Monthly Archives: December 2011

Want to buy a Whisper?

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Yesterday was a fantastic day. Anders and his team had an off-site business/team building exercise. It took place in Uni Town. It’s an island located about 8 or so miles from here. On this island are 10 colleges of Guangzhou University. There are about 120,000 students enrolled. There is a nice park with trails, BBQ pits, and even a small amusement park. That’s where they started their day.

It began with the business/P&G mumbo-jumbo stuff. Andrew and I were not invited and would have graciously opted out of that nonsense. They broke for lunch which was a BBQ. When Andrew and I arrived it was in full swing. All the food was laid out, the pits were hot and people were already eating. Not a bad time to arrive, although we wouldn’t have been allowed to do anything anyway. It was a bit different than what we are used to but it was good fun. I ate grilled meatballs, a chicken wing, grilled octopus, grilled tofu, enoki mushrooms, eggplant, toasted bread with honey that was so delicious I had 2 pieces, star fruit, and toasted marshmallows. The marshmallows made it feel like a good ole American BBQ. The octopus and tofu were not what I would normally eat but they were cooked for me and very nicely offered up so I could hardly say no. Andrew pretty much had all of his food cooked for him. Everyone went out of their way to make him feel welcome. All of the food was washed down by a very sweet herbal tea that is a local specialty. It wasn’t bad but a lot sweeter than I like. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

Then came the team building exercise and that’s what Andrew and I went for. There was a bicycling and orienteering afternoon planned. We were divided into 4 teams with a leader appointed for each. It was a bit sexist as all of the leaders were men. What’s up with that? Anyway, I was on Anders’ team. Of course they had him as a leader, it’s very Chinese to pay the boss respect. Andrew was leader of another. It was quite funny because the directions and rules were in Chinese! The goal was to stop at 5 sites and either take a picture or perform a task and take a picture. We had 3 hours to finish and report back to the McDonalds parking lot. Yes Sue, I said McD’s parking lot.

The bicycles were interesting. There had to be 2 tandem bikes/team. I was going to ride with Anders until D arrived. Anders’ sweet admin doesn’t know how to ride a bike. She is so darn cute. No problem, I kind of wanted to ride on my own anyway. The seats were all way too low and there were no gears. My bones are still a little sore from the seat. 😦  Helmets? They don’t exist here unless you do it for sport. It was no big deal as there wasn’t much traffic on the island.

We were off and in the beginning we were all together in one group. We had to have our picture taken as a group in front of a building. I’m not sure which college it belonged to but it was architecturally amazing. It sort of looked like a man’s handlebar moustache. Then the fun began. By the second stop teams were starting to be more spread out. The third stop was a fun task. We had to get a person to buy a package of feminine napkins called Whisper. Andrew told me that he was confused for a minute until they pulled out the pack of Whispers and realized what was going on.

After that stop we had a bit of a hill to climb and let me tell you, without gears it was not easy. I had to stand up on the pedals to get up the hill but I was so glad that I didn’t have to stop. If I had had my phone I’m sure I would have called Ben. There was not one point where I had to stop and walk my bike the whole afternoon. The last task was to have our photo taken with some black swans that are on one of the campuses. I whispered to Anders as we were walking down to the pond that we could buy them at the grocery store in the meat section.

Andrew’s team came in first and won by a lot. They were a good 15 minutes ahead of the second place team. We were the 3rd team back. I just did not want to be the last person to ride across the finish line. I think the team that came in 4th pulled back so that the boss’s team wasn’t last. They do that here. Gotta let the boss save face (and by proxy his wife).

It was 2 ½ hours of riding around the island and campuses. In the end we figured we bicycled 8-10 miles. I was so impressed by how new, modern, and beautiful the buildings and grounds were. Every single person we asked to take our picture, help with a task, or stopped for directions could not have been nicer. It was a bit like The Amazing Race though because we didn’t have time to enjoy any of it. I will definitely be going back to rent bicycles and tour the island, at a much more leisurely pace AND with my own camera.

I was the oldest person and able to keep up with the youngun’s, I didn’t fall off the bike, I don’t think I embarrassed Anders or Andrew, and I experienced a very different part of GZ. I really enjoy his team and they always make me feel so welcome. It is one of my favorite days in GZ.

I had computer/internet issues yesterday. Sorry this didn’t get out. We’re off to Beijing this morning. Can’t wait. Anders has been there before but it’s the first time for both Andrew and me! My camera will be burning up.

