Monthly Archives: November 2006

Links for Shopping Responsibly

This Sunday is the FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT!  Are you Christmas shopping?  Here is a link to some of the outlets available for purchasing gifts that are environmentally and socially responsible:
 
 

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A Real American Thanksgiving

This was my third Thanksgiving in China.  A week ago, I started to write about the three years worth of Thanksgivings here, but it was too long.  And, it came across as too sad, because honestly our first Thanksgiving here was pretty rough.  Suffice it to say, Thanksgiving is an American holiday and we are in China.  But after three years of coming to grips with this basic idea, we have changed our expectations and traditions of Thanksgiving so that it is more adaptable to the situation we find ourselves in now.  While Thanksgiving this year was vastly different from perhaps a "typical" American one, I’m tempted to classify it as my best Thanksgiving ever.  But of course it would have to compete with many other Thanksgiving Days in my memory, if there were to be a competition for which was truly "the best," because Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days every year.   
 
My first Thanksgiving act of this year was to go on Tuesday and speak to the YWCA housekeeper training program about American Thanksgiving traditions.  The YWCA of Guangzhou trains women who have no other particular skills how to work as housekeepers for "Foreign" families.  These women find it very helpful to have knowledge of wesern customs and traditions.  To give an example how far a local woman must stretch herself to meet the expectations of an American family, I’ll just throw in one fact.  While I was cooking a broccoli casserole to take to the YWCA to give the housekeepers a sampling of a typical American Thanksgiving food, I opened a can of Cream of Mushroom soup.  My housekeeper, Song Ying, had never used a can opener before.  The last time we shared a meal, I also showed her how to cut her meat with a knife and fork.  Anyway, to prepare for my talk about the history and traditions of Thanksgiving, I did a pretty good bit of research on the internet about Thanksgiving. 
 
Although recent historical revisionists have argued that the Pilgrims were not religious after all, I learned they were so religious that they had already destituted themselves by attempting to resettle first in Holland, where there was theoretically greater religious freedom.  They left England and went to Holland in 1608.  After roughly ten hard years in Holland, where they lived on the fringe of society and then fearing that their children were becoming more secularized as a result of living there, the Pilgrims returned to England and then indentured themselves for seven years in order to pay for passage to the New World.  Because of problems with seaworthiness of one of their two original vessels, they got a late start and got caught in the North Atlantic autumn currents which drove them further north than intended.  On top of that, they were poorly provisioned, plus they were vulnerable to disease because of their poor nutrition and living conditions.  This resulted in the real loss of about 50% of their population in the winter of 1620.  Think:  if you had survived under these conditions — poverty, leaving your home twice in ten years, selling yourself as an indentured servant, the death of perhaps your spouse and child, would you still be THANKFUL?!!  This, in itself, is a spiritual attitude worthy of emulation, methinks.   
 
Yes, yes, yes, it’s true that the official Thanksgiving date wasn’t solidified for many years, and it’s true that there was some political posturing involved in creation of the national holiday, and it’s true that they really had intended to invite only three native American chiefs and their families, were overwhelmed when 90 guests showed up, and that the Native Americans then contributed hugely to the meal with the addition of deer and turkeys etc.  And now, having lived in a very different culture, I can just imagine the cultural and language barriers at that gathering as the Indian women joined their men at the table while the pilgrim women hovered behind and served the men according to their very different cultural tradition.  In a sense, I wish I, too, could give into the revisionist inclination to try and make history fit the image of what I would rather picture. 
 
But it is as intellectually dishonest to judge historical people by modern standards as it is to try and revise history to fit what we would like.  And, in particular, I am offended that the modern revisionist impulse trivializes the deeply religious and THANKFULNESS aspect of Thanksgiving.  For in spite of EVERYTHING these people were still able to be thankful and to think in terms of sharing a feast with their "savage" neighbors.   And I think it speaks loudly of the peculiar, historical American mindset that, of all holidays to choose to create, the original creators of the Thanksgiving National Holiday chose to honor a day of Thankfulness to God as the day upon which to center a distinct and unique national holiday.  In a blending of myth and reality, the themes of religious freedom, self governance (the Mayflower compact), overcoming hardship to build a new life, and thankfulness to God were specifically chosen by as the tie that could bind the colonies together into one nation.
 
( Here are three of the internet sites I found useful for study: 
 
So, here we are in China.  How do we manage to celebrate Thanksgiving?  For the first two years we were here, I purchased a turkey and then ended up not able to cook it for one reason or another.  So, I decided not to purchase a turkey this year.  (A medium sized bird would have cost at least $35 U.S.).  So, at lunchtime on Thanksgiving day, my kids are in school, where it’s just another day and we can expect a typical, heavy load of homework, and my spouse is in the USA on business.  I find myself at the monthly GWIC (Guangzhou Women’s International Club) luncheon, held at a local Vietnamese restaurant.  There are only a scattering of European looking people in the sea of Asian faces, perhaps two Americans in the whole group:  me and one other woman I’ve never seen before.  I only am guessing she was American by the two or three words I heard of her accent as she stood behind me in the check-in line.  One of my other friends who first reserved a spot and then declined to attend the lunch, also American, told me she just couldn’t quite stomach eating Vietnamese food on Thanksgiving Day.  I had some of the same misgivings, I confess, but after I suspended my expectations about what a proper Thanksgiving Day ought to be like, I found the food delicious and the companionship of my non-American friends delightful! 
 
