuse to conk out. I can't recall what I was using to cook on in HK, but I shall assume it was an electric burner. And in my last residence in Manila, I made do with an induction burner.
My apartment here in WZ has a small kitchen, just enough for one person to turn around, counterspace is at a premium. But it has two burners, and yes, it is gas. For the first few weeks, I made do with a pot I found in the closet, but I recently bought a rice cooker and a wok. I didn't make a conscious decision to get a wok, I just figured I needed something multi-functional and would work with the style of food I plan to make while I'm here. Again, eat local, eat the style of food available.
In the week I've had my wok, I've used it to make eggs, fried rice, and a quick saute of chillies. Vegetables, some soup, maybe steam up some dimsum one day, all for the future.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday follow-up

One chicken gone from the cage (I glared at the three tables full of customers in the restaurant, wondering which one decided the fate of the hapless bird).

Cherries now at 58 renmimbi, about P410 a kilo. Do I wait three more days or give into my urges now? On the other hand, I could buy a kilo of luscious looking bayberries coming into season as I speak for 40 rmb.... And I know they'd be worth every penny!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


It's been a quiet couple of days, spring has been particularly pleasant here, and minus a few days of rain, the days are sunny, but cool. This afternoon, I felt a chill entering my bones, threw on a few more layers, and on my walk to a meeting, felt the weak sunshine on my skin. I passed the daily parade of roosters in a cage outside a restaurant; a few weeks ago, they had a rather noisy duck out there too, but he's probably been eaten by now. Three chickens, robust looking beasts, watch the world go by, not knowing they are waiting out their fate.

A couple of corners down the road, I spy an unfamiliar sight. A grey dappled pony, led by his owner. Four or five trike drivers were likewise parked on the sidewalk, making comments about the horse. I don't think the horse was for eating, he looked like he was being brought to show some of the kids in the playschool nearby. He made some indignant noises when he was left by the tree.

Seeing the horse made me think of chinese words, the word for horse "ma" (third tone) is typically used by chinese language teachers when explaining the four tones. Ma (first tone) could refer to Mother; ma (second tone) may refer to the character used for hemp or numbness; ma (third) for horse; and the final tone of ma is normally only used in cursing or ending a interrogative question. We would practice the tones by saying ma four times, differentiating each tone, hopefully clearly, otherwise you're sort of just saying "Your mother's horse, or your mother is a horse."

Another sight on the road today, the local firemen were in training, I suspect they were being tested on speed. How quickly can they connect the hoses to the firetruck, or perhaps how quickly they could unroll the hose... Unlike Western firemen, however, there's nary a hunk among them. Deep sigh.

Tasted a new fruit, what looked to be a large cherry like fruit in a range of colors from green to orange. They're tart, and texture leans towards apricot/plum, with a pit. I'm not overjoyed by them, even though they are juicy enough. Perhaps they'd go well dipped in salt. The fruit store was also selling bing cherries, I nearly went for them until I saw they were 70 renminmbi per kilo (approximately P500 a kilo). I think I'll wait till the end of May, perhaps the cost will drop a bit more. I bought two kiwis instead.

Am fighting off the urge to go to the nearby supermarket and buy a bag of chips. I'm hoping that I can wait it out till 9 so the store will be closed and I won't want to traipse down four flights of stairs in the dark, with only my small flashlight to guide me.

Watched The Reader on dvd yesterday, and found the young actor playing Michael Berg (David Kross) very appealing and sexy. Yeegads, my cougar instincts!

In other news: Long overdue payment for Filipino veterans is included in the US Department of Defense budget. Took the US government 64 years to make a long drawn out situation right.

So ends May 5, 2009.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Smelly moo juice

Last year's melamine milk scandal spotlighted the problem of tainted milk in this part of the world. But what I thought was interesting was the number of people feeding their children milk. Cow's milk to be exact. When I was living here 15 odd years ago, the only milk we could find was soy milk and UHT pasteurized milk (is that redundant? I am too lazy to find out right now.). The latter didn't taste right to the Westerners, although I could care less, so long as it was white and didn't taste beany, as soy milk did. And it wasn't sweetened and watery.