7PM – 57°

Asian Christmas tree

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I did indeed end up getting a Christmas tree. I went back on the weekend to a different part of OneLink (Crap Market). Ben had pointed it out the first day but said the selection wasn’t nearly as big as the main part of the market. If you remember the first and only tree that I priced was 900RMB then went up to 1,000RMB. Well…I ended up paying 190RMB!!! It even included 2 strands of colored lights. They promptly ended up in the trash. I put them on the tree and when I plugged them in one strand made a sizzling sound. You would have thought I put a steak on the grill. Upon further inspection the plugs were basically hollow, partially made of plastic,  wobbly, and bent in half with barely any effort. I had bought other lights (with an American plug but they won’t be making the trip back in a few years) and Chinese lantern lights on the first day of tree hunting. They are meant for Chinese New Year but as I had decided on doing an Asian tree they were perfect for my Christmas tree. Years ago we started adding origami water bombs to our trees to add color. Then when we were in Switzerland and had much smaller trees Andrew, one of three best people in the world,  thought we should do a separate small tree with only white lights and water bombs. We made them in earnest and have photos of friends that were visiting at Christmas time and were put to work helping us make them. (That means you ML in Paris ;-)) Because of limited storage space here they are the only tree decorations I brought with us. While I miss my American trees I have to say that I’m very pleased with the way this one turned out. It’s very Chinese: bright, colorful, and a bit over the top. The best thing is that we now have a storage room and all I have to do is transport the tree onto the elevator, stand it in the corner of the room, and next year I have instant tree. This is my first artificial tree but I have to say there are some advantages.

The antlers that are seen on the front of the tree are courtesy of Andrew. We went out to eat on Friday night and the waitresses were all wearing them. It was pretty darn cute to be sitting in a French restaurant (peasant food not haute cuisine) and seeing these adorable Chinese girls with them on. At the end of the meal our waitress gave them to Andrew and had her photo taken with him. He made her night. I know they’re not Asian but because we got them here and were more than likely made here, they count.

 PS – Ben was impressed when he saw the tree. When I told him that I paid 190RMB he thought I got a small tree. He said I did “Some good” paying what I did.

7PM – 66°

3rd grade essay

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The first thing I do when I wake up on Christmas is turn on the tree, even before I turn on the coffee pot!  I love my tree and have a post already written about it for tomorrow. Then it was to the Bose to put in Christmas music. After Anders and Andrew woke up I asked if one of them would go to Saubel’s for donuts, they both declined. Saubel’s is a grocery store in Shrewsbury, PA that makes the best donuts! There are no donuts in China.

Andrew had a little red bag from the wet market that substituted for a stocking, ours are in storage in the US. We opened our gifts from Andrew, they were the only presents under our tree. Anders got himself set up with a satellite dish, I got a jade bracelet the day before, and Andrew? Well, Andrew has been getting gifts along the way and will continue to do so in Beijing this weekend. If Andrew hadn’t given us gifts it would have been naked under the tree (I don’t even have a tree skirt). I also opened the cards from friends and family that I collected while I was in the States for Christmas. Thank you so much!

I did cook a traditional Christmas dinner. It’s not traditional for us but I am unable to get the beef that I need for our normal holiday dinner. So I bought a frozen, over-seasoned, 14 lb. turkey from one of the import stores and paid…….$75! Yikes. It was a choice but one that had to be made. It’s been a rather unconventional holiday for us and this was one thing I could do to make it feel like home. I made stuffing, broccoli-cheese casserole, gravy, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (Andrew’s favorite and seeing that he’s one of the 3 best people in the world,  I had to do it).  There were no cranberries for making sauce and no canned sauce to be had. I know I saw it in November and should have been smart enough to buy what I needed then. Oh well, live and learn. Our friend joined us for dinner. His family was unexpectedly called back to the States and we could not allow him to spend Christmas alone.

Anders, Andrew, and S. played a traditional Christmas poker game complete with sunflower seeds for chips. I think I may need to go to OneLink to buy Anders some real poker chips, seeing that this is a new tradition 🙂 They also were able to watch football games on TV. If Anders didn’t have the satellite, it wouldn’t have been possible.

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m not complaining, I actually enjoy it. Daily cooking for the 2 of us or a few more when we have company is not a problem but this kind of meal? It was a challenge in this kitchen. I used my wok to mix the stuffing! The amazing thing is that the turkey fit in my roasting pan and the Easy Bake oven. I was only able to use the oven for one thing at a time and it required some planning but it worked. I was rather pleased with the way the meal turned out. It wasn’t bad and when I finally get around to showing pictures of my house and you see how the kitchen is laid out I think you too will be surprised. The nicest part of the day was when the 3 guys took over the kitchen to clean up. I did not do one thing once the food was on the table!

