Friday, October 30, 2009

It's the Little Things...

Step 1. Open up the pumpkin and pull out the guts. The pumpkins here are much much drier than our US pumpkins. Their "meat" is tougher and thicker, so a big pumpkin yields far less "guts" and seeds.

Step 2. Put the guts in the fridge with a note asking Xiao ayi to clean off the seeds. This in no way resembles my ayi, who is very sweet and funny. I guess I should get an actual picture of her. I bet she'd run away if I asked her, though.

Step 3. Toss with oil (I used sesame) and sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds. Pop 'em in the oven and roast until lightly browned (or in our case, until they start to pop like popcorn).
I really loved coming home and having that bowl of nicely washed seeds sitting on the counter. I loved it so much I collected the guts from 2 different classrooms today and I'm bringing them home for ayi to work her cleaning magic on--DeLiSh!

Friday, October 16, 2009


Halloween is coming, you know. It was not a "thing" in Tanzania -- it's basically an American holiday, so the Europeans don't get into it, we had a lot of missionaries whose faith beliefs didn't include Halloween, and a general suspicion and distrust of anything related to witchdoctors meant that witches and ghosts would not be treated lightly-- but here it's kind of a big deal. Not on an American scale, and with a Chinese twist. Last year our goodies included shrimp-flavored candy, Hall's cough drops, and liquor-filled chocolate balls. At several houses Ava and her friend Bella had to go through the house to the kitchen to get their treats. After our candy ran out, we shut the door and pulled the shades, the accepted message (at least in MN) that we were closed for business -- here the kids just got their ayis to pound and pound and pound...and then pound some more on the door. We had to get the kids ready in the upstairs closet in the dark because the fact that we had a light on in the house was a clear signal to just knock til Judgement Day. And ask for more candy. I mean, if I'm holding a basket of candy it must all be for that one kid, right?

Maybe that's what prompted this missive in the mailboxes today.

For "Trick or Treat" those family would like to be "Knock on the Door" by other children on October 31st (usually on the day or evening). You are advised to prepare some sweets and candies for giving away. Those residents participate in thie TRICK OR TREAT activities will usually decorative their front door to identify themselves. The decoration can be a simple ghost mask on door or pumpkinand with ghostly items. Please pay attention about your dog when the children coming.

Good Lord, I HOPE they don't come knocking when I put out my decorations -- this weekend -- and they just better not come knocking too early. They may face "re-education".

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Miss My Mommy.

We had a great 2 weeks with my mom here in China. She really is amazing -- she walked miles and miles on this vacation because that's what you have to do to see anything here. She used squatties at her age on a repaired hip -- although the good Lord saw fit to place quite a few "sitties" along the way. She ate whatever we ordered. I miss her and I wish she could stay for weeks and weeks and weeks. Although she's probably ready to be rid of our noise and chaos for awhile.

Ava just came into my classroom and was very sad to remember that Grammy was not going to be there when she got home. My kids are not very affectionate to their extended family, probably because they just don't see them very often, but they do talk about their relatives, look forward to seeing them, and miss them when they're gone.

We're not very sentimental and not into sharing our feelings much. This picture seems to sum it up. She's got her legs stretched across the beds in the train comparment, but when I rotated the camera it looked she she might be hanging from the ceiling--and maybe her hands are tied. It's more obviously not in this pic, but in the camera I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants a little.

On a slightly more morbid note, though, I'm starting to worry what will happen between now and when I'll see her again. I have an old mother (sorry, Mom, but a spade's a spade). It's more of a realization that time is passing while I'm so far away than a wondering if she might die or something. And if time is passing...then I'm getting old which means my kids are growing up and...sigh.

Right now she's rolling her eyes andsaying, "Oh, good grief."


So I'm a bit behind the times, but I did actually see (and get a bit tired of all the reporting on) the Obama Nobel Prize. I was slightly encouraged that many people that I know to be strong Obama supporters (a couple bordering on rabid) were just as puzzled as non-supporters.