One life lesson we have learned as a result of living outside our home culture is that things go easier if you suspend expectations.  By this, I mean forget trying to expect something to be a certain way, because if you expect things to be like "home," you will surely be disappointed.  For example, when you order fajitas in a restaurant, don’t expect anything like the Tex-Mex fajitas from home.  If you are imagining some sizzling hot plate loaded with chicken, peppers, and onions, spiced with cumin and cilantro and lime, and served with flour tortillas, cheese, sour cream, lettuce and guacamole, well . . . disappointment is guaranteed.  If you mentally prepare yourself for the more likely product which is some chicken and perhaps some pepper and onion stir fried with ketchup as a sauce, made ridiculously spicy by addition of some  canned "Mexican picante," and served on a flour tortilla with a speck of cheese on the side and nothing else, then you will avoid some disappointment and may even be pleasantly surprised if the product more closely approximates that which you would normally dream of. 
 
It’s a good thing that, finally after three years, we have learned to suspend expecations for Thanksgiving Day.  Spouse is away, it’s just another day at school, and CJ had such a bad sore throat she couldn’t eat normal food.  A good, homemade American meal (with a special blessing of course) was immensely satisfying:  asparagus casserole, a thick cream of carrot soup, and a slice of sandwich meat ham.  And then a most pleasant surprise.  D and J invited us for a shared Thanksgiving Dinner on Saturday night.  Wow!  They have thought of everything!  Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, home made bread, even pecan pie!  (Did you know you can’t buy cranberries or pecans here?)  And wonderful companionship as well.  A perfect Thanksgiving feast, and a time of sincere gratitude for a multitude of blessings, including food, friends, and family. 
 
I have decided that my favorite thing about Thanksgiving is . . . GIVING THANKS.  I really enjoy having the annual prod to ponder what I am thankful for, and then to take time to be grateful!   (If you are reading this, please leave a comment listing one or more things you are thankful for!)  And, I close with the following:   
 
PRESIDENTIAL PROCLOMATION BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN, November 1863: 

[The many blessings enjoyed by Americans] are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. 

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All Chopped Up and Ready to Gnaw

I can’t say how many times I’ve heard a misconception about Chinese food announced on cooking shows on American TV.  You’ve heard it, too.  How many times have you been watching your favorite chef talking on TV about how to cook this or that Chinese food. The cooking show host then states that Chinese food is chopped small in the kitchen because the Chinese think it’s gauche to have to chop food at the table (as we do, with a knife and fork).  The Chinese, so this myth goes, think everything should be cut bite sized by the chef in the kitchen.  This rumor must have originated with someone who had no experience of actual Chinese food and hence no link with reality.  Then this fantasy has been perpetuated by people who have no first hand experience but who think it sounds reasonable.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 
 
The next time I hear some cooking show host say that Chinese food is cut up small in the kitchen so it can be served as bite size pieces, I’m going to jump inside that TV Tube and bash that person over the head with his wok!  When I finish bashing him over the head, I’ll shove a plate heaping with 12 inch long cai xin (poached baby broccoli shoots) and another plate of pai gu (bite size pork rib bones) under his nose and make him eat it, for good measure to make sure he has learned his lesson about the "daintiness" of Chinese eating habits.
 
In addition to dim sum (snacks to accompany tea), Baby Broccoli Shoots, Steamed Fish, and Steamed White Sauce Chicken are among the foods that epitomize Cantonese cuisine.  None of these dishes involve food that is cut in any manner so that it can be daintily eaten in small bites at the table.  Rather, each dish involves picking up a large hunk of food with one’s chopsticks and biting (or gnawing) off pieces of it.  The techniques to eat these with dispatch would all be an affront to Western sensibilities about table manners and how to eat.  One of my friends told recently of a chef who was hired to go make dim sum in a restaurant in France.  In order market the dim sum to the French, he had to reduce the size of his dim sum to actual bite size pieces.  
 
I find food to be cut typically much larger than "bite size."  So one must break a piece off using chopsticks.   (In use of chopsticks, anything is fair game including using one as a poker if food is slippery.)  If the food doesn’t want to be bitten off or pried away from its origin, one must pick up a chunk and gnaw at at until it breaks off.  For instance, just a few days ago I ordered roasted duck in a local eating establishment.  Half a duck was served, laid across the serving dish and sliced, bone and all, in slices about 1/4 inch thick.  To eat it, I had to pick up one piece at a time, nibble off the meat while holding the entire slice with my chopstick, and then (yes) put the bony part in my mouth and suck the meat off the bones.  Although I’ve become accustomed to it and now actually like flavor from the bones, I still find the actual maneuvering a bit challenging.  Especially with fish, because the tiny little bones tend to get stuck in my mouth like needles. 
 