After S. left to Face Time with his family in the States, it was a quiet evening. We watched Bridesmaids. I have to say that it’s the first Christmas that we did not watch A Christmas Story. Kind of sad. I brought my DVDs but didn’t watch any of them. Sigh. I brought all of my CDs and was able to listen to nothing but Christmas music both at home and in the car. Ben likes the Brian Setzer CD.

I think that next year we will be like most of the ex-pat community and be in our home country for Christmas. It was a very subdued one for me. It’s my favorite holiday and I will admit to being very homesick for it this year.

So that’s how I spent my first Christmas in China. Hopefully I will get a better grade on my essay than Ralphie. 😉

6PM – 70°

Andrew hanging his wet market stocking on the key to the armoire. We have to adapt here.

Chicken feet vs. Slurpee UPDATE

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Warning: Do not allow your visiting son to read your blog post before it’s published. Why? He will add a sentence at the end that will make his sister think that her parents don’t love her as much.

Andrew offered to proofread my post yesterday afternoon and I foolishly let him.  Last night in the kitchen I was teasing him about something and he alluded to the blog. He said, “Yeah, well just wait until you read your blog.”  I whipped my head around and asked him what he did. I may have had a knife in my hand at the time, I’m not sure. He innocently claimed that he only changed one word. I believed him because I thought I raised an honest person. Evidently I was wrong on a lot of accounts yesterday.

This morning I woke up to Kiersten’s comment on the post. She was very nice about recounting how she and her husband met her husband’s grandparents and family at a dim sum restaurant in VA. She commented on how sweet it was to hear her mother-in-law and her parents and her sisters order in Chinese. She said that it wasn’t the same as being in China but still cool. It was a very nice comment, you should read it. Then she called into question the last sentence: Andrew is the best person in the world. GULP and snicker! I knew that I had been had.

While I do agree that he is the best person in the world he is not the ONLY best person in the world.   There are 2 other people in my life whom I would consider to be the best people in the world and they are Kiersten and Anders. I can do that, I can have three best people in the world. 🙂

Andrew is a lot of fun to have around. I have been accused of laughing at everything he says and it may be true. It certainly is in this case. I will also make sure that I sign out of Facebook before I leave my laptop alone with him. He’s posted things before on that without my permission.

This is the face of innocence. Those of us who know him know that this face is deceiving. You have to scroll down to get to the photo. I’m still learning how to upload photos and I’m having trouble with my scanner. I apologize.

 

Chicken feet vs. Slurpee

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I’ve experienced a few “firsts” the last few days in the culinary world. First it was Slurpees at 7-11. Maybe they’re not so “culinary” but hey, it’s food so to me it’s culinary.

Anders, Andrew, and I had the pleasure of sharing lunch today with Ben. That was a first as well. We  have invited him several times to join us and he always politely declines. I think the drivers are coached to limit fraternization but he can’t help himself. He’s a people person. I too was coached to keep driver and household help lives separate but I too can’t help myself. There is no way that I could spend as much time in the car as I do and not talk. I’m just very blessed that Ben speaks English as well as he does or I’d be forced to sit in the middle seat and read. BORING!

So, we went to lunch at a restaurant in the P&G building. They serve traditional Guangzhou food, meaning anything and everything. This is a place that a lot of the drivers frequent during the week. They sit there and talk about all of us while they have their morning tea and dim sum. Good enough for them, good enough for us. Actually it was probably too good for us.   Anders ordered what he liked with a local specialty thrown in for Andrew’s benefit. Ben only added one more choice but it’s his favorite.

Here’s what we had:

pork steamed buns, steamed shrimp and celery dumplings, some kind of chopped up pork, vegetable filled rice balls that were deep fried, scallion pancakes, 4 treasures dumplings which contained shark fin, abalone, shrimp and something else that I don’t remember because I couldn’t get past the fact that I ate shark fin and abalone, chicken feet marinated in soy bean curd juice, and Japanese pork crackling rolls. It was all washed down with chrysanthemum tea which was delicious.

I tried and liked everything. Gotta be honest, the chicken feet were tasty. You would have to eat about 50 of them to be full but they were way better than I thought they would be. Think about how much meat you find on a chicken foot. The soy bean curd juice was quite good. We mentioned to Ben that we don’t exactly eat chicken feet on a regular basis in the States. He laughed, said he knew that, and shrugged his shoulders while saying, “You are in Guangzhou where – you know –  we eat everything.” If I had to choose between eating chicken feet and drinking a Slurpee I would definitely choose chicken feet. At least they are a naturally occurring food. 😉

The 4 treasures dim sum was good.  I can now check the shark fin and abalone box. Sometimes that’s the only reason to eat something, to say you did. So, now I did.