These days, there are "milk bars" with a cowhide (black and white) facade, just to make sure people understand that this ain't no soy milk bar, we are all about the cow, people! One of the other teachers says their milk isn't bad, and gave us a taste a few weeks ago. I was and am still a bit leary about drinking milk here, but I have to weigh the chances of dying of some horrible kidney problem or having brittle bones from the lack of calcium. Hmmm.

After leaving my rented rooms a bit later than normal this morning, I signed in, and decided to go find myself some breakfast. I walked a few blocks, and saw the milk bar, busy with customers. Ok, some milk is calling my name (Mila, moooooo, drink me moooo). I grabbed a bottle, not really reading the bottle, plunked down cash and went back to the office. I unsealed the cap and poured myself a cup. Hmmmm, sniff, sniff, what is that smell? Why does this milk smell like sulphur? I was about to pour it down the drain when I looked at the label and saw this "Egg Milk".... I see. I would have thought eggmilk would be a bit richer, creamier, more eggnoggy. But maybe they just figure people will smell the egginess and think, right, I'm drinking an egg in my milk. Taking a sip, it tastes more like a light condensed milk, not too bad really, but the smell is a tad problematic for me. The ladies at work seem to like it though, so I will leave the bottle for them. Brittle bones, oh my.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New tastes

I am constantly told "you look chinese" and there's an underlying sense of expectation that I speak chinese, not to mention know all there is to know about living in China. I usually shrug my shoulders, try not to confuse the person with explanations about the diverse origins of Chinese Filipinos (overseas chinese is the phrase they understand best, yes, I have returned to the motherland, comrade!), and move the discussion to another track. As for speaking, they usually realize my chinese is still a work in progress, although one of my students said it wasn't bad (hahahaha).

One of the aspects of living in China that I'm going to do more of is tasting different specialties, depending on the region. Wenzhou is more of a seafood town, and I've been told their fish is very good. Strolling through town on days off, I normally spy a diner selling "fish balls" or "fish ball soup", this makes me think of our own fish balls at home, which look like balls! Here, they don't, more like fish nuggets, or rolled up willy nilly and plopped into a bowl of slightly acidic (vinegar probably) broth and a sprinkle of green onions. It is a very fishy taste, no ginger to mask that sense of, yes, you are eating fish. I can imagine that this wouldn't be a favorite among non-chinese eaters, who don't revel in the smell of fish. I would prefer some ginger myself but all you get for a side dish is some pickled cabbage at best.

Among food blogs, Appetite for China has been my go to source for good eats in China. Diana Kuan has been cooking and teaching in China for a couple of years now, at her base in Shanghai. Through her blog, I was alerted to the mulberry season, and managed to find the first fruits in the market near my apartment. They look like elongated blackberries, but the flavors are quite mild, somewhat astringent. Be prepared for stained fingers that won't wash out easily. She recently posted about grass jelly, a black gelatin that is supposed to be good for the health. I've had it in the past with coffee, but didn't think too much about it. I'm now having a couple of tablespoons mixed into my tea steeped drink, slathered with a healthy dollop of condensed milk. A pleasant way to start my morning while I read the morning news online.

The apartment complex has all sorts of vendors, and yesterday afternoon, I came across a mobile cart selling what looked like sushi. The man placed a sheet of dry nori (seaweed), had a large container of rice, and smaller buckets of pork floss, shredded cucumbers, peanuts, pickles and fried dough. It's sort of like the California roll, but no avocado. For 3 renmimbi (P21), you get a large roll, made while you wait, a tasty snack or light lunch.

