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Gallus Domesticus July 15, 2010

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This blog is about food. The day to day contact I have with food is real, personal and unavoidable. Unavoidable in the sense that food is serious business in China. I am understanding very quickly  just how serious it is. I suppose when you factor in that  1.3 billion people in this country are  hopefully consuming food 3 times daily perhaps it makes an impression upon you. Now I am no expert on China even if we have a passport booklet that says we are… and don’t hold my every tidbit to be tried and true. I am merely documenting things the way I see it, as I see it  and  it may change. I hope it does change otherwise I wouldn’t be learning anything. My synapses are firing rapidly, daily to the point that Lep and I sometimes can’t verbally express it all in one evening, the  events we have encountered during the day.

Back to food, I am going to try to share some of the things I have witnessed regarding the subject of aquiring food.

Overwhelming is the word I would use in a polite way when one goes to the market  in China. All of my senses are immediately peaked when I enter the grocery store or fresh food market. The signage and labels currently for me are indecipherable. The Chinese food labels are mostly in chinese symbol form, not pinyin.

Here is the definition of pinyin from Wikipedia,

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pinyin (Chinese: 拼音; pinyinpīnyīn), or more formally Hanyu Pinyin (汉语拼音 / 漢語拼音), is currently the most commonly used romanization system for Standard Mandarin (标准普通话 / 標準普通話). Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語) means the Chinese language, and pīnyīn (拼音) means “phonetics“, or more literally, “spelling sound” or “spelled sound”.[1] The system is only for Standard Mandarin, not for other Chinese languages, including the ancient official Chinese Guangyun (广韵 / 廣韻). The system is now used in mainland ChinaHong KongMacau, parts of TaiwanMalaysia andSingapore to teach Mandarin Chinese[2] and internationally to teach Mandarin as a second language. It is also often used to spell Chinese names in foreign publications and can be used to enterChinese characters (hanzi) on computers and cellphones.

The romanization system was developed by a government committee in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and approved by the Chinese government on February 11, 1958.[3] The International Organization for Standardization adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1982,[4] and since then it has been adopted by many other organizations. This romanization system also became the national standard in the Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan) on January 1, 2009.[5][6]

I would be completely lost without pinyin.  I was taught to read phonetically so I understand  about putting  word-group sounds together to make words. Being a singer has helped too since every letter has 4 tones.  The tone should be right or it will be misinterpreted… but this altogether is another subject for another day, Back to the grocery.

Pre Packaged food aisle: this aisle has an infinite amount of foods that I have no idea of what they are. I will ask someone when I am more versed at the language or if I ever see  what appears to be a westerner that has an ultra confident shopping personality or heck any westerner for that matter. 🙂 That was a joke people. From what I can tell, lots of squid, chicken feet with claws, kelp and fish of all shapes and size, all vacuum packed, ready for instant eating.
The Refrigerated Section: This is where it gets tricky. Eggs and milk by the whole are not kept cold but at room temperature. There are a few cartons of cold milk but I can’t help but feel the grocers stock it there to appease people like me who are worried about spoiled foods. I call it the token milk section. Chinese like their flavors of Jasmine and Green Tea. I have seen but not tasted Jasmine Milk and Green Tea Milk, also Ice cream bars with the red bean middle of which they are so fond. We have found some tasty Gouda. I don’t think the chinese people eat much cheese. ‘Century Eggs’ or ‘100 Day Old Egg’ or ‘1000 Year Egg’ as sometimes called  are blackish-green egg yolks and a popular chinese cuisine. there is a preservation method of clay, ash, salt and limes for this delicacy. The egg is hidden away for several months for the yolk to darken. Very popular here.