The Japanese pork crackling rolls were the best. I could eat a whole plate of them. They were soft dumplings filled with veggies and chicken or duck crackling and topped with some kind of caviar. Ben explained that what makes them Japanese to the Chinese it that wasabi is added to the dipping sauce!

Andrew had been eager to eat at a traditional Chinese restaurant and the fact that his first experience was shared with Ben really made it special. Andrew is the best person in the world.

Slurpees, Nunchucks, Buddhists, and Turks

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We spent our first Christmas Eve day in China, Guangzhou style. It was very multi-cultural. Here’s how it went down.

  1. Gave Ben his Christmas gift even though he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He is definitely one person that deserves a gift.
  2. Went to the fabric market and ordered 3 custom-made shirts for Andrew. I surprised myself with how well I was able to communicate with the tailor in Mandarin.
  3. Stopped at an instrument store to look for a Christmas gift for Andrew. Ben was unable to drop us off at the door and we had to walk 50 yards! Can you believe it?  There are no 12-string guitars in Guangzhou. Actually that’s not true because Andrew saw one in the Crap Market yesterday.
  4. Then we went in search of jade, as in a gift for Andrew and myself. Ben took us to his friend’s shop. We were escorted up the dark, dank, dangerous, dilapidated, and dismal back stairs and when that happens you know you’re going to get the good stuff. After he opened what looked like a safe room he brought out 3 metal boxes all containing JADE! After much sorting through bracelets, Buddhas, fishes, peas, dragons, and circles we made our choices. I now have a beautiful bracelet and Andrew chose a pendant that will guarantee success, wealth, happiness, longevity, and luck. The carving is of a dragon, fish, ancient coins, leopard, and waves (or cloud, we don’t know for sure). Ii is quite beautiful. The best part is that Ben’s friend is the man who carves and creates these incredible pieces of jewelry. It was an experience I will never forget and hope to recreate before we leave China.
  5. Then we had the traditional Christmas luncheon at Bosphorus, a Turkish restaurant. Kebabs, hummus, and pita bread for all. Did Mary and Joseph have hummus on the original Christmas Eve?
  6. On the way to our next stop, Ben took us to a Dao Buddhist Temple. It was beautiful and the smell of incense added to the religious feel. We will definitely go back when we have more time to spend and fully appreciate the architecture and murals.
  7. The bead market area was next in order to purchase a string for Andrew’s pendant so that he could actually wear it as a necklace and not just tote it around in a box. The funny thing is that Anders, Ben, and I all at one point told Andrew to be careful and not lose it. Now that it’s on his neck, no worries.
  8. In order to get home we continued on a small street that was antique alley. We saw shops full of old furniture and Chinese bric-à-brac. There were also very small shops where we could see men repairing furniture with hand tools. There was a large open area where people had blankets set up on the ground and were selling things, just like a flea market. We stopped. We had to. It was too good to pass up. After wandering around Andrew spotted yet another gift. Nunchucks – what every person wants to see under the Christmas tree. Ben asked how much they were and was told 800RMB. We walked away. We meandered some more and then sent Ben in to act as our agent. He’s a master, he got them for 200RMB ($30) but in retrospect he thinks he paid, “Some high.” He said that when he handed her the money her face lit up and he should have bargained harder. Still it’s better than what we would have paid, way better. I am definitely going back to that street.
  9. The last thing we did was visit a 7-11. It had come up in conversation that I had never stepped foot in one and had never tasted a Slurpee. Anders made is a mission to “fix me by” the end of the day. We were spoiled for choice as there are hundreds of them in GZ. Anders bought me a Coke Slurpee. I rarely drink soda and when I do it’s NEVER regular Coke. It was gross. When we got back in the car I felt the need to have someone explain to Ben why we had to stop at a 7-11. He was incredulous! He couldn’t believe that someone had never bought something in a 7-11.  Now the box is ticked and I never have to do that again. (Anders did not want to waste his 75¢ so when we got home he added bourbon to it and proceeded to finish it.)

To say we had fun would be putting it mildly. My favorite moment of the day was after lunch when Ben presented us with Christmas gifts. He doesn’t celebrate Christmas but knew we did and wanted to make it special for us. It was from the heart and he was so pleased with himself. I also think that he went out of his way to make sure that Andrew had a good experience. Ben drove us through parts of GZ that I’ve never seen. It was not the typical way to spend Christmas Eve day but one that I will always remember.

This was written with the help of Anders and Andrew (who was playing Anders’ guitar) in the glow of the TV tower that has a special Christmas light show.

7PM – 55°