There are some things that aren't Chinese at all, but make my heart palpitate in happiness. When you live in another country, you try to eat as local as possible, but after awhile you miss things from home or whatever makes your tastebuds nostalgic. I told friends recently that I was thrilled to see a Haagen-Dazs cafe here, they have most of my favorite flavors, and quite a dessert menu. They have this special tea set with cute little ice cream sandwiches on a tea caddy, three stacks high. I've taken refuge there once after a long walk and it was pleasant to sit watching people walk by. Yesterday, I discovered that Beard Papa has opened its first outlet in town. A complete surprise and since it's still in its early days, the pastry puff is still light and crisp, unlike the puffs in Manila that have turned all dense and bready. What I am eyeing in the Beard Papa store is the adorable bento box carrier they have in the display. Bright yellow with the cartoon face of Beard Papa on it, I must have it for my bento collection.

I have a lot more taste exploring to do!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hop on the bus, gus

8 hours to Xiamen, 8 hours to Shenzhen, 16 hours back to Wenzhou. All for four stamps on my passport. Whee.

What can I say about the sleeping buses of this wonderful country? There are the sleeping pallets, a cot that wouldn't fit anyone beyond 5'7" and whose top bunks I really don't like clambering up on. There are the quilts and questionable pillows; do they ever get washed? I suspect not. There are the passengers, a majority are men, mostly adults (haven't had the pleasure of a vomiting child next to me yet, oh dear, I just know that now I've thought of it, I'm bound to have one the next time around), and not too many (if any) foreigners. I was probably the only non-Chinese on all the buses I've taken thus far and I don't stick out too much if I don't open my mouth and ask questions. The other aspect of my fellow passengers is the basic level of hygiene they observe. There's no telling who is going to take their shoes off and perfume the air with foot-halitosis (you must take your footwear off at the time you get on the bus, and place them in a plastic baggy. That reduces the amount of dirt tracked in on the buses, but not necessarily reduces odor problems.).

Finally the bus drivers and conductors - most of them are quite solicitous, demanding, and helpful when needed. One steward made sure I was heading in the right direction at Shenzhen, and the bus drivers always recommended I put my backpack into the luggage compartment. I would still take it inside with me, and use it to protect me against any pallet bugs that the last passenger may have left behind.

Over the last 10 years China has built up its road system, the highways are laid out, north to south, east to west and so on. What might have taken me a day to get to in 1996 now only requires 8 hours. If I took the train, it would take me 12 hours. So I chose the bus as my form of coast to coast travel, even with horrible memories of being bounced around for hours, being pecked at by my neighbor's chickens, or hearing the sound of a child puking me behind me. Since the advent of the sleeper buses, there's a bit more room and no chickens have clouded the door of my trips so far. But the last couple of days, I've truly wondered if I have the strength to deal with any more nauseatingly foul body odor, smoking (which turns out to mask the smell of feet if only for a couple of minutes or two), and bus toilets. Here are a few lessons I must remember for future trips:

1. Wear long pants, long socks, and long sleeve shirts. Not merely to add a layer of protection against the linen on the bus, but because they love blasting the ac even if it's 10 degrees celcius outside. A couple of layers helps, and something like a hat to cover the head is doubly useful.
2. Bring the ipod portable charger, there isn't anywhere to plug in the usb charger.
3. The public bathroom at the midway point isn't as bad as I have come to expect, definitely much better than trying to balance oneself over the hole in the bus lav while the bus is roaring down the interstate.
4. One Snickers bar is insufficient caloric input on an 8 hour journey. The salad lunch at the Helena May (muchisimas gracias to J!) on the other hand kept me from rushing towards a bowl of murky soup at 10 pm (a third of the way into the 16 hour leg).
5. The name of the bus station doesn't necessarily mean it's in the same district. Case in point, Shenzhen has a few large bus stations, and the one I needed to find to head back north, Futian Bus Station, wasn't in Futian District, rather it was in some other part of town. Imagine my near heart attack at getting to the end of the line (on the Shenzhen subway), believing I was at the right area only to be told that I would have to get back on the train and head in the other direction. WTF!!!! Amazing Race, believe you me. I had to catch a 5 pm bus, and it was 4:50 pm.
6. Have a sense of humor and imagination. They're sorely lacking at midnight but as one sensible and wise man said, if you lose your temper, then you are merely showing the lack of insight into yourself.
7. Endeavor to create a smell barrier that will reduce the feeling of gagging when the smell of ripe feet or even more foul bathroom aromas penetrate one's consciousness. I bet I could make a fortune if I found something like that.

