Saturday, November 25, 2006

Snow!

It was pretty cold here in Beijing yesterday, and a colleague advised that people were saying that it would snow within 2 weeks. I thought it did not really snow in Beijing, but sure enough, it snowed this morning. Granted, it did not stick at all, but it was definitely snow!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Someone call Max von Sydow

The above notice was posted in the alcove of our apartment building the other day. I was immediately drawn to the name of the policy that the management is striving to adhere to. I imagine that it is a "Public Area Sanitation Management Policy", but maybe not. Just to be on the safe side, I'm making some split-pea soup.

Thanksgiving

Our first Chinese Thanksgiving went off without a hitch! The logistics were a bit challenging, but nevertheless we managed to pull it off in such a way that you could have pretended the meal was held anywhere in the US.

The first challenge of the meal was procuring the turkey. I had not seen any for sale anywhere, but I had it on good authority that the expat-oriented grocery near the hospital would have them and sure enough they did, albeit at Y50/kg (around $3/lb), so our 14lb bird was a bit on the pricy side, and since it was rock-solid I wasn't sure it would thaw in time. Fortunately, I bought it just over a week in advance, and it did indeed thaw in the fridge with time to spare.

The other standard menu ingredients are easier to find in Beijing, even the makings of succotash are pretty standard (corn, lima beans, and in our case edamame are for sale at the market down the road), and in fact are much cheaper here than at home, so the price of the turkey is more than mitigated. Our menu thus was pretty standard:

Roast Turkey
Chestnut-Mushroom Dressing
Cranberry-Kumquat Relish (OK, the cranberries came from the US)
Armagnac Gravy
Succotash
Pan-Fried Jerusalem Artichokes (yes, even those were available here)
Sweet Potato-Marshmallow Casserole
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie

In addition to these items, a colleague (Alan) offered to make his famous Duck and Andouille Gumbo, a standard in his home town of New Orleans.

We were invited to have the dinner at the home of our hospital president and her husband, so J2 and I lugged our half-prepared dishes in a cab to their place, where at least their oven is a bit larger than ours, so it could accommodate a pan of dressing and of sweet potatoes at the same time. Also, their ayi was on duty so she was available to help us with preparations; for example I gave her the task of peeling and slicing the Jerusalem artichokes, and she cleaned up after us.

While Alan and I were cooking, J2 read his oral pathology text, preparing for his boards, which start the day after Thanksgiving.

Alan found that the duck he bought for his gumbo was a lot less meaty than what he's used to, so he found a use for the chicken meat left over from my making chicken stock. Who'd have thought that Peking ducks would be so scrawny?

While our preparations were underway, Anne came round to bring us lunch and see if we needed anything. She intended to bring us cheeseburgers, but through a miscommunication (she does not speak Chinese) what she brought was in every way similar to a cheeseburger, other than the absence of any meat (so it was literally a cheese burger). This worked out OK, though, since the burgers would have been too filling before our big feast.

By 5 pretty much all the preparations were done, and then Anne and John came home so we could sit and have some champagne and dried French sausage while we waited for the other two guests, who showed up around 6. At 7 we sat down to dinner, and I'm pleased to report that everything turned out very well. The turkey, which I thought might be dry since I had re-heated it a bit just before serving, was actually OK, and the gravy (which was outstanding) added some juice to it anyway. The cranberries and the sweet potatoes (oh, and the stuffing) were also big hits, and Susie and Rex, our British and New Zealander guests, found the succotash intriguing (and the name very unusual). Anne & John brought some amazing cheeses back from France that served as our pre-dessert course, which went very well with our no-knead bread, and our pies were also well received.

We sat around for a while longer until the L-tryptophan kicked in and we were all yawning on the couch. Our cab ride home was a lot less difficult than the ride over, since we had far less to carry, and we were very happy to find that the dogs, who had been in their cage for 12 hours without a break, did very well. Now to prepare for Christmas and New Years!

Photos are online: here

Monday, November 20, 2006

So Now I'm a Pirate

Those of you who pay attention to the little flags that show you where people have logged onto my site from will perhaps have noticed that a new 'country' now appears, along with a 'flag' that looks like a smiley face with an eye patch. The country this little guy represents is "anonymous proxy" and is going to be showing a marked increase in hits at the expense of China, since the site that hosts my little blog is now blocked by the Chinese internet police. It's nothing aimed at this blog itself, but I guess there are blogs out there that it's better if Zhou six-pack does not read. Fortunately, there are ways to work around the blockage, and that is how I am still able to see my own blog. It's a bit of a nuisance, but for now it works, so I am not going to complain. So, shiver me timbers, and avast ye maties, and all that.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Miao Fabrics Framed



