green tea restaurant gave me crabs

Last week Taylor and I had to come to terms with something– we can no longer say we are traveling. Rather, we are living in China. Enter culture shock.

Some days come with challenges, but for the most part, we’re really loving being and even living here. Everyday is a learning experience!

Last night, in honor of Thanksgiving, Taylor’s school took Taylor, Caleb, and me out to dinner at a place called Green Tea Restaurant (Perk of Being a Girlfriend: boyfriend’s school always invites you to dinners/events for their teachers, even though you don’t work there). After feasting on many deliciours dishes including “goose tofu,” roast duck, and some of my favorites like lu cha bing (green tea cakes), and gan gao bao cai (cabbage with bacon and peppers), we enjoyed some good conversation and watermelon juice as we sat back and all expressed “Women bao le” (We’re full).

We thought our night was coming to a close, but our waiter came to our table and after some expressive exchanges in Chinese we learned the restaurant was having a special promotion and we would receive 4 free crabs! Now, would we like to eat them now or take them home? Being pretty stuffed already, we opted to take them home. Cooked or alive? Without any hesitation, Taylor was declaring, “Alive! We’ll take them alive!”

And so it came to be that I returned home with crabs.

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I thought it would be funny to dump them onto Tammy’s floor and run away. Taylor thought it would be better to dump them on my floor and poke them with chopsticks.

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Typical.IMG_3785

After some play time, and some contemplation as to where we could keep them as pets (I had to be talked out of turning the bottom drawer in my fridge into an aquarium), we thought they might find better use with our friend Victor who lives and works in the hotel.

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Victor was happy to receive them, and promptly gave them a full spa treatment, starting with a toothbrush scrub-down, because “we all must have a bath. Fruits and vegetables and crabs we eat, always first a bath.” Then the crabs met their end in a luxurious “sauna.”

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At least the last thing they saw was this smiling face.

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what do you mean i should have planned ahead?

I should be in Beijing right now. I should be touring the regal Forbidden Palace, browsing through aged pottery at the antique market, perusing brilliant silks and shimmering pearls. Instead I am still in my room in Xiasha. Because this week I attempted to go to Beijing twice. And twice I failed.

This week is Jinrong’s Sports Meeting (basically a 3-day track competition), and since all the freshmen are required to go, everyone is excused from class for those days. Sweet! With a 5-day weekend in my sights, I decided to take up Tammy’s offer of traveling to Beijing with her where she would be visiting her sister. Since Tammy’s sister had already purchased a plane ticket for her, I opted to take the train on my own, leaving a day earlier but arriving close to the same time.

Attempt number one included getting on a bus at 4 in the afternoon and heading to the train station in downtown. I thought I could take the B1 bus, connect to the B2 bus  and ride to the end of the line and end up at the station. But, in fact, it is the B2X bus that does that. So unaware of that small detail I sat on the B2 for over an hour (this was after already being on the B1 for about an hour), and finally ended up at a deserted bus depot. Realizing I had obviously made a mistake somewhere, I got back on the B2 in the direction I just came from. I somehow managed to make it to the train station around 7:15pm, only to learn the last train to Beijing left at 7:30pm and I would have no time to make it through security and to my gate on time. I left the station feeling disappointed, but determined to leave earlier the next day and get on a train. However, once again, this was not to be.

The next day I left with friends Izzy, Lark, and Little Lark to the station around 1pm. We made it there with plenty of time to spare, but I started to worry when every ticket window was accessorized with a mob of people. Surely, not this many people would be traveling on a Wednesday afternoon on a non-holiday weekend? I assured myself they were all just buying their Spring Festival tickets in advance. How naive of me. (I later learned there is a congress meeting in Beijing this weekend, which explains the mass exodus.)

With Lark translating, the annoyed clerk was able to inform me that my only options for getting to Beijing were to a) pay 600 RMB one way, because all the 200 RMB seats were sold out, b) leave the following day, or c) take a train that would travel for almost 24 hours when the regular travel time should be 12 hours. I decided against all these, and dejectedly got on the bus back home.

I made a pit stop at Hangzhou tower (a huge mall full of over-priced western stores) and self-soothed with a seasonal cranberry white chocolate mocha from Starbucks (with real cow’s milk because I don’t know how to say “soy” in Chinese), spending about half my allotted daily food budget on a single drink (no shame). And then I used the handicapped restroom because they always have western toilets and I was in no mood to squat.