In the meantime I am back in the comfort of my temporary home, washed and disinfected my travel clothes, and glad not to have to go forth and stamp for another few weeks.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What if...

I recall watching a Richard Pryor movie sometime in the 80's where Mr. Pryor was given a gazillion dollars with a rather big catch - he had to spend all of it in one month! If he did, he would win even more gazillions of moolah; if he didn't he would lose everything he bought and go back to the tedium of his previous life (something very pedestrian I'm sure). Sometimes when I'm filled with ennui, I imagine that scenario - you get a call from some company that tells you "we've chosen you for this task: spend $100 million dollars in one month, and if you manage, you will be given a billion dollars!" - what type of stuff could you waste all that money on?

For the foodie in me, there's a list of the 8 most outrageous (but a few of them are quite pretty) kitchen gadgets, including an 18 karat white gold screwdriver, and an artsy wave grill. The one that I want right now is the TurboChef, which I thought they promoted on Iron Chef America, since how do they manage to make those dishes in less than an hour without the help of some superduper fast ovens? I think all kitchens should have one! Maybe with my imaginary loot, I'd buy myself one and get all my cooking obsessed friends one too! That way if I lose the bet and don't end up with the bazillions, I can still go to their apartments and broil a turkey in an hour!

Friday, April 17, 2009

My knees go weak

"Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

"The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

"Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

"But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

"Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again."

- Sullivan Ballou, 1829-1861

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I have been hankering for cake. But chinese cakes tend to be either one of two kinds: dry and frosted with sugary sweet frosting, or dry with no frosting (but something weird and crumbly inside). Without an oven of my own, not even my trusty turbo broiler, how was I going to get by?
A talk with a student confirmed that there was a cake shop near the office, unfortunately I wrote it down on a class list and forgot to transfer the information to another sheet of paper. What a ditz! So I was pleasantly surprised to see a plate with a slice of what looked like strawberry shortcake sitting next to my computer after I had done a class. Cake! A layered cake with frosting, and as I bit into the cake, it wasn't dry or crumbly. And the frosting wasn't too offputting either, more like Coolwhip. It also had some fruit bits in between the layers and a few custardy tidbits scattered in and around the slices. It was quite yummy, and a relief for someone who needed, nay, ached for cake.
However, what I thought were strawberries turned out to be something totally different. Yes, they are fruit, but tomatoes??? Saladcake, anyone?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Other than making a few discoveries a day while living here (there's a Sephora in town!), I am also learning a few things about how things work. For example, I bought a map from a street vendor the day after I arrived and I'm happy to say it's getting a lot of use. It lists which buses run around town, and I can save a heck of a lot of money by taking the bus into town, rather than taking the cabs. Buses do stop at designated bus stops here, and won't just let you off anywhere you feel like it. How I wish our buses back in Manila were the same.

I also wish our supermarkets would consider the pay for shopping bag rule they have here. If you don't bring your own shopping bag, you have to pay 3 mao (approximately P2.10) for every plastic bag your stuff gets put into. I think forcing the customer to pay for plastic makes a point to reuse your plastic bags or bring totes! Since so many of our local supermarkets are selling canvass totes, why don't they give shoppers a small discount or a free gift if they use the darn things?

Tomorrow, I will go to the library with two of my fellow co-workers, I hear they even have movies for rent, so I don't have to spend all my savings on buying up a collection of dvds!