The shoots from the broccoli plant served as cai xin completely belie the myth that Chinese food is cut bite sized!  These shoots, which are delicious, are about 6 to 8 inches long.  The young stalk of broccoli is cut just when the plant has begun to produce tiny flowers (long before these could create a "head" of broccoli).  The shoot is poached quickly in chicken broth and then served.  Tenderness or crunchiness of the stalk and greens depends of the cooking skill of the chef.  If one is lucky, the tender shoot will break off in a bite size piece with a pleasant crunch.  If one is unlucky, the shoot will be soggy and tough and will never yield to any amount of chewing.  The pitiful person eating must gnaw at one end while the rest hangs out the front of the mouth.  Since the darned thing won’t break off into small pieces as it’s bitten, it may never give in to chewing and hence must be swallowed whole after the entire thing is stuffed into the mouth.  The person eating it in this manner takes on the appearance of a moose that has fished a plant from the bottom of a lake and is standing there chewing it, with half the wilted plant hanging out the front of its mouth.  I sometimes have wondered, if it won’t yield to chewing and is 12" long, how in the world is my tummy going to cope with it.  I guess it really extends the concept of roughage. 
 
And of course it is wasetful to throw away the delicious bones which add texture, nutrition, and flavor.  A Chinese friend once told me that bones make the food more "interesting," and that I could consider it something akin to chewing popcorn.  Real Chinese food is not cut into bite size pieces for daintiness in eating.  It is cut into bite size pieces so that the bones are small enough to be popped into one’s mouth like popcorn.  Then, one sucks and gnaws the meat off the bones, rolling it around inside the mouth.  When the bone has been cleared of meat and fat and skin, and marrow, by rolling it in and around the mouth, it is then spit out.  In a high class establishment, a spit plate will be provided for this.  In a lower ranking establishment, bones are spit out directly onto the table.  The habit also extends to shrimp, which are eaten with head, shells, and feet attached.  I must say, I always feel a bit sorry for girls and boys I see out on a date eating like this, with food hanging out of their mouths, chunks of bone being rolled around inside the mouth, and spitting bones on the table.  It seems a bit uncomely for a dating experience, but I guess knowledge of what someone really looks like when they eat paves the way for the reality of future married life. 
 
There is definitely a utility to this manner of eating.  The cook, in fact, has much less preparatory work to do in the kitchen.  He doesn’t need to cut up vegetables (unless he is trying to achieve a particular result in the blending of flavors or colors or textures).  Rather than cutting up the chicken according to whether it is a leg or wing, western style, all he has to do is whack whack whack, cut the entire bird into bite size pieces, with enough effort to split the bones so that it’s easy to suck out the marrow.  Chinese women don’t need to drink milk to get calcium, they simply suck on the bones.  No spare protein or fat is wasted.  A survey of the bones will reveal that they have been sucked clean.  We won’t go into descriptions of which body parts are eaten.  Suffice it to say, nothing is wasted.  Parts that westerners turn their noses at, like fish eyes, are considered delicacies.  When a fish is served, its head is pointed to the guest of honor so that he may have the choice part.  Fortunately, it is gracious to turn the head towards the next ranking guest and gesture to say "qing qing," (please, please!). 
 
And that observation about manners leads to a two way judgment.  In a world where people are starving, isn’t it sinful to throw extravagant resources to raise meat animals and then to throw away important sources of nutrition and protein?  When I throw away the head and bones on my fish, am I not throwing away the best part for calcium and protein?  And, it’s not that manners are non-existent, they are just different.  While it’s completely normal for one to have food hanging out of one’s mouth, slurp up rice out of a bowl using one’s chopsticks to shovel it sideways into the mouth, and spit bones out on the table, one does not touch one’s food with ones hands.  Monkeys eat with their hands; humans eat with spoons and chopsticks.  It is gauche to stir around in the food looking for the best pieces:  one’s personal chopsticks only touch food that one is immediately taking from the (always) family style serving plate.  Toothpicks are widely used, but the mouth is completely covered with the hand while doing it.  Different strokes for different folks.  All I can say is, "go figure!"  

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Cough Cough

It was a bright sunny day today, except the smog was too thick even to see an outline of the sun.  In winter, we go for weeks at a time like that here.  It’s like walking in a dense fog. 
 
Everyone in the family is having asthma symptoms.  J is on a steroid inhaler.  C said she heard a strange noise as she was jogging the other day.  She looked around to see where the noise was coming from, and then realized it was her breathing.  I’ve been waking up at night restless and unable to go back to sleep, but couldn’t figure out why.  I finally got it:  coughing in my sleep.  Last night I took cough syrup and finally slept well for the first time in a long time.  I also finally figured out: no wonder antibiotics don’t help against this persistent, low grade bronchitis! It’s asthma!  S tells me that being outside for half an hour is like smoking a pack of cigarettes.  I don’t know if it’s that bad, but I’d certainly say it likely could be equivalent to chain smoking for that amount of time. 
 
The Chinese say they don’t have a word that translates as "smog" or "pollution."  They simply say, "Tian qi bu hao," or "Air is Bad." 
 
The city outlawed motorcycles.  I don’t think that’s gonna make one bit of difference.  Nothing will help until the factories stop belching out pollution. 