This is what the Nobel website had to say: In selecting him, the Norwegian Nobel Committee...appear to be endorsing Obama's appeal for greater multilateral cooperation aimed at tackling the thorniest global problems; conflict, nuclear weapons, climate change. They highlight his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy, and the new climate of dialogue and negotiation that Obama is promoting. Emphasis is also placed on renewed US commitment to international organizations, in particular the United Nations.

The section of Alfred Nobel's will detailing the creation of the Peace Prize states that it should be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." In answer to questions during the announcement press conference about how early in Obama's Presidency the award was being made...the Committee wanted to demonstrate its support for the approaches he is taking towards global problems.

Contrary to most American's popular beliefs, news from the US is not generally the top story world-wide...I don't hear a lot about things going on in the US via CNN and I admit to not being very diligent about reading online news. I did learn alot more about Obama's stance on disarmament by reading around as a result of the award. However, since the nominations window closed a mere 11 days after he took office it seems far too premature to award him anything. He ran for the prediency on a platform of hope. He believes in conflict resoluation and that those resolutions can be found in the values and commitments that are universal to all people. I applaud that sentiment heartily.

People who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, however, have often devoted decades, often their entire lives, to their cause (Jimmy Carter,2002, Mother Teresa, 1979). They are experts in their field (Norman Borlaug, 1970, Linus Pauling, 1962). They have risked their lives for what they believed in (Martin Luther King 1964, Nelson Mandela, 1993). They are ordinary citizens thrust suddenly into situations in which not acting becomes impossible (Betty Williams and Maired Corrigan, 1976). They have survived unspeakable horrors (Elie Wiesel, 1986). They have stunned the world, doing something that no one thought possible (Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, 1994).

I hope with all my might that he fulfills his promises. I pray that the work he is starting, both at home and abroad, continues in a direction that makes both our country and the world a better place. His election, I believe, changed our country and our world. He opened a door and stepped we across a threshold into new possibilities. We are not the same and I could say that confidently even if I was not an Obama supporter.

I just can't put President Obama in that category--yet--even with the power of the election. I think the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded for achievements, not the possibility of achievements, for a life dedicated to a cause that fundamentally changes the nature of our world, not for an election and a few days of promise. Read the stories of past Nobel Peace Prize laureates (click on the person, then on the right side of the page on "presentation speech" to read a summary of the person's accomplishments) and you will be inspired and strengthened and renewed by the people who have given so much of themselves in so many ways for the betterment of our world and our future.


We had bad smoggy weather the days leading up to October 1, but National Day dawned warm and sunny and clear. Rumor has it the powers that be manipulated the weather to ensure perfect conditions for the big day.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. This is this morning's "weather". For the first time, it was hard to breathe. There was a definite odor and an acrid feel in my throat when I breathed in. I'm standing about 50 feet away from the parking guards in the second picture, and about 200 feet away from my car in the first shot. Not that you can see my car--it's that blank space to the right of the 2 white cars. Seriously.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Terra Cotta Warriors...21st Century

One of the more fun things we did was visit the factory where the terra cotta souvenirs are made--and sold, of course. The soldiers are made from clay in the area that can be used basically directly out of the ground. The sections are made with molds and fired in ovens, not kilns. Prices depend on the size (yes, you can get life-sized ones--only $2500 including shipping and insurance to the US, if you want one) and the detailing--some are hand carved, others just popped out of the mold. We almost lost Samantha the sea otter to a particularly fierce guard. Look at him--does he look like he's messing around?

Here's an interesting guy. He stood out like...well, a white guy in a crowd of Chinese. He was instantly recognizable as very different. When I asked the guide about it, he said that Kofi Annon (the former head of the UN) had visited the factory--which was true, they had pictures--and suggested they make some warriors that weren't Chinese. First of all, don't you think that's a funny comment to make? I mean, he's visiting a CHINESE site. CHINESE culture. CHINESE history. CHINESE in CHINA. Why on earth would they make non-Chinese replicas of Chinese artifacts? Although we did pass a shop that could photoshop your photo onto a photo of a warrior, which did make me think it might be cool if they could somehow figure out how to get a person's likeness on an actual statue.