Top of the heap

This was an eye opener of sorts. The Philippines ranks number two in overall number of foreign born workers in the US according to this immigration and job article in the New York Times. When you go through the individual job descriptions, there are only two types of jobs where we don't figure at all, Skilled Construction and Construction Laborers (which is interesting since we send so many construction workers to the Middle East and around Asia), otherwise we are always in the top ten, and naturally in one area - Nurses, we top the list. We send the second most number of Doctors (after India), come third in the number of Policemen and other Protective Workers. What did surprise me was seeing the Pinas top the list of Accountants! Goodness, all those mathematical minds at work, figuring out who gets a tax break, world dominance indeed. Health care and taxes, quite a grip we have no?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The dumplings and noodles in my neighborhood

From 1994 to 1996 I lived in the city of Xiamen, Fujian province, ostensibly to learn Chinese, but also to figure out what I was going to do with my life. The Chinese language classes were interesting, although 15 years later I find myself struggling to remember so much of what I never used. What has stayed with me was a love for real chinese food.

There is a great deal of regional differences in Chinese food, and what has spread around the world have been the hordes of Cantonese and Sichuan cooks (and very few chefs) dominating a global landscape of fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and something called General Tso's Chicken. Who GT was, no one knows, especially no Chinese I've ever spoken to. In N. America, there are too many mediocre chinese restaurants and take out counters that destroy any sense of what good chinese food is; in S.East Asia, we are so much luckier, but even in a country like the Philippines with our cultural and demographically strong presence, there are as many bad chinese restaurants as there are traffic jams in a day. And since most of our ancestors came from one province in China, Fujian, we don't have a good variety of chinese cuisine. Not too many good hunanese or sichuan restaurants to fan the flames of the chilli heads, neither do we have the hot pots from the north, or a flurry of hand pulled noodle shops. And let's not forget that there's only a couple of places in Ongpin that serve decent dumplings (jiao zi).

Being back in China for the time being, I am determined to try as many dumpling and noodle shops around. For one, they're cheap. I can eat a plate of 10 dumplings for as little as 4 renmimbi, sometimes 6 renmimbi (appr P28 to P43). A bowl of noodles costs about the same. And a plate or a bowl is hearty, it will keep you going for a few hours, no need to add more stuff down your maw.

In the two weeks I've been based in Wenzhou, I've scouted the lanes for what could be good places to try a plate or a bowl of my favorite comfort foods. I can't say that I've discovered the best, but my forays around my neighborhood have been productive to say the least. I hope to get in the good graces of some of the places I've been to so I can ask the owners to let me take a photo of them doing their magic. The owner of the Lan Zhou noodle shop I was in recently worked the hand pulled noodles, pulling the dough into magically thin threads in less than a couple of minutes, then tossed it into the boiling broth. I've found that Wenzhou dumpling soups come with a few dried shrimp and a hearty helping of seaweed in the broth.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon a northeast dumpling place, Dong Bei is also the name of the dumpling place in Ongpin, but these dumplings were a different animal, they were stuffed, full of vegetables and meat, and a plate of 15 pieces overwhelmed me. I was a very happy puppy popping in a dumpling at a time, dipped in a blend of black vinegar, soy sauce and dried chilli peppers.

Today a stroll down a neighborhood lane led me to a place that made a good plate of fried rice with vegetables and egg, but what made my mouth water was the spicy bowl of boiled fish in spicy sauce and topped with chunks of dried chillis. Shui Zhu Yu, I heart thee. But I will have to come back to try it out another time. The apple cheeked waitress was kind and made sure I had hot water to wash down my meal.

The days are getting warmer, the nights are perfect for exploration, and my tummy is happy to be filled with chinese goodies that I love.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chinese stories

In the last week, I've learned quite a few things about chinese culture, stuff that I know I had never heard before:

1. After a blind date (set up by professional matchmakers), a chinese man will show a girl that he wishes to continue seeing her by giving a monetary token, usually 200 renmimbi (approximately P1400), placed in a red envelope. It is taken as an insult if the man only gives 100 rmb or less (sort of like a slap in the face). Why give any money at all if they don't want to see the girl, I guess is what the standards require.