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Monkey kings, chickens, and dogs

The novel Monkey King by Timothy Mo, set in Hong Kong in the 1950’s, is a rollicking ride through the folk ways and family ways of Hong Kong.  In one scene, two Cantonese men have taken a Brit out for dinner and entertainment afterwards.  The Brit has no idea that they are befriending him in order to set him up for mischief later, but suffice it to say that the entire evening has been carefully orchestrated to show the guy a good time and win his trust.  For entertainment after dinner, they suspect a brothel might affront the man’s British sensibilities, so the Cantonese men decide to take him instead to a menagerie inside a local park.  At the menagerie, there is a little monkey that is supposed to do tricks.  It is tired and doesn’t want to cooperate, and so its owners and local people begin prodding and poking it with sticks.  The miserable creature must hop in order to avoid the pokes.  The pleasant mood of the evening is destroyed when the British man goes beserk over treatment of the monkey.  He loses his cool, grabs some of the sticks, and breaks them in half.  Speaking in Cantonese to each other so that they can’t be understood by the foreigner, the two Cantonese men discuss their bewilderment at this outburst.  They ultimately hypothesize that since British people believe they are descended from monkeys, the Brit must be upset because he thinks they have abused one of his ancestors.  They never "get it" that the Brit was concerned for the welfare of the creature simply because of his value system.  The scene in the novel is hilarious precisely because neither side "gets it." 
 
This aspect of Chinese culture is something that I too, like the Brit, find troubling.  I could rationalize it all kinds of ways.  But the simple, bottom line is, that Chinese culture in general is oblivious to animal suffering.  This is nowhere worse manifested than at the meat market.  In a land without much refrigeration, freshness of meat is an absolute necessity.  Chickens and fish are killed in the market while one waits. This isn’t unique to China, either.  One time David took a Korean customer to the customer’s favorite restaurant and they got octopus sushi.  The little octopus tentacles were writhing and trying to cling to the chopsticks.  And one time on a Japanese cooking show, I watched as a fish was prepared into sushi, and then an entire assortment of sushi was laid out on a platter dcoratively on a platter on top of the original fish, so that there was a fish head at one end and a tail at the other.  As I watched on TV, the table decoration, at this point a mostly disembodied head and tail, started twitching its head and tail.  I guess that means it’s really fresh. 
 
Last year, I thought I could take advantage of having Sophie with me at the market one day, to explain to the fish monger that I wanted my fish dead before they cleaned it.  I picked out my fish.  Before I could say "Jack Sprat," the fishmonger had laid it on the table and whacked it good on the head, so that it was quivering but paralyzed, and then proceeded to scale it.  I asked Sophie, "Please tell him quickly to cut off the head before he cleans it."  She turned and looked at me very slowly, puzzled.  "Why?" she asked.  "Because I don’t want him to suffer."  (All this while the fish guy is doing his work.)  "Oh," she replies, "He works very fast, so the fish won’t suffer."  They also think I’m crazy and wasteful because I throw away the head, which is the best part for making soup.   
 
Just last month, I was walking past the fish rows, and there is fish on ice.  They have these huge fish that are sold off in chunks by the half kilo.  There is one fish laying there with the top fillet removed, so you are looking at the part where the bones have the "fishbone" shape.  The head is still attached, and I notice that I can see the heart, which is beating.  I became light headed.  But I recently heard even worse.  A British woman told me she heard a chicken screaming.  She looked over, and it was being plucked, alive.  Then, they gutted the chicken, which was was still screaming.  The screams didn’t stop until they cut her throat, the last thing.  I guess it’s very fresh meat. 
 
This is in a city where live goats, pigs, pigeons are sold at many food markets.  David says one time he was traveling on business and stayed the night at a hotel in a small village where they had a restaurant.  There was a small goat there that only had one leg.  He went on to where he was going for business and then returned two days later.  Two days later, the goat was missing another leg.  No wonder we don’t eat much meat here. 
 
Of course, one also sees beggars with fresh wounds that passersby are also oblivious to.  The common myth is that beggars are peasants who haven’t been able to make a living on the farm, so they paid someone to maim them so they can make a living by begging.  I’m sure there is some bit of truth to this.  It’s a known fact that organized crime runs many of the beggar rings and that beggars often have pimps just like prostitutes do.  But, I don’t think that explains it all.  Given the lack of safety standards, there must be many industrial accidents, and given lack of social safety net, I’m sure those people are not cared for by worker’s comp etc. 
 
I’m normally able to walk by beggars, but there’s one that’s stuck in my memory.  He was laid out in front of a bank, face down.  He looked like he could only drag himself along prostrate on the ground.  He couldn’t even sit up to beg.  Most beggars have a blanket, but this man had nothing, he was laying directly face down on the pavement.  He had clothes, but they were filthy and very worn.  I wonder if he came to the city, was injured, and had a family somewhere that he couldn’t get back to.  I walked by him, but that night I determined to go back.  The next day, however, he was gone.  I haven’t seen him since.  I wonder if he died. 
 
