Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random Observations 4/12/2012

  • Before we arrived here, Berkley’s class won a school-wide fundraising contest. The payoff, a trip to a cake factory, was this week, so Berkley got to free-ride on the hard work of his classmates. He was told he was allowed to bring a camera, but when the class arrived, the workers wouldn’t let anyone take pictures. I guess they were protecting (wait for it) an ancient Chinese secret eh?
  • When we arrived at our apartment, the toilets were, shall we say, in less than perfect working order. Luckily, the problem has resolved itself. Unluckily, the problem has resolved itself into the yard on the side of the apartment. So, now when we flush the toilet, it discharges into the yard; it appears that all of the apartments on our side of the building are in the same situation. Sweet. Obviously, we’re not opening any windows on that side of the apartment, and I’ve put in a call to my handler here. Alas, no work of any kind has happened in the week since the call. We’re sitting tight for now, but if the weather gets any warmer, it’s going to be pretty nasty.
  • Last night, the whole family went out to dinner with my students; they took us to a Hunan restaurant, and we all had a great time. We had an engaging conversation about Chinese politics, and the students were so great with the boys, as they’re really interested in what Quin and Berkley have to say. For them, they’re not just little kids; the boys are an insight into life half way around the world. The only downside of the evening was that even the vegetable dishes weren’t vegetarian; this is pretty much the norm here in China. We had all sorts of fabulous veggie dishes (think Chinese cabbage, eggplants, lotus roots, bitter gourd, and other mysterious veggies), but maybe only one or two of them didn’t have visible pork in them. Because this is so common, we’ve become a bit more flexible in our vegetarianism here. Generally speaking, our rule is that we don’t order dishes with big pieces of meat in them if we can avoid it (although we may try dishes like that if we’re out with a group and someone orders a local specialty – like the boys trying chicken feet in Hong Kong). But if we order a veggie or noodle dish and there is ground meat in eat, well then – we try to go with the flow. While my brain understands that, my stomach is not all that happy about this flexibility. Eating meat (even in small amounts) takes getting used to after 16 years of vegetarianism. I think my stomach will be happy when we get back to our normal routine in the States; of course, that’s probably also about the time it will be adjusted to our routine here.
  • The boys have been pretty good sports about trying things at these dinners out (we also all went out about a week ago with two of the students to a Sichaun restaurant, and there have been some other official functions). Quin, in particular, seems to be really willing to try just about anything. Last night, he tried 11 of the 13 or so dishes the students ordered, including the frog. He’s also tried chicken feet and a fish eyeball, two things that I wouldn’t even eat. That’s not to say that he’s eating everything under the sun. We only ask them to take a bite, and we only push the dishes we think they’ll actually like (although Quin normally goes beyond that and requests tastes of all sorts of things). We usually give them something food we know they’ll like before we go out, so they’re not hangry at the restaurant. So far, this seems to be a good working strategy. They’re trying new things, and they both have learned how to use chopsticks, which is a relief as we told them we wouldn’t bring them home if they didn’t learn (don’t worry Nanny – we weren’t serious).
  • We developed this system as, interestingly, it’s not easy to get soy sauce at a Chinese restaurant. While Chinese restaurants in America generally all have soy sauce on the table, here they don’t even know what we’re talking about when we ask for it. When we were out with my two students, it took a bunch of back and forth to actually establish what we were requesting.  I guess it's more something used while cooking as opposed to a condiment. So, we can’t fall back on the old rice and soy sauce when we go out with the boys. Further complicating matters is the fact that, in China, the rice is served last. It doesn’t go with or under the other dishes; it comes after all the good stuff, so if you’re still hungry, you can fill up on the plain stuff. As a result, a good old box of Kraft Mac and Cheese can be a life-saver for guaranteeing a peaceful dinner. And I think that’s a pretty good compromise – they try lotus root, bitter gourd and strange greens, and we feed them American crap. Everyone’s happy, so win-win – if only everything were so easy!


  1. Love this post Shannon, you always have such interesting observations.

    Aunt Marsha

  2. Hope your stomach survives! I am impressed with Quin trying all the different foods. Love to read about this

    Aunt cheryl