Monthly Archives: February 2006

Weekend visitor, homegrown culture

No deep thoughts or anything.  D’s first cousin WN is here for the weekend.  What a treat to see him, but I forgot to make sweet iced tea for him!  Oh well, he says he doesn’t drink much of it anyway.  We didn’t either until we came here and it became our ethnic statement.  I made the biscuits last night, too (another ethnic statement).  I should have made them tonight, but now I’m out of baking powder.  (I know I can find it somewhere in Guangzhou, but I can’t remember where.) 
 
For tonight we decided to treat ourselves (all) to a home-grilled steak dinner.  Australian beef is definitely not the same as American beef.  I guess now I know why they feed our cows hormones — there’s just no other beef to compare with American beef (well, I haven’t tried the Japanese kobe beef b/c it’s way too expensive).  But the steaks were passable, and I figured on adding in a baked potato and a salad.  I knew I could find sour cream somewhere in GZ for the baked potatoes.  Finally did find one 6 oz container at Carrefour, sort of a French version of Wal Mart, just took about an hour to get there in the car, the traffic was so bad.  (The label was only in French but I knew the container had some kind of cream.  Took a gamble and indeed, when I opened it, it was sour cream!  Yummy too!)   But I ended up making mashed potatoes instead of baked ones, and grilled veggies on skewers instead of salad.  Then for dessert we had some shortbread cookies and sliced Dragon Fruit.  WN says that’s a lot better than the fare he’s been having in Foshan (the next town up the road, where his work is located).  The Chinese guys he works with take him to a restaurant every day and order all kinds of things to eat for lunch that aren’t exactly tuned to his palate.  Today, for example, they ordered beef lung.  mmmm.    I guess that steak sounded doubly good! 
 
That even makes my lunch yesterday sound good.  Yesterday, I went with the women’s club to a "sample of Yunan" themed lunch.  The dancing and singing by the waitresses was really enjoyable, but the food was a challenge.  First of all, everything except the raw cucumber (served whole) was really spicy.  Not like Sizhuan spicy.  That kind of spicy is a bit sweet and tasty, and makes you want more even though it singes your nose when you smell it and is so spicy that it makes your scalp perspire.  Nope, instead, this was that kind of deep throated spicy that you don’t really feel in your mouth so much but it makes your heart go thump and you feel like you’re having a heart attack.  But second of all, it was not flavorful, nothing really noteworty in terms of taste to make me say "I’d like more please."  And third of all, it was just . . . unusual . . . challenging mentally.   Like the dish that came out looking like deep fried snake skins.  I mean, this dish looked just about exactly like what the snake leaves behind when he sheds. And it was very hot and spicy.  But it wasn’t snake skins, after all.  Tree bark, is what we were told.  And reassured several times, before any of us would venture to taste it.  But when I read the list of what we had been served later, it turns out it was deep fried tree fern.  Well, my main thought was "that’s all well and good, but why would anyone want to eat it?"  Let alone call it a delicacy.  There was one thing on the menu that I thought was pretty good, but not many other people would eat.  That was the wild rabbit stew, made with peanut and taro root.  It was actually pretty darned good, it just had such a hard time competing all those other items for my brain’s attention.  Of couse, in China one will never starve because there is always white rice to be had for the asking.  On the other hand, it may not be polite to ask for rice.  (Several of us were impolite yesterday.)  We were supposed to have waited for the special tubes of rice that had been cooked inside bamboo and then the bamboo split open.  It was pretty good, you could wrap it very well in your backpack and carry it along as take out food.  Well, I’m not complaining.  Now I know what Yunan food is like.  (When I go there, I’ll be sure to carry some sea rations.) 
 
Today I also bought some containers and potting soil to plant the seeds for lemon basil and red basil seed packets that I found last fall in the plant market.  I wonder, why can I purchase those seeds (that say "grown in USA") or purchase Washington State apples in the grocery store, but I’m not allowed to carry the identical product across the border?  Of couse, it’s a current joke in my family that the Birkenstock sandals I purchased in Thailand for about $2 U.S. were made in Germany, and I know that because the logo on them says ‘Made in Germany."  Borders are so artificial, as the current Avian Flu situation demonstrates.  Ya know, Yunan Province is directly north of Thailand, and the food wasn’t so different from northern Thailand food.  We now can tell the difference between a Thai curry, and Indian curry, and a middle eastern curry.  But, I notice a distinct continuum. 
 