Last but not least, you hear about the practice of eating dogs and cats.  Neither of these animals is eaten routinely, but when people are hungry, not much is safe.  On a recent high school Habitat Build, the kids went to a village that had been racked by floods.  The villagers were so starved for protein that they regretfully resorted to eating their watch dogs.  Dog meat is also eaten in cold weather as a sort of tonic.  I’ve also seen cats sold by the half kilo in restaurants.  But generally speaking, Chinese seem to love their pet dogs.  It’s not unusual to see a small dog being carried in a pocketbook or a bicycle basket.  One time, I was in a restaurant and heard a small yapping coming from the kitchen.  I was mortified!  I turns out, it was a little pet sitting in it’s owner’s lap at a table near the kitchen.  I was so relieved. 
 
Perhaps another way to view it is the pure utilitarian and instrumental view of the world.  Here is an article that illustrates that mentality: 
 
August 2, 2006, Chicago Sun Times

China kills 50,000 dogs in campaign against rabies

 
SHANGHAI, China — China slaughtered 50,000 dogs in a government- ordered crackdown after three people died of rabies, sparking unusually pointed criticism in state media Tuesday and an outcry from animal rights activists.

Health experts said the brutal policy pointed to deep weaknesses in the health-care infrastructure in China, where only 3 percent of dogs are vaccinated against rabies and more than 2,000 people die of the disease each year.

The five-day slaughter in Yunnan province in southwestern China ended Sunday and spared only military guard dogs and police canine units, state media reported.

‘CRUDE, COLD-BLOODED’

Dogs being walked were seized from their owners and beaten to death on the spot, the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported. Led by the county police chief, killing teams entered villages at night creating noise to get dogs barking, then beat the animals to death, the reports said.

Owners were offered 63 cents per animal to kill their own dogs before the teams were sent in, they said.

The killings were widely discussed on the Internet, with both legal scholars and animal rights activists criticizing them as crude and cold-blooded. The World Health Organization said more emphasis needed to be placed on rabies prevention.

The official newspaper Legal Daily blasted the killings as an "extraordinarily crude, cold-blooded and lazy way for the government to deal with epidemic disease."

PETA CALLS FOR BOYCOTT

"Wiping out the dogs shows these government officials didn’t do their jobs right in protecting people from rabies in the first place," the newspaper, published by the central government’s Politics and Law Committee, said in an editorial in its online edition.

The killings prompted calls for a boycott of Chinese products from the activist group People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Officials defended the slaughter in a region where about 360 of the 200,000 residents suffered dog bites this year, with three people reportedly dying of rabies, including a 4-year-old girl.

Unlike in the West, where dogs have long been cherished, dogs have rarely had an easy time in China. Dog meat is eaten throughout the country, revered as a tonic in winter and a restorer of virility in men.

About 70 percent of rural households keep dogs, according to the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, and increased rates of dog ownership have been tied to a surge in the number of rabies cases. It said there were 2,651 reported deaths from the disease in 2004, the last year for which data was available.

Copyright CHICAGO SUN-TIMES 2006 

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Dragon Fish, Tiger Paws, and Cucumber Bricks

I met Sophie on Wednesday for a late lunch.  When our fish came, it had been beautifully set up to look like a baby dragon.  An artistic surprise.  There’s a picture of it below.  Walking on the street after lunch, we passed a mom, dad, and baby.  When we went inside the restaurant, the baby had been playing with daddy.  Now they were both sleeping and it was a very sweet scene.  While there are exceptions to every rule, Chinese keep their babies with them and love on them a lot.  Most people use baby carriers or slings, you hardly ever see a stroller. 
 
Then a surprise of a different kind.  While walking near the Chinese medicine market, I was just utterly shocked and flabbergasted to see real tiger paws, with claws attached, being sold for medicine.  I also saw a monkey skull and various goat skulls and horns.  If you enlarge the picture of the woman sitting on the street big enough, maybe you can see it.  Do you notice that she is eating her lunch?!!  Ugh! Then I noticed that many vendors along the street had tiger paws.  Or maybe they were bear paws, but the fur that remained on them appeared to be red with stripes.  I wondered, how many of them have been slaughtered, where did they come from?  I was too appalled to have any desire to strike up any conversation with the vendors.  I avoided eye contact and was in such a hurry to get away that it affected my ability to get a good picture.  Sophie said that from their dress they looked like they came from Tibet. 
 
After awhile, we went together to the guzheng lesson that J and I share.  I had asked Sophie to go with me, because the teacher doesn’t speak English, and I thought Sophie might be able to help if there were any translation issues.  Sophie stayed in the room with J while she had her lesson, then she took care of J while I had my lesson.  After our lesson, we walked on Beijing Lu (Peking Street) for a bit before Sophie hurried home.  Beijing Lu is one of the big shopping streets that’s closed off to traffic.  There is one section of the street that has been excavated down to the level of bricks that are about 1,000 years old.  This pit is covered with plexiglass so people can see it.  I’ll put a picture of that on here. 
 