2. Seems like there are a lot of "witches", healers, among the older society. Some of the students have told me that their mothers took them to white witches when they were younger, typically after some medical mystery that the doctors couldn't figure out. Only one student told me of a male witch. And a good number of the students seem to believe in superstition, or at least had unexplained experiences.

3. I discovered that I had been accosted by a nun! On one of the first days of my stay in this town, I was walking around near the train station and an older woman grabbed my arm saying she wanted to give me something. Fearing for the safety of my belongings, I managed to wriggle out of her grasp. A few days ago, I was trying to explain the difference between a monk and a nun, and I was told that there are a lot of nuns who make you pay for something triffling, something they foist on you demanding money but at the same time saying it is a good luck charm. Hmmm. The nuns in Xiamen never tried stuff like that on us before!

On a slightly disgruntled note, my office's nice clean girls toilet is under repair, it seems to be taking a long time for them to tinker with whatever needs fixing, and I have to either wait till I get home or submit to the squat toilet. Aiyiiiii!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The balcony

My favorite spot in the apartment is my balcony; on a warm-ish day, I can hang up my laundry, get a bit of morning sun, sip a cup of freshly brewed jasmine tea, and watch the people, my neighbors, go about their business, not to mention peer over and see how messy the first floor neighbors' backyard extensions are. Yesterday morning, I spent a good thirty minutes soaking in some needed Vitamin D, and wondering about the people in my neighborhood. There's the older couple, perhaps 60 or so, relatively healthy, but getting on in years. The man brushes and waxes a pair of shoes, his wife folds his quilted jacket sleeves up so they don't get streaky with black shoe polish. Their garden/lanai is quite neat, full of healthy plants, and the marble tile looks clean. If my calculations are right, they have lived all their lives under the current regime; his build makes me think he must have done some heavy lifting in his day, and I wonder if he was a kind man, to his family or to people who crossed his path. Did he purge anyone from his unit? Do they wonder what would have happened if their families had brought them out of the country early on?
To my left, the other first floor residents have a bit of a pigsty in their backyard, the little section I can see is full of empty plastic bottles, some laundry, and the entire area is bare concrete. One fellow comes out, and looks to be scratching his scalp intently, going over every inch with both hands, shaking dandruff out of his scalp maybe or just massaging himself awake. One of his fellow housemates comes out in only his underpants to toss out some used water.
Across the path and to the right, the front door opens and a child stumps out, carrying the trash. He lugs it over the front lawn, dumps it there and starts pouting. He's exuding sheer unhappiness, and then slumps back inside, leaving the garbage out. The tip is actually down the path, another fellow brings old flowers out to toss, but the little boy's bag's remain on the grass. About 15 minutes later, a middle age man comes out holding three large bags, he keeps the door open for a bit, then I see the same child carrying more bags behind him. They don't speak, but I sense this could be the dad. The man barely gives the boy any consequence, they are both carrying a load, but the child is probably no more than 7 and he's got his hands full. The man walks ahead, doesn't check if the child is following, and with some stumbling, the boy follows him down the lane and to the left of the main gate.


I have two patio chairs on my balcony, I washed them down a few days ago and they come in handy in the space. What I discovered attached to one of the chairs, however, gives me pause. I think they are handcuffs, but they don't have any keyhole, so I am not sure if that's the purpose of their nasty looking grip. I can't remove them from the chair, and it gives that particular seat an ominous presence. What person or thing was forced to stay in that chair? Why are there tape marks on one metal arm? Or have all my previous literary readings of this country colored this simple tool? It could just be something naughty, forgotten in the corner of the 4th floor.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Food finds

A, one of my many co-workers, took me to buy a cellphone today. One crazy hour later, we finally exited China Mobile with my 400 renmimbi (approximately P2800.00) Nokia; the system to buy and set up the phone sure is insane here! Suddenly, I missed going to Globe or Smart and just getting a phone.