You know, although I may joke about some things a bit, living here really makes me appreciate that continuum of culture — the rich heritage of people in each locale, peoples who have lived in one place so long.  When we Americans speak of living in the "melting pot," it’s so definitely true.  By assimilating so many different cultures we have developed our own, where we think nothing of cooking Mexican one night (which is not Spanish and is not American Indian), Italian the next night, Indian the next, and then Chinese.  In a sense, we become all of and none of, and we lose our special sense of place.  One time last year, a Chinese person explained to me that although his family had lived in Guangxi Province for 16 generations, they weren’t really considered to be "Guangxi People" by the local residents.  That’s because sixteen generations ago, his family had migrated there from a location near the Yellow River, during a period of civil war.  The other person sitting at the same table with us was from Guangdong Province.  I asked her how long her family had lived in their present location, and she replied "twenty three generations."  (They said they knew this because of the tombs they take care of at their family burial grounds, as well as family oral history.)  The person whose family lived in one spot for 23 generations now lives in Guangzhou, but no matter how long she lives here she will not be a "Guangzhou Person."  She will always be identified with her family’s hometown. This also gives me more insight into the plight of peasants in China whose farm land is being taken for industrial development.   Once their land has been taken, they are truly desolate, because "place" means so much more to this deeply rooted society than it does to our culture where we are mostly all recent immigrants, relatively speaking. 
 
Okay, I said "no deep thoughts."  Promise, I’ll quit now.  My reading the last few weeks has been limited to my Chinese language books.  I use the kind written for babies that have pictures and a word.  They’re right at my level.  I’ll go look at one for a few minutes and fall asleep very quickly.  No wonder my Mandarin is going at such a snails pace! 
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Alas, alak! Meiyou shou jie! (No cell phone!)

Well, Happy valentine’s day!  I had a nice morning and early afternoon — went to a GWIC morning coffee (where they gave out roses and had a chocolate fountain with creme puffs to dip), then purchased several cases of different kinds of drinks from the wholesale store, then went to the fabric market and picked out a dress design and fabric for a formal dress.  Then rode the bus to Jusco to purchase Australian beef steaks for supper.  The bus was not crowded and I didn’t feel any threat from pickpocketers since there was no jostling or anything, although buses are supposed to be the prime location for pickpocketers. 
 
Then, Jusco (a supermarket) was really crowded.  Everybody was trying to buy the premium goods (chocolate, steak, sashimi) for their valentine’s dinner.  I had to wait in the crowd to reach the steaks, then sidle in sideways to reach them.  While I was reaching with my left arm and focusing on the meat on my left, some sneaky person unsnapped the front flap of my pocketbook and made off with my cell phone.  Fortunately, they did not get my ATM card or my cash (although the cell phone was more valuable than any cash I had on me). 
 
I keep a close "feel" on my pocket book and almost always have my hand on it.  I discovered the snap was open within probably 2 mins of it happening, but there were literally hundreds of people on the floor area and it was a hopeless thought to try and figure out who might have the phone.  The vindictive side of me wishes I had the phone programmed so it would explode yellow paint all over the place, blow a loud siren, and emit noxious odors if someone unauthorized tried to turn it on.  D says we can probably go to the used phone market tomorrow and find it and buy it back.  My phone did have a lock feature, but it wasn’t activated.  Next time, it will be.  The steaks were great, along wiith baked potatoes and steamed broccoli.  D did the kitchen while I uploaded pictures.  Today I uploaded more from northern Thailand and then a separate entry for Bangkok.  Tomorrow I will try to do Ayutthaya. 
 
FWIW, Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from about 1300 until it was sacked and pillaged by the Burmese in 1767.  (The Burmese broke heads off the Buddhas and took the gold off the Wats.)  After Ayyuthaya was pillaged, the capital was moved to Bangkok which was more defensible.  Ayyuthaya is a modern city with 65,000 inhabitants, but the old quadrant of the city remains in ruins, dedicated like parkland with some guards and partial restoration just to keep columns from falling over.  We visited the sites of just three of the six major Wats.  The very tall Wat in the pictures with the open door and modern handrail was built in 1325 as a tomb for a king.  Tomb raiders successfully drilled into the tomb in 1957 but were caught and SOME of the treasures were recovered.  The tomb is now open just to see, with nothing inside.  But it’s completely amazing that the structure is in such excellent condition for its age.  It was so hot, we only went to Ayyuthaya in the late afternoon, did not make it to see the museum. Even after 3:30, it was probably 100 degrees F with bright sun and low humidity, difficult to get good pictures in that kind of intense light. 
 
One more bit of news.  J is about to lose a first tooth.  Very excited. 

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Back home

We arrived back home in Guangzhou tonight at 11:10 PM, after about 13 hours of travel time (including travel to airport this morning, waiting in lines, 2.5 hour flight, transit to Macau immigration and various lines, 2 hr drive from  Macau to Guangzhou, then supper at 9:30 PM back in Guangzhou, at our favorite Turkish restaurant). 

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Bangkok Wednesday and Thursday

We have arrived in Bangkok and will be staying at Asha Guest House for the next three nights (Wed, Thurs, and Fri).  Here is the web address:  http://www.ashaguesthouse.com/
 
I think the kids were a bit shocked.  Definitely a hostel!  The rooms are small, dark, spartan, and very clean.  The bathroom sparkles, but it consists of a hall bath with a row of lavatories and private toilets, three showers but only one of the three has hot water.  But it’s clean, safe, and really inexpensive.  Rooms are 400 Baht per night ($10 U.S.) for a single with a/c and 450 ($11.30) per night for a double with a/c.  The Inn is quiet, has a pool and garden, restaurant with vegan offerings on menu, DVD room, pool table, free washing machines, and lots of "kids" in their 20’s.   The location is close to the Skytrain, a monorail that goes right down to the river.  WE think it’s just fine, especially the location and budget. 
 
The temperature here in Bangkok feels like about 90 degrees.  Maybe more, high humidity. 
 
Yesterday we did a very long day, something like 16 hours, hired a van and driver (a "tour" organized by our hotel for us) to take us first on a river boat for an hour upstream to a minority village, then by ELEPHANT to a second village where we ate inside the headman’s house, then by car to the border of Thailand and Burma (to the Friendship Bridge) then by car to the border of Thailand and Laos (yep, officially the "Golden Triangle").  It was essentially a very "Chinese" or "Asian" type experience — rush somewhere, take your picture (photo op), then move on to the next checkpoint.  I really enjoyed seeing the Mekong River in "person".  After all, it now holds such a place in our own history as well as the history of this side of the world.  (Yep, being here certainly makes one remember the era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.)   We ate supper halfway through the five hour drive home.   
 
The elephant ride was certainly memorable ————  pictures to follow when we return home.  Let’s say, we are all sore and bruised because it’s rather hard to stay on top of a bamboo sofa and hold on for dear life as it swings back and forth on top of a pachyderm.  I’m glad Ruth had forwarned me about this and I knew to put Julianna on the same elephant with David, who held her in tight.  But it was loads of fun and certainly "experiential"! 
_______________
 
Thursday.  We planned to be out by nine but it turns out we are low on clothes now and didn’t have appropriate attire for visiting Buddhist temples.  Shirts with sleeves, pants that cover the knees, closed toed shoes.  IT took another hour to regroup with scarves to cover shoulders, sunscreen, hats, long pants, left at ten to go on public transportation first to the temple where the Emerald Buddha is housed and then to the Royal Palace on the same grounds.  Then, about one oclock we went to the museum of the Royal Barges.  They were spectacular dragon boats!  That was Julianna’s favorite part.  It was really hot, probably 95 degrees in the shade.   Because our ferry was stopping service at 3:30, and we barely had time to make it to the barge museum.  We didn’t stop for lunch until 4:00 and the kids were hot and famished.  They were "done in" by then and took a taxi back to our hostel.  David and I followed with Julianna by "tuk tuk" and monorail.  It cost us about the same as it cost then.  Everyone has been taking it easy this evening and also doing laundry.  Tomorrow we are planning to go to Ayutthya (I think that’s how it’s spelled) about an hour and a half north of Bangkok by train.  This was the old capital of Siam until it was sacked and pillaged by the Burmese in the 1760’s.  After that, the capital was moved to Bangkok.  Anyway, it sounds like hot and more hot to me, but the owner of the hostel says, if we think this is hot wait until April!  Okay, got to run now.   

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Chiang Mai no pictures yet

Saturday, left our house a bit after 8 AM.  Three hour drive to Macau.  Afu dropped us off at the Zhuhai border,where you walk across the border to Macau.  Go through Immigration and Customs.  At Macau immigration, there were about 20 lines each with about 500 people in each line.  The wait at Immigration took about one hour.  Line 17 was the only line designated for "foreigners".  After going into Macau, we went to an ATM and got some Macau Patakas (cash).  Then to the bus terminal to catch bus "AP1" to the airport.  Uneventful, except our bus fare was only 15 patakas and the smallest bill that came out of the ATM was 100 patakas.  Fortunately, the bus driver helped us find a fellow passenger who had change.  Then lunch at a horrible airport dive waiting for our plane.  Nice Pleasant three hour flight to BAngkok.  From the air, we saw a lot of jungle and the mighty Mekong River. 
 
Upon arrival at Bangkok, went first to ATM to get out Thai BAht, then walked to train station to purchase train ticket.  Slight glitch. We arrived in Bangkok planning to take the overnight train to Chiang Mai, but the train was fully booked. Walk back into airport and contemplate Plan B.  We parked the kids in an airport restaurant at 5:30 PM and began looking for air tickets for Sunday plus a Bangkok hotel room for Saturday night.  Procedure:  First we purchased the air ticket then got on the internet and got phone numbers for several guest houses, and then we purchased a Thailand SIM card for our cell phone so we could make phone calls.  But after calling about 20 cheap guest houses on our own, which were all full and getting a bit nervous as time approached 8 PM, we covinced a security guard to let us go back into the "arrival" area where there were some hotel booking agencies.  Got a hotel with Quality Suites Airport, which also sent an airport Limo to pick us up and then deliver us back to the airport in the AM.  1800 baht per room per night (about $45 US).  Relief.  At about 9 PM supper in the hotel restaurant was pretty good, especially the green curry.  We got to sleep around midnight.  I’d say that was a long day!
 
Next morning, kids to breakfast while we checked out of hotel.  And, made a hotel reservation in CM.  After the Saturday fiasco, we want to have a place to stay when we arrive.  When we went downstairs, the kids’ breakfast looked so good and I was jealous! A real western breakfast!  We simply can’t get that in CHina unless we cook it ourselves.  We’ve never seen it, anyway.   I’m so proud that everyone actually packed in ONE backpack each and is carrying their own stuff (except for J who is sharing a big backpack with D).  Everyone was in the airport shuttle by 9, to airport by 9:15, getting worried about flight but we get checked in and on our plane for our 10:10 flight to CM.  ARrive at 11:20.  Catch a taxi to hotel, check in and take  long nap.  IT has a pool and J loves swimming all afternoon while mom and dad watch. 
 
Monday is another lazy day.  For Tuesday, we signed up for a one day trip arranged by our hotel.  Van to hot spring for breakfast, then raft on river to Karen (long neck) village, then ride by elephant 2 hrs to another village, then out again, car tour of "golden triangle" area near Burma / Laos border, returning home at 10:00 PM.  Our hotel is old and reputable, River View Lodge inChiangMai (contact info is in Lonely Planet Thailand).  Details to follow on Wednesday or Thursday. 

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Fireworks!

I thought we kinda missed any celebration at New Year, but something unexpected happened tonight.  About 5:00 today, J told me Song Ying asked her if she wanted to go visit N.  N is Song Ying’s young niece who is about the same age as J.  They love to play together.   N’s big sister, M, is an adult who works as a translator.   I thought it was a bit late to be going out, they live about 45 minutes outside the city.  I got on the phone with M and we arranged for J to go visit them on Friday. 
 
In the meantime, something SY said made me realize the purpose for tonight’s invitation was because they were shooting off fireworks!  (Here’s something poetic — the Chinese word for fireworks directly translates as "smoke flower.")  A quick re-grouping, and soon we were all off in the car, or at least David, me, and J.  The big girls already had plans to go out with friends, and I had a vague feeling that it might be overwhelming to have all five of us, and also too much to pull off waiting for teenagers to get ready etc.  I hadn’t been thinking too much about logistics except the need to seize the opportunity; but we arrived just at dinner time. 
 
M’s family (mom, dad) had been thinking more swiftly than I, and prepared a wonderful meal.  No photos of that, it would have been too intrusive.  M’s dad is SY’s brother in law.  He is the man in the red shirt in the pictures.  A warm and generous host.  This is not the first time we had been to their home.  Last year when our first puppy died, they kindly allowed us to bury her in a lovely bamboo forest on a mountain behind their home. 
 
Tonight, first we were served Guanyin tea (a type of oolong) and snacks while everyone else bustled about to help prepare dinner.  Then, our meal consisted of steamed dhicken with white (garlic and ginger) sauce, preserved pork meat, steamed fish, kale stalks (home grown), steamed lettuce (home grown), and white rice.  All Cantonese specialties, and a delicious feast!  Then we walked the very short distance to the corner store and purchased fireworks.  Then to a large field where everyone took a turn shooting off a flame.  Here are the pictures.  The petite man shooting off one of the fireworks is our driver, Afu, who also joined us for the festivities. 
 
When the fireworks were all done, we were invited in again for tea, but when I realized it was 9:15 I declined.  J, however, was not ready to leave.  She ended up accepting an invitation to spend the night. I think she surprised everyone but D and me.  🙂  We knew she loves sleepovers!  But, it’s Chinse New Year and a time for visiting, I’m sure the surprise guest was not unwelcome. 

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