After Sophie left, J and I stayed there browsing shops until David joined us for supper at Pizza Hut.  I bought a book of easy Chinese poetry for my teenagers.  After David arrived, we went to Pizza Hut.  I know of 4 Pizza Huts in the city, and this is one of them.  We ate there only because we are out at Beijing Lu so rarely.  In the menu picture, as well as the first time I had it two years ago, the Supreme Pizza looked and tasted just like an American Supreme style pizza.  Unlike the Fajitas I ordered where the sauce was made with ketchup, I can order a Supreme Pizza and not have to pretend that I am eating the real thing — I really am getting what I ordered!  What a nice surprise!  But on this night, I was a bit disappointed.  Last year, when we ate at Pizza Hut, it tasted just like Pizza Hut in America.  This time it did not.  Althought it was tasty, my Supreme Pizza had only the smallest amount of cheese and no tomato sauce that I could tell.  It also had only the tiniest bits of meat (I had to search for it).  
 
Unfortunately, and I will inject a stereotype here, the skimping on ingredients and quality is very typical of a Chinese style management decision.  Cheese and tomato sauce and meat are expensive ingredients.  I’ve noticed that the Chinese management will focus on cutting costs to such an extent that quality and even the nature of the final product is compromised.  Another example of this is what happened to the Subway Station here.  All the expats in Guangzhou were soo excited when we finally were going to get a Subway Station sandwich shop!  The expats were hanging on each rumor of when and where the franchise would open.  Additionally, it’s in the perfect foreigner location just across the street from the Garden Hotel.  The Subway franchise did it right, too.  They were so concerned with quality that they spent two months setting up the restaurant and then another month or so just training the employees on how to make the sandwiches.  I was sure the restaurant would be a huge success.  But, no!  By the time I got there several months after it opened, costs had been cut so much that the final product was unrecognizable.  There was exactly one sliver of meat on my subway sandwich, one dib of lettuce, and one dab of whatever else I asked for.  The expats all bemoaned, "They got a Chinese manager!" 
 
This, sadly, is a typical pattern for most foreign restaurants, of whatever variety.  A foreign owner will have a great restaurant idea and a fantastic chef, but they are required to have a Chinese partner.  The Chinese partner will learn the ropes of supply, ingredients, atmosphere, etc.  The Chinese chef will learn how to cook the recipes.  And then, they’ll find some way to utterly oust the foreigner from participation in the business.  It’s a regular gossip among the expat community which restaurant has lost its foreign owner this week (or month) and where the chef went after he was fired or left.  The restaurant may function okay for a year or so, but eventually quality becomes unrecognizable, declining until the restaurant is less than a shadow of its former self. 
 
I don’t believe this is unique to restaurants at all:  it should be a cautionary tale for every foreign enterprise thinking of doing business in China.   I am aware of major, multinational, industrial operations, that could be used as case study examples for my observation, but I don’t want to name names.  Suffice it to say that, sooner or later, I believe that almost every foreign enterprise participating in the China market learns this lesson.  Some learn by listening to advisors, others learn through grim life experience.  Whether they survive or not depends on how well they have planned and structured their enterprise. 
 
But I’m determined that this entry in my BLOG should not have any serious thoughts in it!!  So let’s return to the topic of Pizza Huts and the really fun thing you will see at the bottom of this entry:  MY PICTURES OF THE PIZZA HUT SALADS!!!   
 
Pizza Hut salads are worth taking a trip to China just to see one for yourself!  Until I saw one in person, I couldn’t quite picture the salads that people were describing to me!  It’s just so outrageous!   
 
I’m not sure of the dynamics of how or why this tradition got started, but it’s almost a contest here in Guangzhou to see how tall one can stack one’s "one trip" salad bowl!  Perhaps people "stretch their dollar" because it’s so expensive.  Or perhaps it’s a teamwork thing.  Or perhaps they just like to share.  On the cost aspect:  A "one trip" salad bar is 28 RMB.  To put that in perspective, last week three of us together ate lunch for 28 RMB.  So, perhaps it’s so expensive that people feel like they need to get a lot of mileage for their money.  Plus, Chinese like to share.  It’s customary to eat family style out of dishes at the table, not to eat individual portions as westerners do.  This is really a "family and friends" participatory sport!  It’s a great game to see how high you can stack the salad. 
 
So, check out the photos below that show some of the teamwork in building these enormous "one trip" salads!!!  As we ate our pizza, we watched three girls work together, for the entire time we ate, to meticulously build their salad.  As I was leaving, I got a shot of one in the early stages of development!  Look at it close up and check out those cucumbers — doesn’t this look like it would just be fun to eat?!! 
 
For what it’s worth, the "walls" of the salad are made from cucumber slices.  As the cucumber wall is built up, the interior of the bowl is carefully and gradually filled with the other salad goodies.  Perhaps eating it’s a bit like playing the game "Jenga," because you’d have to be very careful to make sure it doesn’t collapse!  Pizza Hut used to put out chunks of watermelon which people used to build the salad "walls."  You should have seen the salads made with real watermelon bricks!  I’ve seen an entire table full of people sharing a salad that was stacked about a food high!  They don’t put the watermelon out anymore, I guess because the salads got too big. 

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North Korea, a Yank in Beijing, and a British Jerk

Once upon a time, two men had a fender bender in a parking lot.  One man had an expensive, new mercedes; the other a tiny, beat up VW.  The mercedes got a scratch, but of course the junky car had so much damage already it was impossible to say if any new damage had been caused by the collision.  The driver of the mercedes was already livid, but the attitude of the VW driver upset him even more.  The VW driver was completely unconcerned.  The mercedes driver was so angry at this attitude that he was beside himself, shaking with rage.   
 
