Friday, June 29, 2012

The Little Place We Call Home

I have had some requests for a picture tour of the apartment.  So, here we go! Of course, all pictures were taken after my helper cleaned.  I myself am not so great at keeping the place clean and wouldn't want to post that evidence for the world to see.

Our complex has many different floor plans.  Clif and I are in one of the smaller units, but it is actually similar in size to our house in the States, minus the basement.  I was never a fan of apartment living, so I am happy to only have one other apartment on the floor and it is currently empty.  We rented a furnished apartment and the only furniture we brought with us is what you will see in the nursery.  I am not crazy about the decor/furniture, but for our short-term assignment I can't complain. Alright, let's get this started....

Since it is not typical to wear your shoes in the house, many apartments have some sort of shoe storage.  We requested a shoe cabinet and got a rather large one.  I was leery of leaving our shoes in the hall at first, but so far they have all remained in their place!

Living Room:
This picture was taken after our Ayi left.  She always displays our pillows neatly! Thankfully the retro purple chair has found a new home hiding in our bedroom and been replaced by the cozy recliner.  Mr. Wang had to help Clif bring the chair up and was quite intrigued with the puffiness.  The apartment is also outfitted with heated floors.  At first I didn't think I would care one way or the other, but in reality it is quite fantastic.   

Still in the living room.  While it appears I have filled the cabinet with my shopping habits, you can see I still have an entire shelf that remains empty. 

Front Balcony
Our balcony has been covered in decking, which is a nice touch.  I neglected to clean it for months, however our Ayi has returned it to its original glory.  Thank you Xaio Ping! You can also see the flower I wasn't able to keep alive.  Both Clif and Xaio Ping have told me I watered them too much.  Clif was embarrassed by them and moved them away from the edge where passer-byres could see them in their sad state.  You can also see Clif's fold-able bike. Yep, it folds up. The only thing you can't see is the lake.  Since we are only on the second floor, we did not get one of the nice lake views.  
Dining Room

Across from the living room is the dining room.  We have a rather large table which seemed like a good idea for entertaining.  Though we have been here for nearly four months and have entertained only once.  


The kitchen is connected to the dining room.  There are glass doors that can be closed as there are no air vents in kitchens or bathrooms to provide air or heat.  I haven't found this to be a problem.  The only thing I miss is a dishwasher.  Apartments larger than ours have them.  We do have a sanitizer drawer.  Never been used. They could have made better use of the space with a small dishwasher.  On the counter you see our drinking water.  Faucet water is not safe to drink.

Utility Balcony

This balcony is off the kitchen.  You can see our washer, dryer, and utility sink.  While I am very thankful to have both a washer and dryer, they have the smallest capacity known to man.  A dryer is a bit of a luxury as most Chinese just hang their clothes out to dry.  I can't help but think they just get dirty that way with the smog and copious amounts of dust that quickly accumulates on the balcony.  Out here is also the air conditioner, water heater, gas line, and such.

Office: While this isn't advertised as an office, we requested office furniture to be put in there.  Technically, it is a storage room, but this is where Clif conducts his night meetings in the most uncomfortable chair. Last week I caught him squatting in the chair in the fashion of what we like call the "Chinese leisure position" (you can find a previous post if you are curious).  He also has a gorgeous view of the utility balcony.

Master Bedroom

Seeing as how I prefer not to share blankets, Clif and I have an array of blankets and pillows.  I also typically do not make the bed.  However, my Ayi attempts to make it look presentable which is the bane in Clif's nighttime routine because she like to layer our blankets in this order: his, mine, his, mine.  Clif is then required to sort them out before going to bed.  I think it is nice, so no complaints from me!

Another view of the master. You see the "dresser" I requested.  There is a little hallway coming into the room.  To the right is all closets, to the left in the master bath. Nothing to fancy.  We are not allowed to put any kinds of holes in the walls, do I just prefer to leave them blank.
Master Bathroom

I very much like the bathroom.  The tub is so nice and I can't help but soaking in it.  There is also the Japanese toilet complete with bidee, towel warmer (I have yet to use), vanity, and shower.  Along with a venting system you are also able to set a timer and have warm air, which is great for getting out of the shower and not getting chilly!

Guest Bathroom

No fancy toilet or tub, just a large shower.

Guest Bedroom

We mostly use this room for storage.  If you choose to come visit I may be willing to purchase a mattress pad so you do not have to sleep on a cement block.  I will try my best to find a more Western mattress pad, as the Chinese definition is much different than we American's are used to.
To end the tour we have the nursery where baby Gerke will soon be rocked to sleep.