After the to-ing and fro-ing for the phone, we went into the heart of town to try some of the local delicacies. A said she wanted me to try a specialty of Wenzhou called "hun dun", a clear soup with pork dumplings. We went to a celebrated diner called Chang Ren Hun Dun, which looks to be a family run little place that has gained fame for being the best hun dun diner in town. The soup is good, clear, flavorful, and a bowl that cost us 5 renmimbi (rmb), approximaly P35, was brimming with the pork dumplings, fresh vegetables, and seaweed. I would say this is the best find in this town, good value for the rmb/buck. A also bought a large bun made of radish, pork, and egg, called deng xiang gao, with a nice crispy crust. It is a good accompaniment to the soup. The fried dumplings, guo tie, were ok, filled with pork and chestnuts, but I think I prefer the beijing or northern dumplings more.

On the street, people walk around munching on little pancakes (bings), I found a lady who made hopia style biscuits filled with a chewy mochi filling. It's a bit dry at first bite, but once you get into the nice chewy center, it's a great little treat as you walk around, dodging the cars, bikes, and other pedestrians. Other vendors sell uber-large bbq sticks of meat, and another popular snack seems to be this rectangular grilled meat on a stick; no, it's not Spam, but I haven't tried it yet.

A said I should try some nuts, I thought it would be some special local nuts, but they turned out to be roasted chestnuts. They sell them with this plastic disk that helps you cut it open. Good golly miss molly, use your teeth people!

We walked up the street as A wanted to show me the largest mall in Wenzhou. I was ready to be less than thrilled, but I showed a lot more enthusiasm when I saw on the corner of the mall, Haagen Dazs! Yes, my ice cream needs are safe. I treated A to a scoop of coffee ice cream, while I had a scoop of strawberry and a cappucino, a much needed caffeine boost. It was a bit more than I had budgeted to spend today, but sometimes a small splurge is absolutely necessary.

Friday, April 03, 2009


I got home last night, a long day. Put in an extra three hours of overtime to cover one of the other teachers who didn't get back from a trip. I sat in my chilly living room, waiting for the heater to do it's magic, and looked up at the wall. The previous tenants left a lot of stuff behind, and the landlord said they were mine to do with as I like (or at least I think that's what he said in chinese). They left a woven wall hanging, picturing some seaside in blue and green. But what they hung on the same peg makes me smile. A hula hoop. I haven't had one in years!
It's a three day weekend here in China, many of the locals will head to their villages, pay respects to the dead, it's the Tomb Sweeping Day weekend. Sort of like our All Saint's Day in November. Because I also get three days off, I will attend to a few household duties, get that kitchen in order and cook myself a soup, something hearty to ward off the cold. Maybe go to one of the three wine shops nearby and see if there's anything worth spending a few days salary on, or if that doesn't prove fruitful just buy myself some sake I saw in the convenience store (sake, baijiu, etc, all in our local 7-11), and keep warm under my quilt.
Or take down the hula and whittle my waist away. Hula championships, here I come.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


My apartment is in the 7th block, inside a massive apartment complex. All the buildings are 6 to 7 stories tall, and I'm in the middle, 4th floor. No elevators, so if I have to lug anything heavier than a few grocery bags, I'm going to be in contention for a weight lifting contest pretty soon. So far though the heaviest I've had to drag up is my backpack, which didn't wind me up too much.

The apartment is approximately 82 sqm, large for one person, as expressed by all the ladies at the office who have either helped me in finding an apartment, or when they start gossiping among themselves. I'm the newest face around here, so it's natural they get all in a twitter over what I'm doing. So the 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment, with a dining room, kitchen, and a small balcony for hanging clothes is more than enough space for little old me, given the cramped conditions of most of my fellow chinese co-workers.

