We’ve been back stateside for nearly a month now and the repatriation process seems to be going well. We’re still in the process of figuring out what we’ll be doing next and where exactly we’ll be doing it. In the meantime, we’re getting some more perspective on our time and experiences in China. While we’re not yet at a point to put our truly profound and well-reflected-upon thoughts into articulately worded blog posts, we can entertain you with dance!
This video was shot over the course of our whole stay in Beijing, the first bit of which was for our newlywed friends, the Hoffmans. The Salty Dog Rag is a Dartmouth Outing Club tradition and Steph and I taught this frisky foxtrot to hundreds of incoming freshmen during the preorientation camping trips program. Interestingly, the native Beijingers and Dartmouth prefrosh had very similar looks on their faces when we first busted out our moves.
In a less-painful continuation of our fitting things in before we leave China, Craig and I moved on from cupping to visiting the ever-touristy Olympic Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. We’d visited the area before but wanted to check out the Cube at night so took the short subway ride over there on a recent warm evening. Watch out if you go, apparently they turn the lights off at 10pm sharp, which we only found out after getting there at 9:50. But it was enough time to fit in as tourists and snap a few photos! Here are a few from the evening.
With just a few short days left before we pack our bags and leave China, Craig and I have been busy trying to fit in all the stops we’ve missed. Yesterday this included trying cupping, a traditional Chinese massage practice that is supposed to remove the fire from your body and improve circulation but which mostly just left us with awesome circular welts all over our backs. For some reason Crank’s are a lot more badass than mine. Unfortunately for him, apparently impressive-looking bruises aren’t what the cuppers are looking for — they kept saying “bu hao, bu hao” (not good, not good) over and over to him while they were doing the cupping. We’re still not sure exactly what “not good” means, but so far he’s doing fine, aside from looking like he was savagely beaten with a baseball.
Cupping works by heating the inside of a round glass cup and then immediately placing it on the skin. There are a few different methods of heating the cups. Our therapists lit an alcohol-soaked cotton ball on fire and waved it inside the cup, briefly, warming the air inside. As this air cools it creates a strong suction against the skin that is supposed to be good for the health (I’ve heard it does everything from remove impurities to improve circulation to pull the anger from the body). An initial cupping is done on various parts of the back, and then judging by the color that your back turns the therapist will repeat the process and leave the cups on your back for a certain amount of time. The process itself is somewhere between painful and enjoyable, but I quite liked it in the end. Another exciting adventure, and something I would certainly try again.
About a month ago we strolled carefree down the streets of Kashgar, in China’s Xinjiang province, as happy-go-lucky tourists where this week the blood of dozens might have been spilled. We wandered the poplar-lined walkways of Idgah Mosque, China’s largest, where today Chinese authorities forcibly prohibited Muslims from worshiping.
Calla Wiemer of the Far Eastern Economic Review writes an interesting, if abruptly clipped, essay on the bigger picture of the Uighurs’ discontent in Xinjiang. Ethnic unrest is nothing new in China. Tibet is perhaps the best publicized victim of systemic ethnic repression in China but by no means are the Tibetans the only oppressed ethnic minority within the People’s Republic of China. Weimer writes in her essay that “Uighurs have a hard time getting visas and licenses,” something we heard our own Uighur guides say, flatly stating that Uighurs couldn’t get visas. This is the same story we heard from our Tibetan tour guide in Lhasa who was extremely hesitant to speak about politics but did tell us that it was nearly impossible for ethnic Tibetans to get papers to leave the country.
While these recent “ethnic uprisings” have been the “bloodiest in decades” for China, they are hardly new. Similar riots erupted in the province in 1996 and the Han Chinese government has responded with similarly harsh crackdowns. Looking back at my personal journal, I noted that while we sat in Urumuqi for an hour layover en route to Kashgar I observed several military attack helicopters perched at the end of the runway, waiting.
The above picture is from our trip to Muztagh Ata at a check point where our Uighur guides were scrutinized far more than we “wai guo ren” (“foreigners”). The photo shows the Han Chinese security forces changing the guard.
Our apartment here in Beijing is located seven stories over the bustling intersection of Chengfu Lu and Caijing Lu, right next the Wudaokou subway station. The perch is a perfect vantage point to observe the crossroad’s cartage carnage.
This video was shot on two separate but similar days and spans approximately nine hours worth of traffic, catching the afternoon rush hour where crammed buses ram through impasses, taxis mill about waiting for fairs, cyclists weave through the gauntlet and commuters flock to and from the subway (seen snaking in and out of frame in the upper left corner).
The intersection has been an endless source of entertainment for us. The wacky U-turns, the occasional collision and the cacophony of horns create comedic and dramatic moments, complete with symphonic soundtrack. Unfortunately that soundtrack doesn’t hold up when sped up several thousand percent like the video does.
Apparently, the streets of Beijing aren’t just good for the odd baby-butt sighting. I can’t remember the first time Craig and I walked outside the door of our apartment to find the cardboard boxes filled with puppies, but there they were. I don’t really know anything about the pet trade in China, but I do know that it seems, for the most part, to take place on the streets here in Beijing, in cardboard boxes and tiny cages strung to bicycles that attract hordes of cooing onlookers wherever they go.