We purchased the the crib and dresser before we left from the US.  I wasn't exactly sure what I would find here and to what safety standards it would be held to.  The glider is a gift from my parents and is quite comfy.

Just a view of the other side of the room. The rug was a flea market purchase.

That pretty much wraps up the tour! I really enjoy the compound and the apartment is quite nice.  It is a cozy little place to come back too when you need a break from the world outside!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Chinese Leisure Position

Shayne and I have noticed something peculiar. People in China lounge around in the strangest position. They seem perfectly comfortable, causing us to coin the phrase "Chinese leisure position." They can maintain this position for hours on end and often prefer it over standing or sitting. Truly mind-boggling...but I suppose doing this every day will train the body.

At left you can see me doing a second rate job of demonstrating the position. The key things to notice are flat feet and arms tight to the body. The position is far more comfortable on the balls of your feet with arms extended, but that isn't authentic. People in this position often wear dress shoes, and I find the slightly elevated heal helps maintain balance.

Also in the picture, you see me perched next to a ledge. Such a place would seem to be a perfect place for sitting...but not in China. It is common to see people squatting like this on perfectly good sittin' spots such as retaining walls, benches, curbs and even chairs.

Below you can see a professional. This gentleman has his arms tucked between his torso and thighs. Also notice how low his butt is...a truly impressive display. Go a head and try it right now, I bet you can't do it for one minute.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Master of Nets Garden Performances

Shayne and I decided to pick up some culture a few days ago. We met another couple and their son, took a bus to downtown Suzhou for dinner and a show. It was my first time on a city bus, but luckily Shayne is already a seasoned pro with the local transit systems and expert guide. The cost for a bus into the city was 2 RMB (about $0.30), which would have been half that for a bus without A/C.

First stop was Yang Yang, a favorite Chinese cuisine place for westerners. The place is well liked because the menu has pictures AND English descriptions of the food. Also, the offerings are a little closer to the westernized version of Chinese food we're used to from the States.

A short walk from the restaurant is the Garden of the Master of the Nets, one of the more (if not the most) popular and beautiful gardens in Suzhou, which is a city known for beautiful gardens. During the summer months, performances are offered in the evening. At various places within the garden are unique performances. They vary from singing to dancing to acting to instrumentals. We had a guide who led the group from one show to the next, and introduced each in Mandarin and English.

The garden itself isn't exactly what you might imagine as a garden, but is very similar to most of the gardens in Suzhou. It is a gathering of buildings, ponds and open space...all connected with a labyrinth of paths. The performances were located within the buildings which were by themselves quite interesting to see, and the rest of the garden was quite nice. We agreed to return during daylight hours just to see it all again.

Entry to the garden for the performances cost around $15 per person, I don't remember the exact amount but it was reasonable. We aren't sure, but we suspect entry fee during the day is less because the performances aren't ongoing.

Each performance lasted about five minutes and was followed by a stroll through the labyrinth to the next. I took some video until the camera battery died, and have edited it down to an easily digested single short video. This will give you an idea of the performances, but it doesn't include them all (because the battery died) and is only a snippet of each. Enjoy in HD...

The entire experience was pleasant and enjoyable. The weather was very comfortable and the crowds weren't too heavy. We strongly recommend paying a visit to the Master of Nets Garden to view the performances any night between March and November starting at 7:30pm.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

This Little Lady Went to the Market

What do I spend my days doing?  I go to coffee, grocery shop, lunch with the ladies, maybe visit a garden, street shopping, take Mandarin lessons and visit the many kinds of markets in China.  When you see something you like, you can almost bet it was bought at a market.  I have been venturing out to as many different types of markets I can.  Markets are also the best places to hone your bargaining skills. 

Fruit and Vegetable Market: Check

This is probably one of my favorite places to visit.  I love all the fruit and vegetable stands, seeing the new items we don't have in the US.  I also buy my eggs here.  I enjoy the smile from my "egg man" when he sees me walking up.  My "veggie lady" is also very cute.  She always offers free green onions and cilantro and holds your bags for you until you done shopping.

Shanghai Fabric Market: Check

This is a dress I copied at the market.  I picked the fabric, left the dress with the shop and they copied the dress and sent it to me.  

A picture from inside the fabric market. It was four floors of little shops. There is also a fabric market here in Suzhou, but I have yet to make it there. Clif would like to have a few nice things made before we leave as well.