He decided to teach the other driver a lesson.  He took a piece of chalk and drew a circle on the sidewalk.  Then he told the man, "You stand right here in this circle and I’m going to show you something."  Then, he went and got a sledge hammer from the trunk of his car and whacked at the VW.  The man standing in the circle laughed, which made the other driver even more angry.  He hit the car again.  The man laughed even harder, and the mercedes driver got even more angry.  Finally, he whacked away at the VW smashing it to pieces.  The man on the sidewalk by this time was laughing so furiously he couldn’t even stand up straight.  Fuming, the mercedes driver walked over to him and asked him, "Didn’t you see what I did to your car?!!"
 
"Oh yes, yes," was the reply.
 
"Well then, what are you laughing about?!!" 
 
"While you were smashing my car, I stepped out of this circle THREE TIMES!" 
__________________
 
My Chinese teacher just told me a story.  An American woman was pedaling her bicycle in the bicycle lane of a road in Beijing.  A driver in a car came into the bicycle lane, and blew his horn for the woman to move over and let him through.  She felt the car ought not to be in the bicycle lane, so instead of moving over she stopped in the middle of the road and refused to let him by.  He proceeded to get out of his car and smash her bicycle. 
 
Sometime I’ll write in my BLOG about high context and low context societies.  Suffice it to say, that no matter what the rules were about the bicycle lane, she was acting outside the rules that govern this high context society.  In THIS society, nobody is entitled to his own space as a matter merely of prerogative.  The slower person moves out of the way. 
 
But what’s even more, she decided to impose her own ideas on how China is run.  The Chinese guy also acted outside the norm for his much more reserved society, and it’s a sad commentary that this "cross cultural exchange" turned out so badly.  But it’s hilarious, in a sense, that here is this middle aged American woman gonna come over here and set China straight.  Like, are you SERIOUS? 
___________________
 
And then there’s the attitude problem.  One of my friends who is a Canadian citizen called me today very upset.  She was at a gathering for expats on Sunday, a fundraiser where food etc was sold from booths to raise funds for charity.  While her husband was getting some food, she sat in some chairs and waited for him.  There were two women, two children, plus two more chairs for the husbands.  They saved their husbands chairs by putting some stuff in them.  A British man came over.  Without asking, he threw her stuff on the ground, and took the chair.  When she protested, this man came back, hit and shoved her.  He said the chairs were for HIS use because HE was BRITISH.  He did have an elderly person with him.  She told me, "If he had asked to have a chair for his mother, I would have given it to him, but he didn’t ask.  He just threw my stuff on the ground and took the chair."  The detail I left off is that my friend is oriental in appearance.  His assumption of prerogative was apparently based on racial prejudice and a belief in his own cultural supremacy. 
___________________
 
But wait, doesn’t GW have a whole STATE DEPARTMENT full of handlers to educate him about these things?  Does he listen to any of them? 

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My Chinese Gu Zheng (guzheng)

A master harpist once had two daughters.  They were both accomplished musicians, both very beautiful, and he loved them both dearly.  Alas, he only had one item to pass along to them: his harp.  He agonized over the decision, upon which daughter to bestow his harp.  Finally, he came upon the solution.  One day, when he had become so old that he was no longer able to play, he had his harp cut in half and gave one half to each.  To his amazement, after the instrument was cut in half it sounded even more beautiful than it had before.  This is the origin of the guzheng. 
 
It’s pronounced like Goo – Jung.  Goo as in "gooey" and jung as in "jumper."  A guzheng originally had 9 – 13 strings but gradually that has increased to its current size as a 21 string zither.  It is laid horizontal to play, and consists of 4 full octaves plus a few, tuned to a pentatonic scale. 
 
I first saw a guzheng about two years ago (while shopping for cellos), and I was intrigued.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Where else can you learn to play a Chinese instrument.  But . . . it’s not exactly in the budget and not exactly a necessary expenditure, either. 
 
Well, I’m a Brownie troop leader this year, and I needed a guitar to lead some songs for the Brownie troop.  I intended to buy a guitar in China (since mine is in storage), so three Fridays ago, I went to the store to buy a guitar.  I came home with a decent little classical style guitar (175 RMB or about $25) and a student model guzheng (980 RMB or about $130). 
 
 
This video takes forever to download even at high speed, but I like it: 
History of instrument with awful electronic music accompaniment:  http://people.smu.edu/lzhu/guzheng/guzheng.html
 
 
If you’re strongly interested, I found a site where instruments are listed for sale at very reasonable prices, plus shipping is a lot less than would be from China.  They also have sound clips to demo each instrument for sale   http://www.chinesezither.net/ 

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Maslow’s Triangle

Even after living here two years, sometimes the differences in the way we think just astound me. 
 