And then--IF that was an actual conversation, why make a white guy? Wouldn't they have wanted to honor Kofi by making an African soldier? Or did they just figure that a Euro-looking one would sell more? And if so, then why only one? Very curious.

The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an.

The terra cotta warriors were constructed around 260 BC as the army that would protect the emperor Qin Shi Huang (the first emporer of China) into the afterlife. They were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Each warrior is life-sized and each one has individual facial features and hairstyles. The uniforms are very detailed according to the rank. It's estimated that there are 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, most of which are still buried. The pit below currently holds about 1,000 soldiers.

When the pits were opened, all the soldiers had been smashed by a subsequent emperor. All the soldiers that we saw have been pieced together. In one area, partially reconstructed soldiers stand, waiting to be placed back in their ranks. In other areas, the broken soldiers wait their turn.

Within a year of the uncovering, all the paint had eroded away. Despite official denials, scientists say that the human presence (carbon dioxide), mold, and air pollution are also causing the actual statues to decay quickly. In one of the pits they have excavated, but left the clay/dirt "ceiling" on so you can't see the soldiers in an attempt to protect them until they can figure out how to preserve them.

The size of the site is Egyptian in its scope. It was truly awe-inspiring. The emperor was 13 when construction started and an estimated 700,000 workers labored on the project. Nearby is a very large flat-topped mountain--the emperor's tomb. Our guide told us that all the feng shui and information makes them believe that it would be very bad luck to open it, so it has remained unexcavated. I don't buy that for a minute.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Anglophile Advice, Please!

In Beijing all of the videos we have access to are pirated. The shops are illegal so the good ones open and then get closed down and have to move until they can open again. The good one re-opened near our home and HALLELUJAH! They have a whole wall devoted to BBC programming. INCLUDING Dickens and Austen.

Those of you who love BBC programming and those authors, I need recommendations. Mark is leaving this weekend for a 10 day trip to the States--it's the perfect time to indulge myself in all things British. I can't wait--I just need to be pointed in the right direction to get started!


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Food on the Road

I decided not to give a blow-by-blow account of our time in Xi'an and Pingyao. Instead, how about some images that made our trip memorable...

Like these pomegranetes that were everywhere. Stalls on both sides of the road for at least a mile. Every table, every booth, every person had pomegranetes for sale. Back home they were a delicious Christmas treat. We may have eaten far more than our fair share.

Nut brittle. Made on a tree stump and pounded with a huge wooden mallet, folded with a wooden scraper, and pounded again. So delicious, we didn't mind remembering we saw a few bees on the sticky mass before the pounding began...

If it's fall, it's time for candied fruit on a stick.

And finding a place where noodles were served everywhere was heavenly. Kneaded, sliced, boiled, and mixed with unknown ingredients, it was a bowl of wonderful.

Pulling candy that is sweet sweet sweet, yet has no sugar. Just honey. It tasted like those Bit-o-Honey candies I used to toss out after trick-or-treating.

Dried fruit wagons in the Muslim Quarter offered up a treasure trove of sticky sweet (and yet healthy) treats.

No need to actually try everything you see, though. Some sort of...bun, I guess, filled with...something, and then steamed...just too many ellipses in that sentence for me to give one a try.

Maybe a cracker like thing instead. Made on a beautiful carved mold, they're sold as-is or filled with a mixture of sugar and sesame seeds and then baked on a griddle. Yummy? Well, not a lot of taste, but cheap and excellent for tiding you over until the next great thing...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Celebrities on Parade

Cameron was not the only celebrity on our trip.

Seems Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie were also guests at one time.

Memorable China

So we just got back from Xi'an and Pingyao and had a great time. What was the most memorable? Thousands of terra-cotta soliders? The ancient walls surrounding Pingyao? Biking on bumpy Chinese bikes along the walls of Xi'an? Winding through the Muslim Quarter, peering in tiny booths? No.

It was the mother letting her 3 year old PEE in the very modern airport. On the floor. 200 feet from a bathroom. AND THEN NOT CLEANING IT UP. OMG.

Stay tuned for pictures of our actual trip. I've stopped taking pictures of that kind of crap. (hee hee, see what I did there?)