Meat/Fish Section: This section alone will suddenly bring the question to mind if you are  prone to  becoming a vegetarian. The smell gets to you first, then  you realize you are staring at animals/animal parts. The bins are open where you can just stick your hand in and pick through what one might  want for dinner. Ducks are cooked with their heads on. This area is famous for Peking Duck.I looked at a freshly cooked duck the other day(It made me sad) and it seemed as if it was looking back. Ugh…Hard for me to  handle. I am not going to elaborate too much here as I ‘m sure you can get my gist when I say an animal part is not wasted in the chinese diet. I am curious though how one avoids being sick from eating the things I’ve seen. I have to toughen up, I tell myself.

Tea Section: Oh the smell of a green tea aisle..it smells so good and fresh just like a rolling pasture.  Jasmine tea, I was not so familiar with at first. It is a perfumey tasting tea. Seems to be very popular. I also want to add, this is a very large section!  With lots of teas, loose leaf.
Packaged Cake and Cookies Section: Carbohydrates are alive and well in China. Lots of cakes, cookies, chips. The potato chips have very curious flavors from manufacturers we know and love. Pringles, Cheetos and Lays to be exact. What Americans do not have (or I have seen)are the flavors that are offered here. Blueberry Potato Chips, Cool Cucumber Chips, Sweet and Sour Fish Soup flavored chips..I could go on. I tasted a package of Strawberry Cheetos the other day. I thought they were the regular flavor. It wasn’t bad, but it was a surprise. Very Captain Crunchish….hmmm.

Fruit and Vegetables: This seems to be the largest section of the stores. I can pick out things in this section at not a great risk…broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, leek, parsley, endive, cilantro. There are many types of fungus and roots that are not discernible to me. The fruit section is the most fun. Dragon fruit, funny looking melons with points. I think I found a mangosteen today in which a dear friend told me to keep a look out.
I really wish I could read the labels. I would love to do a comparative analysis on preservatives, sodium, sugar etc.   alas….

I have spent a fair amount of time in these stores so I can acclimate myself to the event of grocery shopping.
I appreciate the diet in which I am accustomed, but there is a certain amount of admiration I now have for China and I feel a bit sheltered by my American food knowledge and  its consumerism. My perception is, and feel free to disagree with me on this is. Americans analyse overly about our food, and I’m sure  it is a very good thing to discuss our food and the health benefits or the lack thereof.  But it seems the business of eating here is serious too, without  a lot of psychological guilt we so often thrust upon ourselves. They eat in China as much as we do. Perhaps the approach is different. Food and eating is a non emotional event and a matter of fact part of life, by my perception so far.

Finally,  Gallus Domesticus is the scientific name for  a domestic chicken. I saw a food package the other day with chinese writing and in English it read “Gallus Domesticus”.
I looked further to find a small picture of a cute fluffy chicken.  Thank Goodness for pictures 🙂
Until my next post~xoxo


 

Block 22 Yun Hua Li July 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 3:25 am

We have finally settled in our flat on Yun Hua Li, with a lift to the 7th floor, in the Nankai District which apparently is the largest District in Tianjin. We had a very nice but inexpensive (they all are) western meal last night for Fathers Day, which took us to the Heping District Tianjin’s oldest district. It will take me months to learn this city.

The days start as far as I can tell on the weekdays busy for everyone. Busy Busy Busy starts the Tianjin traffic at about 5:30 am. Horns honking, Bicycles ringing, the sound of buses. The traffic is what one would expect in a city of 12 million and anything goes here. Sidewalk driving and parking is normal in any direction so keeping a keen eye is absolutely imperative.We have already witnessed  constantly, cars, buses, bicycles opposite of oncoming traffic. Moments like these will make your heart pound and stomach squirm on a regular basis. I never will badmouth LA traffic again. Each Taxi has its own flair. The aqua green cars are everywhere in this metropolis and easy to spot. The drivers do somewhat customize their car with floormats and seat cushions. Some designer, some not. Usually there is something hanging from the rear view mirror, all symbolic of Chinese luck or fortune from red strings. It clearly is a  man’s profession but I have had the honor to have a few ladies take me around. Some wear white gloves, bus drivers too.

The bicycling fashion for ladies is either (1) a hat with a scarf over the face. (2)Just a scarf that covers the entire face and head or (3) face shield. Ladies arms are covered with arm length gloves or sleeves(sleeves by themselves with elastic on each end). This is to block the sun. Umbrellas are everywhere on a sunny day, some quite beautiful. I have seen the image of Elmira Gulch many times in a dress with sleeves, hat and scarf, riding along with a curved bar bicycle. Except in this case Elmira would be Chinese. Priceless.

 

Old Peking Beijing June 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 5:24 am

Beijing is the capital of China. 8 months prior, we left this bustling city thinking in the back of our minds that we would probably never see it again but thankful we had the opportunity to visit such a unique city of culture, technology, vastly different government and 5000 year old tradition.

I was so happy when Lep told me he booked our 1 night in Beijing at Hotel Kapok. Lep’s liason , Effie Kong was to meet us in Beijing, accompany us to Tianjin and put us up in a hotel for seven days as a part of the teaching package for Lep’s professorship.

The last time we stayed at Hotel Kapok for 6 nights, I really liked their coffee machine. Every morning I would have at least 4-5 cups of their cappuccino style coffees. The last morning of our trip 8 months ago, I had 7 cups. 🙂

Upon arrival 3 days ago, I found their  little coffee machine which made me so happy was still there and working perfectly.

Wangfujing Street is one of my favorite streets in Beijing. Hotel Kapok is on that street. Night time it is very beautiful with big glowing red lanterns hanging outside little shops such as traditional chinese footwear, art stores, jewelry stores, chinese knick-knack stores. Bicyclers and rickshaws with their little bells ringing. The Forbidden City is a block away.

I had many coffees on the morning Effie picked us up. The weather in Beijing felt no different than the balmy south we had just left.  31 degrees celsius. I have suddenly noticed a trend from the taxi drivers. They do not want to pack your luggage in tightly even if you can easily fit with the luggage in the back seat. This happened to us at the Beijing airport as well. The drivers were emphatic we take 2 taxis or a van for 470 yuan or 70 dollars. Typically one taxi into Beijing should cost about 10 dollars from the airport . Lep and I knew the deal because we had just been to Beijing months before. I chuckled to my self when Lep just picked up the bags while neatly packing them perfectly. The taxi driver would not talk to us after that.

The bullet train is Amazing. Truly Amazing! Every 15 minutes from 5:30 am to 10 pm at night you can get to cities around China very fast. The speed reaches about 260 miles per hour and is very smooth. We arrived in Tianjin via bullet train in 30 minutes. 2 hours by car. 6 dollars per person.

I like knowing Beijing is so close and readily accessible.

 

The Other side of the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 4:39 am

It is amazing what sleep does for your body. The lack of sleep for me tends to worsen my mood the longer my eyes are open.

Awakening in NYC the next morning seemed better instantly! We had a good breakfast at Raffles Restaurant and were in the taxi off to JFK. We arrived at  Air Asia’s gate, were re- ticketed immediately with news our luggage was downstairs. The stars were at last aligning.

Martha Chen was to my left, Lep on my right, upon settling in for our upcoming 13 hour flight. Martha was coming back home to China after spending 3 years at a high school in Virginia teaching Chinese to American students for free! Yes that is correct, she taught Mandarin in Virginia for the school, Free.

I asked her why free? She told me sincerely, teaching is her life and what an opportunity it was to come to America and have the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the other side of the world. She said she loved her American students very much and had Chinese silk formal wear made for them for her high school students graduation. Wow!I am thinking. Needless to say I was instantly impressed by her. She was thrilled we were embarking upon such a journey and I/We now, proudly, have a new friend living in Beijing. We have exchanged phone numbers, emails. Martha Chen will be back teaching at The University of Beijing. Her husband and son, were awaiting her at the airport, not having seen her for 3 years.

Martha Chen is a very beautiful soul.

 

Rough Launch

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 4:18 am

We arrived in Beijing 44 hours after tearful good-byes to our children, family, animals, friends and new house-sitters. We were ready for a long flight, exhausted with the amount of preparations one would expect of picking up and moving to a new country. Lep and I agreed that if we work all night, on every last minute detail we could sleep on the plane and arrive in Beijing, tired and ready to go to bed again upon reaching our hotel. WRONG! We had hit a snafu in NYC. Our ticketing company, did not give us 2 hours international check-in time. what makes me mad is…I knew this…I didn’t question it of course because I thought the ticketing company knew what they were doing. We were given an exact hour to deboard our incoming JFK flight from Chicago, from terminal 8 to terminal 1. We promptly left the plane and rushed to the Air Asia gate to find they had left as Air Asia has one flight daily to Beijing. If you fly it is somehow impounded into your brain..1 hour early domestic check in. 2 hours early International check in. I was really frustrated with myself at that point from not listening to my inner voice when I carefully read the flight itinerary months earlier. Oh well. a night in NYC and many phone calls between the airlines and carrier proved my exhaustion was showing its head. We did find a quaint Italian restaurant on 48th street which helped a bit. Falling on the bed in our hotel room my last quick question before passing out was “Where is our luggage? What if we had brought Zippy?”zzzzzzzzzzzzz

 

Music City under water May 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 4:29 am

I said I would write of Cornmeal today, but The great flood of 2010 is on everyone’s mind and hearts in the state of Tennessee. Middle Tennessee received an unprecedented amount of rainfall in a two day period, last weekend, which resulted in the overflowing of rivers. The devastation is unreal. The lack of media coverage is also unreal. I have talked to several people out of state about the flood and their reply was most typically, “really?” or “I haven’t heard a thing about it”.

This spontaneous natural disaster now as I read in the Nashville newspaper ‘The Tennessean“, is closing in on the billion dollar mark in repairs to the state. FEMA has been called and President Obama has declared a State of Emergency for Tennesseans. I could give you all sorts of numbers on deaths, harrowing rescues, homes completely ruined by floodwaters, some to the rooftops, the amount of rain in inches per county, etc. etc. The real story to me however is the sense of community that follow these horrible events. TN has lots of attributes of greatness, but none greater than their sense of duty to their fellow residents, especially in time of need. It is The Volunteer State.

I was out in the Nashville area this evening with my husband, he was surveying the damage to trees, highways, debris, and buildings. I was looking at peoples faces. Everyone looks exhausted. The people I noticed also had the look of determination and perseverance  to have the pace of normalcy again. It was a beautiful night this evening. It felt much like a regular Middle TN summer night.

Great Work Everyone!

 

Tennessee to Tianjin May 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tamiamiandrews @ 6:22 pm
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In 39 days, My husband and I will relocate to China for 2 years. A few people suggested I start this blog since we will be living in another country. I am thinking it is a great idea in many ways.

1) It will definitely give me something to do.

2) I realize the importance to write about the experiences from a completely different culture and us interacting in said culture.

3) The most important, to somehow connect with everyone back home.

So here it is, I have 39 days to prepare for an experience of a lifetime, living, loving, working in The Peoples Republic of China.

I can recite the entire movie of The Wizard of Oz. L.Frank Baum’s classic tale of a little farm girl traveling to unknown lands, appealed to me greatly as a child. I sometimes thought I was Dorothy as a young girl. The 1939 classic MGM movie has been etched in my brain for a lifetime. I often refer to any situation with a quote from the movie of which I can readily apply. These are just a few pearls of wisdom that still hold true today.

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom and chuckled at catastrophe. I was petrified.”

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking… don’t they?”

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

and as not to over quote the movie…..

It is always best to start at the beginning“.

I will start at the beginning of Cornmeal, 2005, so everyone can catch up and relate to the countdown to China and the enormous task in front of us to relocate and keep this farm going at the same time.

Tomorrow, Chapter 1 , Cornmeal.