The place came furnished, and that was a godsend. There's a large bed in the main bedroom, a bunk bed in the smaller bedroom (it was the kids' room, a lot of the toys they didn't want to bring when the last tenant moved out are still on the shelves). Dining table, 4 chairs, a refrigerator (that is still a bit stinky, must do another washdown with baking soda and hot water), a sofa and arm chair set in plasticky light blue leatherette, glass coffee tables, a large a/c-heater, and the dominating feature in the living room is a large tv with all the doodads for blasting really loud music (speakers and some machines that you twiddle for sound). I wondered why anyone would just leave this stuff behind, but I guess they moved on to flat screen and higher end goods. In any case, I don't have cable, and I will either electrocute myself trying to figure out how to connect one plug to another so I will stick to reading, surfing online, and tossing strange ingredients in the one pot I found in the cupboard.

I miss my cat.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Excuse me

I don't like whining, and I especially hate travellers who can't seem to find anything good about a place (you know those types, the I only eat at fast food joints because I know their names back home, why is everything around here dirty, why does everyone not speak english types). I won't be spending much time focusing on the negatives, but I figure a bit of exasperation at how things work here in the land of tea and rice won't be taken against me (and hopefully no blog blocking on the part of the local censors).
I told several friends before I left that my biggest concern was having a clean toilet, a western toilet preferably, and to my eternal gratitude the gods have been good so far. My office has clean, sanitized options, both Western and squat. And the hotel I am staying at for the first few days has a western toilet.
The hotel itself, well, it could be several notches better. It seriously needs a carpet upgrade, are those cigarette burns everywhere? And I forgot how much I would be surrounded by smokers here, they smoke in the bus (right in front of the No Smoking sign - it's in chinese, no way for them to plead ignorance), they smoke in the elevator, they smoke in their rooms. I'm girding myself to bitchslap the first student who tries to light up in class. Well, castigate, in really nice but stern tones. I am practicing my steely gaze as I write this.
The city's taxi system is unusually strict. Taxis can only go in a particular direction and if you ask them to go the other way, they tell you to cross the road and grab a cab on the other side. I asked the ladies here at work and they explained that it would cost me more if I tried to make the cabbies turn around, so at least that's one lesson learned so far. I'm still trying to make heads or tails of the bus system, the buses look rather swiffy, none of the old russian buses that I used to push my way in (because the old chinese ladies would push their way in, sticking their elbows into your ribs to grab leverage) way back in the early 90's. Chinese cabbies are crazy, they definitely push their boundaries when it comes to weaving in and out of traffic. Back in Xiamen, we saw a particularly intense accident, a bus crashed into the center aisle metal rail. Glass everywhere, the bumper and front grill looked beyond repair. I think I had better increase my death and dismemberment insurance when I go home in a few months time.
Wenzhou boomed due to the industrial growth of the last 8 years; its vicinity to Shanghai made it very popular for companies that build small parts for practically everything. Fashion, cars, machinery, office equipment. Somewhere in the flatlands towards the west, there was a factory built just to make some tiny hinge by the thousands. Migrant workers flooded in, and the city grew exponentially. The folks who grew rich off the proletariats backs now drive around in beamers, porsches, and range rovers galore. A walk around town yesterday was quite eye opening. There's money in these hills, although the economic downturn is hitting everyone hard. Exports are going to be double digit percentage points lower than last year, so those cars may not be on the road for much longer.
The main shopping drag, Five Horses Street and the offshoot alley, First Bridge, is full of the least essential items on the face of the earth. Ok, maybe the diva editor in the Devil Wore Prada would disagree with me, but do the citizens of this city really need store after store of deconstructed sack like dresses, jeans, handbags, shoes with ruffles on the heel, and undergarments?
I am thrilled that I can spend a few kuai for dvds; without access to english news, I know that knowing a few stores that will feed my need for mindless entertainment will be a godsend. I already got a copy of Doubt and SATC (extended cut). I should have quite the collection in a few months.
Oh and speaking of eating in fast food joints, I must hang my head in shame that I caved in and ate at the KFC by the train station. But if there's any reason to gloat, the KFC here serves fantastic egg tarts! Macau, schmacau, I don't need to fly/train/bus my down south for flaky, eggy, creamy tarts! Yahoo!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies