Monday, July 30, 2012

Shanghai, how I love thee!

Warning: This is another post where I declare my love for Shanghai.  
Since I don’t live in Shanghai and I don’t have to fight the traffic and the challenges of living in one of the world’s largest cities, I can remain in the puppy-dog love stage with this great city for a long time.  It is just a fun place!
Before flying to a conference in Korea (blog post forthcoming) my parents came to China at the beginning of June as part of a business trip.  We spent two days in Shanghai with my parents.  This trip my main desire was to spend time in the former French Concession.  Let me digress a bit to explain that Shanghai used to be divided into “concessions” where different countries had home-country ruling in their part of Shanghai.  This means that the rules of Britain applied to the British concession (and not Chinese law). 
The ares out-lined in red is the
Former French Concession.
The French Concession was in place from 1849 until 1946 and dissolved because of changing politics. From what I’ve read, the concession had its own electrical system, judiciary, and police force.  Now, back to why I wanted to visit this concession. 
Some travel guides profess that the French Concession looks like Paris, but my mom, who has been to Paris, wasn’t so sure that was the case.  It does have many tree-lined streets, lots of shopping and great restaurants.  We started our exploration at the historic Catholic cathedral at the Western edge of the concession.  We were just in time to watch a Chinese bride and groom walk down the aisle!

The Bride & Groom, dressed in Western-style clothing,
 waiting to walk down the aisle.
I would pay $5 to know what she was thinking.

Another couple posing outside of the
cathedral.  Many couples take pictures
outside of churches, but don't actually
get married in the church.
Another break, this time for gelato!
Then we took our first Shanghai subway ride (with one failed attempt at getting through the turnstyle) to another part of the concession.  I didn’t really have specific places I wanted to see, which means my flexibility lead us wandering around the French Concession.  We did find a great gelato shop run by a woman from Milan, Italy and a few great antique shops with several art deco pieces that had been restored.  We will be going back there.
Taking a break along the way.

French & Chinese on the same archway.
Chinese door knockers.

I poked my head in here thinking we
might be getting close.  Nope, just lots of  laundry!

Entrance to Tianzafang.
Finally we reached the “it” spot, the quaintest shopping area of the French Concession.  We entered through an arch into Tianzifang.  This area is a restored residential area of the French Concession.  It is a series of intertwined alleyways with shops, cafes and art studios.  After we had walked most of the concession, our energy was waning and we didn’t spend nearly enough time poking through all the stores.  The adults had fun, the girls had given up expressing any interest in shopping after traipsing all over the concession!  (Although I think they would have stopped for more ice cream.)

Lots of tea to try.
So many shops to see.
A picture of "Obamao", get it?!

LBean working on her journal.  I think we have
a future blogger!
We ended the day at a great burger place I had discovered with some friends a few months earlier.  The Bistro Burger has one of the best burgers we’ve had in China and a bonus is the sitter potty!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Jiaozi

Last week I had the opportunity to make jiaozi with some local Chinese women.  Jiaozi, pronounced “juh owd zuh”, are Chinese dumplings.  Jiaozi are typically filled with meat or vegetables and wrapped in dough.  The dumplings can be steamed (which are my favorite), boiled or fried.
From what I understand, jiaozi originated from northern China, but now many Chinese enjoy eating them.  There are regional differences and I think each family has their own favorite way of preparing them.  I compare it to Southern barbecue; it’s enjoyed across the US, each region has its own specialty and everyone has their own opinions on how it should be prepared.
Mixing the ground pork.
I have eaten dumplings and watched a friend’s Ayi make them, but this was my first time to make them myself.  On this day, we were using the pre-made dumpling wrappers, but made the filling from scratch.  Ground pork was mixed with a vegetable called Chinese chive, ginger, Chinese 5 spice (I have no idea what the five spices are), soy sauce, salt and probably a few other things.  My contribution was helping to chop mounds of Chinese chive. The chives were very mild tasting and didn’t have much of a scent.

I had to take a picture of this
huge wok!

Which sauce would you like?

Chinese chive

He's a good helper!

Mixing the ginger with the pork
on an awesome chopping block!

After the filling had been made, we set out to fill each –and every --individual wrapper. Let me tell you, there were a lot of wrappers – my guess is around 500!  It took about an hour with six or more people filling. and we had a lot of wrappers to fill!  Again, I observed many women sharing their different opinions on how the crimping around the edges of the dumplings should be done.  I was taught one way and I stuck with it.  It was really neat to see the dumplings all in a row and notice the differences between the styles of crimped edges.
Starting to fill the wrappers. 

Everyone has a different way of crimping the edges.

This rectangular wrapper is a wonton wrapper.

Boiling dumplings.
Once the dumplings were filled, they were ready to be dropped in boiling water, much like ravioli or tortellini.  After a few minutes in the boiling water, the dumplings are ready to be eaten.  We all took turns eating a few dumplings, then making a few, and repeating the pattern.  

Some of the finished product.

A little of the aftermath.
There was enough filling and wrappers left over that I was able to bring some home.  My Ayi filled the rest and then froze them so we can enjoy them later.

Let's eat!
The best part of the day was watching the women interacting and cooking together.  Most of the time I had no idea what they were saying.  But, by observing body language and listening to the intonation of their voices, I knew what they were saying.  They were playfully arguing about how much spice to add, assessing when the mixture was just right, and making a case for why their way of crimping the dumplings was the best.  I could have closed my eyes and just as easily been back at our home cooking in our church’s kitchen.  Ahhh, dumplings!

Friday, July 20, 2012

1 Year Anniversary

Happy 1-year anniversary!  We have survived our first year in China.  Thanks to everyone who have supported us and said that we could do it.  Some days I wasn’t so sure myself! It has been a long time since I have cried about having a China day although I know another will creep up on me someday.
I’m not sure how to sum the first year up, but I completely agree with our cultural trainers assessment that when living abroad the “highs are higher and the lows are lower”.  We have had some amazing experiences during the first year, but in so doing, we have given up some things, too.  My mom has reminded me a few times that it is all a trade-off.  Yes, I can buy some inexpensive pearls (not the ones I’ve given as gifts to friends and family, of course!), but it took me moving my entire family to a foreign county to make that possible.
It’s all a trade-off...
I have an Ayi (housekeeper) that cleans my home, buys my fruit and veggies, and can watch my children.
I have no family that is closer than a cross-Pacific flight to get my children off the bus if I am needed somewhere else or want to visit one daughter’s school while the other is at her school. Some days it takes a heroic effort to go the grocery store (or several stores) looking for one imported or hard-to-find ingredient because I had to schedule the driver, walk 20+ minutes, or take a taxi (or two).  And, it is dirty here, to put it simply.  It takes a lot of work to keep up with the dust, smog and dirt that gets tracked into our apartment.  Doing laundry is almost a full-time job in itself.  The dryer goes up to 200 minutes … I think that gives you an idea of the efficiency!
I have a driver.
I have to schedule everything.  There is no spontaneous hopping into a car to pick up a child from a friend’s house or stopping at a new store on a whim. What’s more is the driver knows everywhere I am going and what I am buying.  Privacy anyone?
My children attend stellar international schools with students from over 40+ countries.
“Their” way is much different than “our” way and there is a lot of catch-up that needs to be done.  Also, it can be very isolating when your daughter is the only student in her class from North or South America.  Because, at recess the children tend to gravitate to children from their own countries so they can play with those kids that speak the same language, understand all of the cultural nuances, etc.  Adults are guilty of this too, because it’s just easier going to the familiar and it’s not necessarily on purpose 
There are great restaurants in town.
It can be really hard to make a “quick and simple” American meal or to make it cheaply.  I have learned to make so many things from scratch: ground sausage (mixed my own seasonings and add it to ground pork), ricotta cheese, yogurt, crescent rolls, pizza crust, bread, cream of chicken soup, buttermilk and a few other things.  Why must all American casseroles require cream of chicken soup or Velveeta?! 
We have traveled to some amazing places in South East Asia.
When we’re at home in Suzhou we work really hard.  This is the hardest Jamie has ever worked and the hours are long. He works a full day at the office and then comes home and puts in a few more hours on the phone in meetings with the US.  When visitors come to town there are business dinners, showing co-workers around town, helping them buy gifts for their wives & families, traveling to suppliers across China, and going back to the US every few months to visit the home office.  The mental work that it takes to live here is easily overlooked, but it really takes a toll on someone.  Trying to think and communicate in a second language, learn the cultural rules and expectations, and navigating a large city can be overwhelming.  And, you can’t escape it!  You can’t tell yourself that tomorrow I’m not going to do those things.  There have been a few times where I think back over the day and realize that it has been good because I haven’t left the house!  Vacations are a nice escape from all of this.
One of the most amazing trade-offs has got to be, although we are miles and miles from family and what is familiar to us, we are living in our third child’s birth country.  How crazy is that?!  Not many adoptive families get to have that experience.  This alone has made it all worthwhile.
So, are the “highs” worth the trade-off of the “lows”? So far! It has been a good first year and I have no regrets.  Here’s to year 2!

Another trade-off, it's inexpensive to go get our toes painted
on a rainy Saturday afternoon!

EBean, so patient and holding still!

LBean likes the massage function
on the pedicure chair!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: E-bikes

E-bikes lined up outside a store.

Electric bikes, or e-bikes as they're known here, are an essential tool for daily living here for most Chinese and several expats as well (but not for me).  E-bikes are a fairly inexpensive mode of transportation.  It’s possible to buy one for under a few hundred dollars, which is about one month's salary for many Chinese.  
As the name suggests, the bikes run on electricity, which is much cheaper than gasoline.  There are lines of electrical outlets in our garage for charging the E-bikes.  However, because the motor doesn’t use gasoline and is so quiet, they have been dubbed as "silent ninjas" on one blog I found.  You cannot hear the e-bike coming, so unless the driver uses his or her horn, it's possible to be run over.  The probability of this is pretty high because the e-bikes aren't just found on the road, people drive them on the sidewalk, into the ground floor of our apartment building, and anywhere else they can squeeze them into.  It is frustrating that E-bikes are driven all of the place.  No one in our family has been run over yet.  We do worry about the girls, especially when we are walking at night.  In college if someone was hit by a bike we called it being “schwinned”, as in someone was hit by a Schwinn bike.  Not sure what the verb would be in this situation, maybe “E-biked”?
Delivery bike.  I also see the Amazon delivery man often.
Just like rush-hour with cars, E-bikes tend to be out in full-force when people are going to and coming from work.  To keep the bikes secure when they are parked, drivers use something that looks like a traditional bicycle lock through the tire.  But, it’s not always a strong deterrent.  Friends have had their E-bikes stolen and I’ve heard that it commonly happens when they are left at the subway station for long periods of time.
I enjoy watching couples ride on e-bikes.  It’s cute to see the couples snuggling up to each other and giggling.  It also fun to watch friends drive down the e-bike lane going slow enough that they can carry on a conversation.  And, don’t underestimate the size of an e-bike!  An entire family can ride on an e-bike with their day’s shopping bags!

Melrose pizza delivery E-bike.

Wagon hitched to the back of an E-bike.

This man had an entire crate of eggs on his E-bike.

It's hard to see, but this woman was wearing her coat
backwards so her arms don't get tan.

Riding side-saddle on the E-bike.

There's plenty of room!

Water delivery e-bike.  Notice the hand warmers on the handlebars?

One of our favorite E-bikes, the Sherpa food delivery bike.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Laowai Street

Today I was able to spend some time at a favorite street in Shanghai, Hongmei Pedestrian Street also known as Laowai Street.  "Laowai" is basically slang for foreigner/white person/outsider, etc.  There is a bit of debate as to how offensive the word is, but at this point I just find it amusing.  

"Wai" (pronounced 'why') in Chinese means "outside".  To go outside, I would say "waimian".  And, in a Chinese family the bride's parents are "waigong" (grandfather) and "waipo" (grandmother) because they are "outside" of the groom's family.  The bride joins the grooms family and leaves her own family.

On Laowai Street there are many, many different restaurants and it is a great place for a Westerner to grab a bite to eat.  As Jamie pointed out to me, each restaurant should serve good food because competition is stiff and patrons can walk next door if they don't like what they're tasting.  So far I've enjoyed burgers from the Blue Frog and sandwiches and salads from Bastiaan Bakery.  I have it on good authority that the Thai restaurant is also quite good.

Some day I'll write about the Hongqiao Pearl Market across the street...

Looking down the alley,
there's actually another alley at the end
and slightly to the left.

Looking down the other direction.

It's hard to see, but up on the sign it actually says
"Laowai Jie".