Last weekend I posted that we had gone to the Panjiayuan Dirt Market and bought two pieces of Miao fabrics, a baby carrier and a sort of shawl thing, and that we took them to the framer to be framed. Well, here they are, one week later (not even) and ready to hang on our walls. They're a bit hard to photograph, since the concept of reflection-free glass is still alien here, but you can get a sense of what they look like.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thanksgiving in Beijing

Thanksgiving has always been just about my favorite holiday, probably because it gives me an excuse to do a lot of cooking, and I was not going to let the fact that I have only two pots in my kitchen stop me from making Thanksgiving this year (the rest of my cookware is in my shipment, which will only arrive the week after Thanksgiving). We have made plans to celebrate the holiday at the house of the hospital president and her husband, with several other hospital staff in attendance, including the new marketing guy, who is from New Orleans. In anticipation of the holiday, during my recent US trip I set out to buy some of the ingredients and equipment that I did not think I'd be able to find in China, like pecans, spices, and pie pans, and since my return I have been procuring the rest of the stuff, including a turkey ($5/lb!) and the makings of our menu.

Speaking of the menu, this is what we plan to make: a roast turkey; chestnut stuffing; cranberry-kumquat relish; gravy; autumn succotash with edamame; sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows!); pecan pie; pumpkin pie. In additionl the guy from New Orleans will be making a duck-andouille gumbo (with andouille sausage that I brought from the US).

I had decided not to bring a can of pumpkin back to China from the US, reasoning that you can easily buy a pumpkin, or similar, in Beijing and use that to make the pie. However, James was not too comfortable with that plan, suggesting that I do a trial run first to make sure it'll work. I did that on the weekend, and sure enough, the pie was delicious. I also did a test of a recipe that appeared in the NY Times the day I returned to China (Nov 8) for a no-knead crusty French-type bread that sounded too good to be true. According to the recipe, you just mix 3 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 1/4 tsp salt, let it sit for 18 hours, shape it into a loaf, let that rise for 2 hours, and then plop into a covered pot in a 450F oven for 50 minutes and you're done. Well, hard as it might be to believe, this really produces an amazing loaf of bread just perfect for turning into stuffing.

So for the next couple of days I'll be working on getting these dishes put together and of course YOU'LL be reading about how it turns out!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dog Situation

Several people have asked about the dog crackdown in Beijing and how it's affecting us. So far, it has not affected us at all (touch wood), though it has prompted us to redouble our efforts to get Genghis registered. Today we submitted the papers (again) through our real estate agent, who has a colleague who has offered to register him for a Y100 fee ($12) in addition to the standard registration fee. There's no guarantee that this will protect us in the event that the police come to our compound, though so far we've seen no evidence of them doing so, and whenever there is someone at the door we put the dogs in another room just to be on the safe side. Thanks for your concern!

The Search for a new Ayi

We had to fire our old ayi (housekeeper). She was a nice lady, but she was lousy at cleaning the house (the dust just kept accumulating under the furniture, for example, and she could not grasp the need to clean out the lint filter in the clothes dryer), and she had some memory issues (like forgetting to close the back door of the house one time when she left, so that the dogs were loose in the backyard and house). So we let her go, and started looking for a new one. This is not as easy as you'd think, since the dogs tend to intimidate everyone who comes to the door. One candidate came today but she and the agent for the ayi service company were too afraid even to come into the apartment after seeing Leo! Fortunately, we met one woman this past Sunday who seemed to be OK, and she was fairly big, too, so she can reach the lint screen in the dryer. We'll see how she works out and will report on the results!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Back to Beijing

After a wonderful short visit home, during which I did my best to prop up the American retail sector, I returned home to Beijing on November 9. Fortunately, all my newly acquired loot arrived safely, including my new prized possession--a 220-volt Cuisinart food processor--and once back in the apartment we wasted no time before heading out to our favorite nearby restaurant for dinner. My last dinner in the US was at our old favorite Chinese restaurant, China Star, which made it pretty clear to me that, despite it being pretty much the best Chinese restaurant I know of in the DC area, it still lags far behind the 'real thing'.

On Saturday I thought it would be nice to head out to the Great Wall to show James a part of the Wall he had not been to before, Mutianyu. This was the favorite part of the Wall for our visitors at Hogan & Hartson, but I think it pales compared with Simatai, where James went during his 2002 visit to Beijing. Still, the weather was pretty much ideal for a Wall visit--cool and crisp with bright blue skies. Also, this part of the Wall is relatively lightly visited, so we were not fighting crowds the whole time we were there. One of the fun things about this part of the Wall is that you have the option of taking a toboggan sort of ride back down to the parking area. You sit in this little luge-like thing and slide down a curvy track through the trees back down to the bottom. Much more interesting than just taking the same cable car back down.