For the most part I feel terrible for the animals, who I can see mistreated in front of my eyes and who I’m not convinced are going on to better homes once they’re purchased. But I also can’t help but think that some of them might want a snuggle or two, and I’m really a sucker for baby animals. So I usually end up dragging Craig to the nearest animal bicycle vendor and picking up all the puppies and mice and bunnies I can hold, preparing to run if Craig gives me the ok. I have tried to convince Craig of the merit of several plans I have to smuggle the wee babes into the U.S., but he remains unconvinced.
So far, the street menageries of Beijing seem to hold a varied assortment of animals. Our running list of things we’ve glimpsed on the street include: puppies, kittens, bunnies, hamsters, mice, gerbils, snakes, turtles, scorpions, baby ducks, baby chicks, birds, guinea pigs, goldfish and, of course, squirrels.
Some animal stands
This one…I almost ran away with
The Bicycle Vendor
And birds, too
The puppy boxes
It’s a squirrel
Another pet shop
And baby chicks and ducks, too
More puppy boxes
This box was right outside our apartment
SO CUTE. Kind of painful.
The problem came to my attention when Steph came out of the bathroom crying and foaming at the mouth. No, her manic-depressive rabies hasn’t come back, but it’s close. She accidentally bought a weirdass toothpaste flavor.
To live abroad is to immerse oneself in “the other.” The foreign becomes familiar and the uncomfortable and strange morph into familiar and mundane. Growing to celebrate the new, exotic and antipodal is part of the process of expatriating oneself. However, when it comes to personal hygiene, routine and familiarity trump any curious or peripatetic urges. This brings us to some unsavory toothpaste flavors, as judged by our American palettes.
Toothpaste safety scares aside, we found ourselves in need of a new tube of tootpaste. Heading to the most convenient of American establishments here in Beijing, the local 7-11, Steph debated which undecipherable boxed toothpaste to purchase. Should she get the one with no illustrations and a bunch of unknown characters or should she go with the one with a familiar looking sprig of what looked like mint leaves on the packaging? 4.80元 later we found ourselves in possession of a distinctly non-minty toothpaste.
Apparently in China little green leaves on a toothpaste box do not indicate delicious, minty flavor. They actually mean gross, green tea tang. Green tea is a great flavor for the infused chocolate, the novelty ice cream or the familiar iced beverage but when brushing one’s teeth it is not the preferred taste.
Another 5元 later we had some “regular” toothpaste and were back to regular dental hygiene. Smile!
Where does one find cream-filled pastries in the shape of a Japanese anime character? At a Korean bakery in Beijing called “Tous Les Jours,” of course! While the culinary lineage here escapes me, I can tell you with certainty that a sweet, bready Totoro, modeled after the titular character from Miyazaki’s fanciful feature film, is a cute and delicious snack. Oh, and he’s also photogenic.
Tous Les Jour’s pâtisserie’s prowess isn’t limited to novelty creampuffs. They also have all manner of unsavory breads, including baguettes filled with “squid sauce,” “shrimp meat,” “bacon,” and the inexplicable “floss.” Though we haven’t sampled these heinous bread sticks, we did try one of their cakes, and while it looked cute and cuddly, the innards were crud and curdlely.
And since I’m feeling particularly onomatopoetic, here’s a (bad) poem for my tasty Totoro:
Tasty Totoros taste too tasty to tarry.
Nommed, nibbled and noshed upon they linger nary.
From a bakery of batty bakers cooking
Totoros are delivered daily for dunking
This week: how to make kung pao chicken!
The final dish!
This past weekend we had the pleasure of going to another cooking lesson — this time to learn the art of making (drumroll please) Kung Pao Chicken. We took the class with the same teacher who taught us how to make dumplings, and we had a similarly awesome time in this class. For all you hankering to learn the art of this tasty, spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China, read on…
While for myself (and I’m sure many of you out there) the thick, saucy goodness of many Chinese dishes eluded my culinary repertoire for some time, it is actually quite simple to do. A few tricks of the trade, applicable to many Chinese dishes, that we learned this past weekend:
- The chicken is first marinated in a mixture of wine, soy sauce, and cornstarch. The function of the cornstarch is to add a light coating to the chicken that allows the meat to retain moisture while being cooked, so that your final product is tender and moist.
- The sauce, similarly, contains cornstarch. Here the cornstarch is used to add thickness to the final sauce that is typical in so many Chinese dishes.
- When it comes time to add the sauce to the dish while cooking, add it in a circular motion around the outside of the meat in your wok. This will ensure the sauce cooks on the side of the pan and is able to thicken. Then toss with the rest of the chicken.
Here is the detailed recipe for how to make your own Kung Pao chicken — click on the image for a larger version. Also scroll below for more mouth-watering photos from class. Try the recipe yourself and let us know how yours turns out!
Dried chili peppers
The ingredients (from bottom right, clockwise): sichuan peppers, dried chilis, green onion, ginger, garlic
Marinade for the chicken: rice wine, light soy sauce, and corn starch
Heat the oil in a wok and add the sichuan peppers when oil starts smoking
After the sichuan peppers have been removed, cook peppers until brown (like so)
Add chicken to the peppers once browned
Adding the sauce; be sure to add in a circular motion around the edge of the meat so the sauce cooks
My final dish! So proud. And hungry.
Check back soon for more food posts with additional Chinese recipes!