A few days ago, I was sitting and having lunch with S Y.  Our conversation is limited, since she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese.  She points to the Scandinavian style candelabra on my table and says:  "Beautiful."  Then she adds, "Americans like candles.  Danish people like them too."  (She has lived in Denmark, where she took care of her brother’s children while he started his restaurant business.)  "Chinese don’t like them."  Then, she points toward the electrical lights in the ceiling.  With a knowing nod upwards and raising her eyebrows slightly she looks at me to explain, "We have electric lights."  I told Sophie about this conversation and she chuckled.  "We are only interested in what is practical." 
 
S Y used to live in the center of the old city, in a flat just beside Beijing Lu (the main pedestrian shopping street).  But her apartment building was razed to make way for new construction, and she had to move.  The new apartment is more expensive and in the northwest side of town, in a much less desirable area, and it now takes her one hour to commute in to work each way on the bus instead of just riding her bicycle 20 minutes.  I’ve never seen her house, and my understanding is based on a conversation we had in rudimentary Chinese, so forgive if I mis state.  However, my understanding is that it has two bedrooms, which she and her husband share with their daughter and her father in law.  I believe she told me her old apartment was 70 square meters but this one is only 55.  Her father in law had a stroke this spring and fell, injuring his head.  He recovered to some degree but he can no longer walk, and his mind isn’t right.  He stays home alone all day.  He doesn’t go outside.  I’m sure they don’t live on the first floor, and there’s virtually no handicap access anywhere in China, that I’ve seen.  Their sixteen year old daughter gets the small bedroom to herself.  The "master bedroom" has two beds, the one on one side of the room for SY and the one on the other side of the room for the father in law.    
 
As I went walking down an alleyway near Beijing Lu last spring, I saw some of the old style apartment buildings.  These, too, had been condemned and they were nearly empty save for a few holdout squatters.  So, I was able to peek inside.  I was surprised to see that each one had running water in the form of a faucet and sink in the kitchen, but no toilet.  There was one set of toilets for each block of houses, so several families shared.  Each one (among the ones I saw) had a kitchen in the front, a living area at the back, and a loft upstairs for sleeping.   No wonder most of my Chinese friends don’t invite me to their houses.  I live in a veritable mansion.  Sophie told me one day about how initially she felt awkward in our friendship because of this extreme difference in lifestyle.  It’s something we have somehow managed to overcome, with a sprinkling of grace.  When we go somplace expensive, I pick up the tab. When it’s someplace that she can afford, she often delights in treating me. 
 
Even the way we westerners cook is extravagant.  My family’s most recent addition to the "comfort food" list is baked potatoes, which we can do pretty well in our convection microwave.  We think the Chinese don’t know "how" to cook potatoes because when we get them here, they usually are cooked too fast at too high temperature, so they turn out hard.  Well, one day Sophie was at the market with me when I bought some baking potatoes.  She asked me how long I bake them, and at what temperature.  I told her about an hour at 350.  She exclaimed that even if she had an oven, the electricity to do this would be far too expensive.  Flash frying is much cheaper, and that’s all the ordinary person can afford to do.  The conversation reminded me of another set of apartment buildings saw one day, in a different area of town.  In the alleyway outside the buildings, there were fire pits for cooking, spaced about every fifty feet.  I guess they weren’t merely the weekend barbeque grill. 
 
A few days ago, a tiny, baby cockroach ran out of some books that a Chinese friend had carried into our house.  David saw it and made an effort to squish it, but I could see he didn’t want to make a big deal of it and embarass our friend (who had not seen it emerge from his books, as we had).  In the resulting "studied nonchalance" of the moment, the little bug got away and ran into some papers.  So now, we have a little "pet" bug somewhere in those papers.  The next day, I told S Y about it in the hope that she would help me keep an eye out for it.  She replied that Americans don’t like cockroaches, but Chinese aren’t bothered by them at all.  She said that all Chinese have them, it’s just part of life.  I think she was trying to tell me that it would not have been an embarrasing situation for our friend if we had addressed the issue right then, since he would not have been surprised to have known that he escorted a cockroach into our house.  Regardless, that’s another difference in how we live.  As open as it is to the outside (e.g. very little if any air conditioning, no screens on windows or doors, etc), I’ve thought before that those places have got to be full of cockroaches.  (I think about these things because cockroaches are actually one of my picky little phobias!)  Some westerners mourn the razing of the "old" and "historic" dwellings in this city with a 2,000 year old history.  But if you are one of the people who has to live there, and if you don’t have money to do a complete "restoration" including modern amenities, then you might have a different perspective. 
 
And the rats!  The biggest rat I’ve ever seen in my life was one that ran across the street nearly right in front of the American School one night.  I later figured out that there’s a garbage sorting place nearby, and that’s what attracts the rats.  Here, nobody separates out their recycling, but that is all done at the local garbage collecting stations.  (Some westerners, like me, put our recyclables in separate bags so that people who make a living of recycling can come get the bags to generate some income for themselves.)  Just the other morning riding J to school on my bicycle, I saw a rat that had been completely crushed flat by a car tire directly in front of the American School.  With my bizarre sense of humor, I took a picture of it.  It reminds me exactly of one of those little pictures of dinosaur fossils embedded in stone.  "The one that didn’t get away." 
 
Yes, it’s very much about Maslow’s triangle here.  Americans have no idea how rich they really are.   

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