We got back to our place by 1pm and headed out to the Laitai flower market. During my absence our (former) maid forgot to put the dogs away, so Leo was able to make a mess of our orchids, so James wanted to get them repotted and replace one whose flowers Leo ate. The new orchids are gorgeous--a cattleya with beautiful yellow and red enormous blossoms and some interesting oncidiums, and none of them cost more than $8. We got back to the house and started reorganizing our TV equipment, putting things away and making the house tidy in preparation to interview a new maid applicant tomorrow. In the evening we had dinner at a new Hunan place that opened up across from our apartment complex (not bad, though perhaps we did not order as well as we could have; we'll have to try it again).

So, in other words, I fell right back into our routine. Nothing too exciting, but it's nice to be home.

For photos of our trip to Mutianyu, here is a link: http://shuanglong.smugmug.com/gallery/2119854

Friday, November 03, 2006

In New York

So here I am in New York, my home town for so long, visiting from my new home town of Beijing. As my plan started to descend into JFK after such a long day of flying, it was nice to think that this is the town where I grew up, and where so much is very familiar to me. Unfortunately, it seems that New York is not quite so unchanging as you might think.

After I finished the meeting that I came all this way to attend, I started to pursue the errands that I set for myself to do before returning to China next week. There are several purchases that needed to be made, and I made myself a list of what they were and where they could be procured most easily. Naturally, places like Zabars (for kitchen-related goods) was on the list, and Chinatown, my usual haunt in NY during visits from DC, was off the list. Navigating my way around on the subway I was surprised that old familiar lines now have new names and new stations (what the heck is a "V" train doing at my old home station? what is this Queensbridge station nonsense?? since when can you connect from the IND to the IRT at Lexington and 53rd Street???)

All these little changes kept creeping up on me, and I started to experience a bit of what our friend Dongmei probably felt when she visited us in Beijing: sure, it's her home town, but so much has changed that sometimes James and I felt like we knew the city better than she did, particularly in the area where we live. At least I still know how to walk down a busy New York street without seeming like a tourist, though buying entrance to the subway (no longer with a token, but with a magnetic card) still does not come naturally and I keep forgetting how to use the card to get through the turnstiles, aggravating the "real" New Yorkers behind me, who probably only moved here 2-3 years ago.

I wonder whether Beijing will seem the same when I get back in less than a week?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Trip out of China

This is the first post on my blog written outside of China. I left Beijing on the early afternoon of Oct 31, exactly two months after arriving in August. It was another clear day in my new hometown, and the temperature had climbed to the point that I could take care of errands without a jacket. (And one of the errands was to replenish our electricity account, since it was down to only Y94; don't want to think of what James would have had to say to me if he'd been stuck without power during my absence!)

The drive to the airport was pretty good. Luckily I was leaving today instead of on November 1, when, to accommodate the arriving dignitaries for the China-Africa Summit (has anyone heard of this outside of China?), they are closing all but one lane of the airport expressway to non-diplomatic and non-official cars. Also it is fortunate that I return after the summit is over, so my return drive should also be pretty fluid.

Check in at the United counter was pretty good, too. Unfortunately, the Chinese have yet to work out the kinks in their passport control and airline security procedures, and I wound up waiting more than an hour to get through. I think part of the problem, in addition to having too few passport control agents, is that they have not perfected the whole thing about segregating those passengers flying to the US, who cannot bring dangerous (or even non-dangerous) liquids in their carry-on bags, from all the others. As a result, loads of cantankerous passengers who were flying nowhere near the US had to try to explain to the uninterested security personnel that their lipsticks would not cause an increase in the US terror allert from puce to plaid since they would be on a flight to Woolloomooloo and not Washington. I heard loads of screaming at the front of the line ("line" is not the right word, actually; it was more of a throng) as passengers and security people discussed this issue, and occasionally large groups of non-US bound passengers were shooed away from the US-bound security lines. I found myself in a group of Russians whose flight was leaving an hour later than mine, and since they were doing a good job of pressing forward I asked if I could join them in order not to miss my flight. Just as we reached this agreement, the security people summoned any passengers for United from out of the line, and I found myself on the air side of the terminal at last.

On board, I had a great seat in the 'bubble' of the 747, with loads of legroom and a very nice seatmate who was in Beijing to look at sites for her to set up a French bakery and a dog kennel/grooming shop. I gave her some advice on both subjects (offer coffee and good sandwiches along with the croissants and baguettes, and offer a pick up/delivery service for the dogs, since not all of her potential clients have cars and cabs won't take dogs). In exchange for my advice, she offered me free service (I'm not holding my breath), and she asked for my card. When she saw where I work, she mentioned that her business partner in Beijing needed to see a doctor to fix something or other than a Chinese hospital botched; unfortunately, I was not in a position to offer free medical care.

So now I'm in New York, jetlagged as anything, enjoying my bagel (why can't the Chinese make a decent bagel??) and NY deli coffee, waiting for dawn to break so I can go to Kinkos to print a new version of my Power Point presentation. More to come late!