And just when I was beginning to feel a little better, I walked outside and realized I didn’t know which direction I needed to go in order to get home. I stared at a map for a while and decided I should keep going in the direction I had been earlier, only I would be taking a different bus. I sat on the bus for about 4 stops and ended up at the end-of-the-line bus station. -_-

With the confidence that at least now there was no way I could mess this up anymore, I started walking across the lot. But because I wasn’t walking on the sidewalk the guard at the gate beckoned for me to come to him. Just as I was deciding whether I should attempt Chinese, only speak English, or simply cry, a bus passed between us and I seized the opportunity to flee in the opposite direction.

I made it back home and made different plans. And while I’m disappointed I couldn’t make it up north this weekend, it’s still only Thursday and I’m looking forward to having free time and a few days in Shanghai with friends! As is often the case since being in China– many lessons learned.

“My favorite food is strawberry. It taste like?… first love.”

-One of my students responding to the warm-up topic of the day: “Describe your favorite food”

blue skies and gluttonous buses

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin with these blog posts. I feel torn between loving China, laughing at the often ludicrous situations we find ourselves in, enjoying the thrill of so many adventures, and longing for my family & friends back home, hating the way people drive here (It’s not racist to say everyone here is a terrible driver because it’s so true.), and missing so many comforts of America. But I suppose I should put my money where my mouth is, since I am a believer in the idea that Sisters and Brothers are not Called to be comfortable and pampered, but rather the very opposite. That in our relationships with one another we should have the same attitude of Yeshua, who made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, and humbled himself, despite being in the very nature of his Father (Phil 2). So I really shouldn’t sit here and miss seat belts and Mexican food and cardio barre classes and Trader Joe’s and my yuppie green detox juices from Nektar.. Right??

Anyway, last week we had a break from school for China’s National Holiday. One of the students here was so kind as to house 8 of us foreign teachers in her home in Zhoshan (joe-shawn). It’s a small island town on the east coast of China and it was so lovely! The Chinese countryside was such a treat! Blue skies and fresh sea air were embraced wholeheartedly (although, sometimes the present odor of fertilizer was a bit overwhelming. Such is life in the country). We were treated with home-cooked meals each night. We ate like royalty sampling the local seafare of steamed clams with zesty green onions, sauteed green beans and squid, tender bitter melon soup, pale green squash and thinly sliced tofu, little tempura style fish, savory olive leaves, and salty, steamed bok choy, just to name a few. And I grew quite fond of eating rice porridge with sugar for breakfast, which our Chinese friend found amusing because she only ate sweet rice porridge as a baby. (But then again she also thought it was “silly” that in America we have to wear seat belts every time we drive somewhere and “so serious, so strict” that someone could go to jail for driving on the wrong side of the road). One night we all cooked for her parents, and while her mom had several servings of the garlic mashed potatoes, I think they were mostly being polite about our grilled cheese and vegetable soup since some leftover fish made its way from the fridge to the table that night.

We kept ourselves fairly busy, one day visiting White Mountain Hill where we hiked walked along stone paths and explored boulders while absorbing views of the island and snacking on roasted pecans and banana chips. Another day we spent the afternoon at a beach famous for it’s sand sculpture competition. The beach was such an odd scene with most people wearing pants, long sleeve shirts, and sometimes head scarves in order to preserve the porcelain skin that is so desired in China. There were also designated swimming areas, but most people still only ventured into the water to ankle depth.

That was also the day we experienced our first “real Chinese bus experience.” Meaning we were part of over 100 people who flooded into a single bus, with no control over who we were smashed against as the tide of bodies swelled up and pressed in. Miraculously, our whole group managed to get onto the same bus. Tammy and I were close enough to the bus doors when they opened that we didn’t have to actually make any move to get onto the bus, but rather the crowd easily carried us inside. One poor girl was calling and reaching for her dad as the merciless crowd forced her towards the front of the bus while he remained near the center. Somehow (my money’s on apparation), the father was able to swim upstream to be reunited with his daughter.

Most nights, after some fruit for dessert and a game of Uno, we would climb onto the roof of the home that so kindly received us and gaze at the stars with appreciation. The last night we were there we spent most of the evening at a beach barbeque with our friend’s Family. It was an uplifting experience to see so many gathered together knowing we all shared a love for the same One.  After we were stuffed to the brim with grilled squid and rice dumplings, we sang and danced around the bonfire, sharing in so much happiness. Although we couldn’t understand what was being said by most people, the Love and Joy in the atmosphere was palpable. I left smelling of salt and bonfire smoke, feeling Humbled and gratefulto this extension of my own Family for welcoming us. He is Good.

 

Apple Pie Motivation

Well. I have successfully taught my first two weeks of classes. And by “successfully” I mean no one outwardly defied me, walked out of class, or told me I suck. And by “taught” I mean showed a Power Point presentation that was mostly pictures of California, Malibu beaches, Stauffer chapel, my family, my friends, and my favorite Chinese foods. There have been a few minor glitches, mostly involving computers/projectors that don’t work and result in my either having to write everything on the chalkboard or having to move my entire class to an empty classroom. But I’m just grateful I haven’t been the victim of an unexpected classroom change like some of my fellow foreign teachers have been. Sometimes, for seemingly no reason, the school decides to change where your class meets. They don’t tell you, but rather have you running around campus searching for your class in an ultimate game of sardines. They like to keep us on our toes. Actually, all the school faculty I’ve met and worked with have been extremely kind and helpful. It’s humbling to have (and need) so much help. Where my students are concerned, they’re sweet and sometimes shy, but also willing to participate which I appreciate a lot. I haven’t learned everyone’s names yet, but there are some really great ones including, but not limited to: Ice Cream, Smile, Echo, Era, Extra, Seagull, Apple, Winter, Cherry, River, July, Fabregas, Yoga, Queen, and Beenle. Out of 90 students so far, only 8 are male, so they’re usually quite a giggly bunch :>

I have yet to master the squatty potty. If anyone out there has any tips, they shall be greatly appreciated.

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In other news, China has led to some significant lifestyle changes for me, a big one being my diet. Before I left China I subsisted on a diet of mainly lean meats, veggies, nuts, and fruit. A paleo diet of sorts, if you will. I was very partial to my high-nutrient, low-saturated fat, mostly organic diet, rounded out with a good dose of supplemental vitamins and protein green shakes, just in case I was lacking anywhere.

Well, that all changed after coming to China. Most meals I’ve been eating here largely consist of rice/rice noodles, with tiny bits of meat and/or bok choy mixed in. While I find the fried rice noodles quite tasty, they definitely lack in any health categories. Which is why for the first time in about 2 years I have begun to regularly succumb to the seductive lure of dairy. I’ve been consuming it on a regular basis. Always in the form of nai cha (milk tea). I can’t stay away from it. It’s so freaking delicious. I’ve always considered myself a coffee lover, but that was before I learned the magnificent ways of nai cha. (I’m sorry coffee! I actually still love you. It’s just that you’re such a phantom in this land. Please don’t hate me). Students here love it, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s gotten to the point where I want it after every meal. It satisfies my sweet tooth, but I just tell myself there can’t be that much sugar in it. And there has to be some form of antioxidants in it because it’s tea, right? As for the havoc it wreaks on my digestive system– well.. that’s what Tums and papaya extract are for.

Another major difference to eating here is that we all eat out for almost EVERY meal. It’s (usually) fast, cheap, and delicious. One restaurant in particular we’ve come to love for it’s huge portions of noodles and dumplings for ridiculously cheap prices. We can leave with full bellies and leftovers in hand for under $2 per person. Sometimes even getting a big bowl of peanut noodles for only 4 yuan! Say what! We affectionately refer to this eatery as “The Dirty Noodle.” (Let’s all pretend we call it that for it’s dirt cheap prices and not for any lack of cleanliness in the kitchen.) I tried to convince myself that the savory pork dumplings were wrapped in a rice flour dough, but my intestines made sure to let me know they were probably made with wheat. Drat.

But now, for the BIG news! I bought an oven today!

[photos coming soon…]

She better prove herself worthy for the amount of trouble it was getting her home.

Tammy and I returned to an export store nearby an hour bus ride away, after seeing this larger oven on sale for just under 300 yuan ($45). It was bigger than most of the tiny single-temp toaster oven sized ones you see here, and it had the option of changing the temperature. WIN. (Last week I borrowed Tammy’s tiny toaster oven and made roasted tomato soup. I had to roast all my vegetables in about 6 batches because the oven was so small, and I had to watch it really closely because it only had one temp–furnace.)

We entered the store with the oven in mind and loaded it onto our cart. Then followed it with a circular cake pan, tin foil, a rolling pin, cornmeal flour, all purpose flour, soy milk, and yogurt. (But we decided against the small bag of peanut M&Ms. Too heavy, you know?)

After checking out, we start laughing about how we’re going to get all this back to our living quarters. Determined not to spend 60 yuan on a taxi, we loaded up our purses with as much as they could hold, and headed to the bus stop, each taking one side of the oven box. We were quite a silly sight, I’m sure. Every time it seemed the box was slipping or getting too heavy Tammy would boost our morale with a cheer of, “Apple pie!!!!” Strengthened by the promise of this fall baked delicacy, we somehow managed to get onto a crowded bus, walk from our stop to our apartment, cross 4 lanes of busy traffic and make it to my front door. In the rain. Only to find that I had forgotten my key and was locked out. -_-

Once I’d been let into my room, Tammy and I tore into the oven box like a couple of kids on Christmas. In fact, we weren’t even capable of making full sentences, only shouting “Christmas!” and “Apple pie!” until everything was all set up.

I’m so excited to break it in. By making brownies. Tonight. That I won’t be able to eat, but whatever. My apartment will smell like brownies!

driving miss casey

After I arrived in Hangzhou and was finally able to flag down a taxi, I was allowed about 2 minutes of feeling relieved and relaxed before I began to take note of the driving I was currently experiencing. It seems traffic laws are mere suggestions in China. Lanes are too. At one point my driver straddled the dividing line and sped down the increasingly narrow gap between the cars until he was forced to either stop or crunch into the cars on either side of us. And forget trying to learn Mandarin. Chinese horn honking is a language in itself. Drivers are constantly laying into their horn implying anything from “Move out of my way!” to “Get out of that crosswalk, pedestrian!” to “I’m bored!”

One day as we were crossing an intersection with one of our new Chinese friends, we saw someone sweeping up a considerable amount of broken glass from the middle of the street. Our friend told us, “An accident just happened here,” and when we all made sounds of sympathy or sadness, he assured us, “Oh it’s OK! There’s no blood on the street, see?” Oh, of course.

Another time, we decided to take a taxi from Taylor and Caleb’s apartment to where Tammy and I live. One of the main streets between ours was under heavy construction and blocked off. But never mind that silly blockade. Apparently you’re supposed to drive around it (why didn’t I ever think of that in the states!) and continue on, dodging steam shovels and giant ditches (Wait, where’s my seatbelt? Why don’t any Chinese cars have seatbelts in the back seat???). It felt like a life-size game of frogger (increased by the fact that most taxis in Hangzhou are green). At one point we almost sandwich some poor worker between our car and the shovel truck, but he managed to evade any fatality. So we’re putting along, minding our own business on this deconstructed road, when a bus decides it wants to come down our road too. In the opposite direction. We’re almost to the end of the construction zone, but instead of waiting for us to emerge so he can enter, the big bully of a bus decides its going to simply suck in its belly and squeeze past us. Just as I’m thinking I could roll down my window and touch that bus with little to no effort, our car feels a mild rumble and we all hear a scraping sound. Our taxi driver immediately throws up the e-brake, jumps from our car, and starts chasing down the bus, slapping the sides of it, until that driver too parks his vehicle in the middle of the road, and exits. They then spend a few minutes negotiating what should be done about the scratch on the taxi, while Taylor, Tammy, and I decide we’re just going to leave our 5 RMB in the car and walk the rest of the way since we’re literally right across the street from our school and our tab is still running. As soon as we start to get out, our driver comes back and motions for us to return to our seats. We don’t want to anger him any further, so we obey and drive the 1/8 mile left to our destination. After paying our flustered driver, we leave behind our banged up taxi and have a hearty laugh over surviving our first Chinese car accident.

(Mom and Dad, if you’ve just read this: Just kidding! Everyone out here is a wonderful driver and I’m never in any danger! 😀 …But Taylor may or may not have recently bought an e-bike… )

en route

With a little bit of luck and a whole lot of Someone looking out for me, I managed to make it to Hangzhou! It was quite an adventure, and only the beginning of many more to come I learn more the longer I’m here. After what can only be credited to Help from Above, Taylor managed to apply for and receive his visa in the same day–the day our flight to China was set to leave. We got his visa with just enough time to speed off to the airport, luggage precariously loaded in the back of my topless Wrangler, and somehow managed to check in on time. Thanks, Dad!