 Pearl Market: Check

I wasn't brave enough to bargain for any of the "best quality" fresh water pearl necklaces, so I stuck with the imperfect dyed pearls for my first trip.  There are pearl markets in many different cities.  I went to the Suzhou Pearl Market which was two building, three stories each.  You can buy premade items, have items copied, or design your own jewelry.  I enjoyed seeing all the different colored strands, choosing ones I liked and having them strung together.  Besides pearls you can find jade and other gems.

Flea Market: Check

I have been to flea markets in Suzhou and neighboring Wuxi.  I have also been to a "high class" flea market in Shanghai. In Suzhou the flea market was 7 buildings of multiple levels.  You can find nearly anything. The Wuxi flea market was more like a small village.  Just this past week I snagged a Mahjong set at the Shanghai market.  Now I just need someone to teach me how to play! 

This is the insert for the vase above.  While it doesn't appear to be hand painted, I found it to be a lovely addition to my empty cabinet in the living room.  Since this buy I have nearly filled the cabinet possibly signally an end for my need to shop. Other flea market purchases include rugs, bowls, onesies, air fresheners for the sometimes stinky floor drain in our kitchen, and of course some goodies to bring home!

Flower Market: Check

This past weekend we visited Shanghai.  One of our stops was the flower market.  While I didn't buy anything here, there were all kinds of plants and fresh cut flowers. This market was attached to an aquatic market filled with fish to purchase and the reason for our stop, a fishing supply store. Suzhou has what we call "Plant Street," but it really is just a plant market.

I have walked through a pet market, which is a sad sight.  Probably the only thing of interest in the pet market are the huge crickets in tiny cages. Evidently, cricket fighting is a past time in China.  I have never actually seen a cricket fight, but was curious about the sale of crickets after I saw them and did a little reading on-line. We tried to take a picture of them, but were shooed away and told no pictures.

Markets I have yet to visit include the copy markets, where you can buy all your fake Coach bags and Rolex watches, the science and technology market and the children's market.  I am sure there are many more I have yet to learn about!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zhège My Nàgè

Something about Mandarin was at first uncomfortable and still pricks my ear. I'm trying to write about it now and it is making me uneasy. But this is a blog read by mature people who do not make crude jokes or laugh about racial tension, so I think it's safe to proceed.

First you have to know about pinyin. Pinyin is a way to help Western people pronounce Mandarin Chinese words by using Latin letters instead of Chinese characters. Pinyin is also used as the input mode for computers and cell phones because a keyboard with all the characters would be enormous.

If you know how to read pinyin, you have a foot in the door and can at least pronounce words correctly. In this post, I'll teach you two words: this and that.

  • The translation for "that" is 那个. In pinyin those characters are "nàgè." With normal English pronunciation it sounds something like "nah geh."
  • The translation for "this" is 这个. In pinyin, you spell it "zhège." One of the peculiarities of pinyin, is that the "zh" sounds a little like the letter "j." So zhège sounds like "jeh geh."

Yes Ned, he diddly did
Still with me? Good, this is where it gets uncomfortable.....In day-to-day use, people pronounce those words as "nigga" and "jigga."

To make things worse, they often say "nàgè" repeatedly to fill space while they're thinking...sort of like stuttering or saying "uuuuummm." The result is disturbing to the Western ear and I hear it about 4-5 times per hour at the office. Even now I go on high alert every time someone says "nigga nigga nigga"

If you don't mind other offensive language, you can hear some great examples by clicking this link. This guy is spot on. Please make sure the children can't hear.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

In the "Way Up North" Province

I went to Changchun last week for work. It was a pretty typical business trip, filled with work and restaurants. I got to spend nights in a super nice hotel and spend days breaking stuff...big, heavy, yellow stuff.

Based on my limited exposure to China, Changchun seemed pretty typical. Two things really stood out as unique. First, it was pretty darn close to that blank spot on the map North Korea. Also, the locals displayed a rare respect for each other at bus stops; they would stand single file while waiting for the bus...the first guy in line always looked so smug.

Everyone said the best time to visit Changchun is during the winter when it's cold. They're about even with Minneapolis in latitude and I think that sounds dreadful. People mentioned skiing being popular, hopefully I'll never have a chance to find out. In late May the weather was wonderful, the willow trees were making it snow and something in the air triggered an allergic reaction in my sinus cavity.

I told Shayne that people up there must eat more meat because "the men are muscular and the women have boobs." Honestly though, the local population was healthier looking than the skinny people around Suzhou...but I suppose that depends on your definition of healthy.

I spent the week with one other American and four Chinese people, and they made sure the white guys had a good experience. It was fun to walk around the streets looking for a restaurant that met my two requirements:

  1. It has to be clean (by my standards)
  2. No fish, because fish means carp and I hate eating around the y-bones
I added a third rule when I pointed to a clean place and inquired if it met #2. They said "I don't think you'll like that place, it is dog meat." Apparently, eating dog is common in the north of China.

We got done breaking stuff about a half day ahead of schedule, so on Friday we had a few hours to kill before catching an afternoon flight back to Shanghai. We visited Jingyue (Clear Moon) Pool National park. Most of the pictures in this post are from the park.

The park was nice, centered on a large man-made lake. The say the name comes from the way the lake looks like a crescent moon, but I can't see the resemblance.  None-the-less, it was a nice day to walk around the park and pose for pictures with Chinese people.

In the park is a large temple. I assume it is a Buddhist temple because inside were three enormous golden statues of Buddha. However, I was surprised to see people bowing to the statues like Christians might do in church. Either I need to improve my understanding of the Buddhist belief system or these people weren't actually Buddhists...perhaps they were tourists like I, having a walk in a park.

I was told it would be disrespectful to take pictures inside the temple, so I didn't. But it was extremely difficult not to, the place was decorated from floor to ceiling with eye popping beauty. Aside from the three Buddha statues, there were countless smaller statues of things like Budai and the chick with one thousand eyes and one thousand arms.

I realize now that I didn't take many pictures IN the city of Changchun. I have quite a few pictures at the park, and even more work related ones. I'll probably have a chance to go back and try again. I just hope it isn't in winter time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Let's Play a Game, It's Called "Did He Eat It?"

This pigeon "messed" it's last statue

We're only three months deep in this China adventure thingy. Already I've compiled the following list of bizarre (to me) items that have been presented as food. For brevity's sake, I'm only including dishes that have actually been served - I'm excluding dishes simply seen on the menu and a couple restaurants I won't go near.

Don't worry about eating it all, they have more in the back.

See if you can guess which ones landed in Clif's belly, and on which ones he passed.

  1. Tofu
  2. Pig ear
  3. Asian carp
  4. Fish on a stick (pictured above)
  5. Pig colon
  6. Silk worms (pictured below)
  7. Donkey meat dumplings
  8. Chicken feet, in BBQ sauce
  9. Pigeon (pictured at top)
  10. Pig hoof
  11. Bamboo
  12. Frog (legs et. al.)
  13. Fried silver fish
  14. Bone marrow

A slightly stringy texture
Have your answers locked in? Lets see how you did

  1. Tofu - Ok this was a slow pitch to get things started. I had tofu in the States, but I've had much, much, much more here - nearly every day at work.
  2. Pig ear - Ate it on one of my first days in the office, while still feeling somewhat adventurous. Tasted like bacon, but with a texture reminiscent of rubber bands. I won't do it again.
  3. Asian carp - Partook in this many times and it actually tastes very good. It's a real pain in the butt to eat around all the bones so I only do this in emergencies.
  4. Fish on a stick (pictured above) - Not only was it laying around outdoors but it was fish on a fother-mucking stick. NO WAY.
  5. Pig colon - It touched my tongue and I knew instantly something was going horribly wrong. I was told after dinner what it was and will keep a vigilant lookout for it in the future.
  6. Silk worms (pictured below) - Big pass with no regrets.  Just look at it!
  7. Donkey meat dumplings - I was kind of tricked into eating this one. My coworkers know I like dumplings so they ordered two plates: one with beef and one with donkey meat. I didn't mind it, tasted like corned beef.
  8. Chicken feet, in BBQ sauce - This one I thought for sure I'd be able to do, but when it was sitting on my plate I "chickened" out.
  9. Pigeon (pictured at top) - I was told about pigeon being good, so I sought this one out and will do it again. I figured it would taste like dove, but the taste reminded me of turkey.
  10. Pig hoof - Pass....that stuff is for dogs
  11. Bamboo - Another slow pitch, baby bamboo shoots are double super tasty-tasty
  12. Frog (legs et. al.) - Imagine a bull frog passed through a box fan. Throw in some rice and you'll have a picture of what I did not eat.
  13. Fried silver fish - I ate these accidentally because I didn't look close enough. They look a lot like noodles, but eventually you'll notice those "noodles" have eyes. Didn't taste bad, but I was creeped out by their sneakiness and couldn't eat more.
  14. Bone marrow - I was given a bone, a plastic straw and a demonstration. I opted out of this, but couldn't help but laugh when the straw made the same sound it would in an empty cup. If given a second chance, I may rethink.