After a 13 hour flight, we arrived in Shanghai. The next day Taylor’s school came to pick him up, while my plans were to take the bus to Hangzhou. I waited around for Taylor’s car so we could say goodbye, also hoping his driver might take pity on me and offer me a ride. I realized that would not be the case when I saw the car that pulled up had just enough room for Taylor, his waiban, the driver, and Taylor’s luggage. Our parting left me feeling a little sad, a little afraid, and full of Thoughts I would make it to my destination by the end of the day with all my belongings in tow.

After purchasing my ticket I got on what I hoped was the correct bus and mostly read the Hunger Games while Harry Potter 7 Part 1 played on the bus TV (Harry’s Chinese voice over was particularly manly sounding) for 2 and a half hours until the bus arrived in downtown Hangzhou, parked perpendicular to a curb blocking one small side street, and unloaded all its passengers in the middle of the street (I have since come to learn this is not uncommon practice and that China has some of the scariest drivers in the world).

After getting my bags (with suitcases a combined total of 120lbs., plus the 30 lb. travel pack I had on my back) I got to work waving down a taxi, following the example of some of my former bus-mates (by standing in front of oncoming traffic and waving one arm up and down a bit). I managed to get about 5 taxis to stop for me, but each time I said “Xiasha” the driver would make a noise of disgust, shake his head, roll up his window, and speed away (Later a friend told me I had arrived during the time when the drivers all switch their shifts which is why no one wanted to drive me the 30 minutes to my district). I started to worry I wasn’t pronouncing the district correctly and wondered what on earth I should do next when a man approached me and started pulling one of my bags toward his car saying “Xiasha”. I followed him because he seemed to want to help. He typed a 300 into his phone and pointed to it saying, “Money.” I shook my head no because a) he wanted me to get into his black car that didn’t say taxi anywhere on it and b) my waiban had told me it should cost about 100 RMB (about $15) to take a taxi, so I knew he was overcharging. Black Car Man seemed upset with me for that, so I didn’t want to stand there much longer. Luckily, one of the taxis who had turned me down before came back just then, said “Xiasha!” with a smile and waved me in. I practically jumped into his arms out of gratitude. Once we were headed in the correct general direction and after much motioning of putting a phone to my ear, Kind Driver allowed me to use his cell phone to call my waiban who was able to tell him more specifically where I needed to be. I arrived at my school and Thanked Daddio I had made it. Not too shabby for my first full day in China!

Westlake (Xihu) in Downtown Hangzhou

a ripe one

As it grows nearer to go time I’m getting more and more antsy about leaving. My bags have been packed, weighed, repacked, weighed, and re-re-packed. I’ve gotten coffee with friends, bought last minute items, painted with my favorite newlyweds, celebrated birthdays and births-to-come, and added some colorful embroidery stitching to a plain hoodie.

 

But when the real boredom strikes nothing brings relief like cooking (or baking) something. It’s one of the things I’m least looking forward to about China– not having an oven, nor the ability to retreat to my favorite activity. In the past few weeks I’ve prepared a lobster salad, whipped up a bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese quiche, and baked this Swedish visiting cake. (The last is a new favorite of mine for its simplicity and tastiness. Plus I’m a sucker for anything with almond extract.) But tonight my sights were set on something a little more adventurous. Enter brown sugar fig and gorgonzola crisp.

It sounded like a fun and different take on dessert, so why not give it a try?

But.

I got a little wary when I opened the container of cheese and caught a whiff.

But I carried on. I thought it had a tasty, albeit, very gorgonzola-y, taste. Sweet brown sugar and rich butter cut by the tang of the cheese. I ate it straight out of the pan. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite dessert, but something about it kept me going back for more.

 

My mom covered hers with vanilla ice cream and said, “I think I would really, really like it if it didn’t have the cheese.” Guess it’s not for everyone.

Until the next adventure (culinary or otherwise),

Case

on my way

Hi everyone! If you’re reading this it probably means you’re looking for exhilarating updates from my upcoming year in China. I hope I don’t disappoint! I should arrive in Hangzhou in just 17 days! So check back in about 20 and hopefully I’ll have a little nugget to share. Thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you feel like you want to compare some of my trips/writing from when I was 19 and studying abroad in Europe, you can do so here.