Monthly Archives: November 2007

Recipe for Fajitas

I promised Saybay I’d put up a few recipes.  Since I just posted the Nachos recipe, I’ll add one for Fajitas as well.  Everybody knows that in spite of my former white minivan (it’s a long story) I’m not Mexican.  However, we do live in the TexMex part of the USA.  I got that figured out real well when we moved to Guangzhou and had withdrawal pangs from lack of Tex Mex food!  Plus, I got it figured out real fast that what is called "Mexican" in this part of the world really ain’t nowhere close!  I’m just really fortunate that I’m an excellent copycat in the kitchen, and that for some reason my big thrill in life is watching cooking shows on TV. 
 
 
Two of my most disappointing restaurant experiences in my life were when some expat had told me that this restaurant or that had really good Mexican food.  When you’ve been craving a food and then you find it, finally, and order it in a restaurant, well let me tell you, the anticipation is big!  So then the letdown after such anticipation is just awful!  My experience with Mexican food has been the epitomy of what I mean by that! 
 
After a month of living here, we were really craving Mexican.  Lo and behold, we went to a restaurant where there were fajitas on the menu!  We ordered fajitas.  But when the food came, they had used ketchup as a sauce for the tough meat, that was supposed to be put on a flour tortilla.  So about two years later, when we finally got a new Mexican restuarant in Guangzhou, I waited until I heard good reviews about it before venturing there myself.  With great anticipation I ordered fajitas.  A real Mexican restaurant, and my friends had said it was good.  But when the fajitas came, there was like one thimbleful of sour cream, another thimbleful of canned guacamole, at least a teaspoon of cheese, some Chinese stir fried veggies, some tabasco sauce and zero barbeque sauce.  I mean, give me a break!  Fajitas?  Not!  Another time, we were told that a certain restaurant in Hong Kong had great Mexican food.  At least there the food came out on a sizzling platter and was hot enough, but again the toppings were scant.  And in Thailand, which seems to have more foreign flavor variety, again the word "Mexican" just seems to be synonymous with use of tabasco sauce to cover everything.  I’ve simply come to accept that if I want fajitas in Guangzhou, the only place I’m going to get good ones is right in my very own kitchen. 
 
So here, I’ll just divulge my secrets.  First, the secret spice ingredients in fajitas are Cumin and Lime.  I don’t mean lime from a squirt bottle, I mean fresh lime, too!  My good friend Sunny M taught me that a bit of soy sauce won’t hurt them, either.  And I also use a tiny, tiny bit of corn starch (like maybe 1/2 tsp sprinkled on top) if there is any liquid (cause I sometimes throw a bit of water on the pan if it’s cooking really really hot).  Second, the veggies have to be seared fast in a really hot pan.  (A wok works best, griddle is okay, frying pan only if you don’t have the other two.)  Of course this means that time is of the essence because you can’t let them burn, just browned and caramelized a bit.  So have everything all chopped and set aside, ready to go, before you turn the heat on.  Third, I’ve never reached the point of making home made flour tortillas, but I’ve learned a trick.  Some people microwave them, but in my opinion it works best to clean your pan after you cook the fajita veggies, set the veggies aside, and then pop each one into the pan and heat it over the stove.  It only takes a sec to flip each one in, heat it quickly, then flip it onto a plate, and then cover the whole plate with a paper towel when you take it to the table. 
 
So now the recipe, which will make a meal for about four people: 
 
Ingredients:
 
A small amount of meat of your choice, if desired
About 2 cups (one can) refried beans or bean chili (your choice).  If using beans from a can, thin a bit with some water to make them spreadable.  
1 pack flour tortillas (about 3 per person)
2 large, sweet onions
1 sweet pepper (red or yellow adds nice color, or half of each)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
about 1.5 tsp cumin
The same toppings as in Nacho recipe (another blog entry):  1 cup grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, barbeque sauce
Lettuce as desired
(yep all the toppings are optional, you know what you like and what you don’t like)
Lime for flavoring fajitas
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
 
To prepare: 
 
Get the chili or refried beans ready by heating them in a microwave (assuming the chili isn’t already hot).  If desired, top with cheese and melt, then top with salsa (recipe in Nacho recipe blog entry), lettuce, sour cream . . . mmm.  (Maybe I’ll make these tonight?!!  I’m starting to crave fajitas thinking about this!) 
Grate the cheese and place in a serving bowl
Prepare the home made salsa and guacamole (see Nachos recipe) and place in a serving bowl
Use a sharp knife to slice some lettuce into fine shreds and place in a serving bowl
Set up sour cream, guacamole, and barbeque sauce into bowls for serving
 
Open the package of flour tortillas, but don’t get them out just yet.  The idea is to have everything ready so that it can all be served at once as soon as it’s cooked, all piping hot.  So get the table all ready with all this stuff and the serving spoons, plates, drinks, etc and everything before you start to cook!   Fajitas are a great social meal to make with your friends and lots of help!  (Don’t forget the coronas and lime, or sweet iced tea! 😉  )
 
Now, to cook:
 
Meat:  Slice whatever meat you are using into extremely thin strips.  Sprinkle a bit of soy sauce over, some garlic from that which you have chopped, set aside to marinate for a minute. 
 
Veggies: 
 
Peel onions, but don’t cut off the root end of the onion.  Place root end on cutting board, so that the onion is upright with the root on the bottom.  Cut it in half top to bottom.  (Now you can cut off the root and discard — I just included this particular instruction for the purpose of making sure that the onion is sliced lengthwise and not crosswise.)  Now, lay the half onion cut side down on the cutting board, with the root end toward you.  Slice into lengthwise strips as that are as narrow as you can make them.  Then whack them with the knife to get the layers all separated.  Set aside in bowl. 
 
There is a fancy way to cut the pepper, but basically you just want it de-seeded and cut into as narrow strips as you can cut.  Set the pepper aside into same bowl as onion.  Add minced garlic.  Go ahead and throw about 1.5 teaspoons of cumin on top. 
 
(If you want to cut the pepper my fancy way so that the pepper is all straight, here’s how to do it:  Take the bell pepper, lay it on its side, and cut off the top and bottom where it’s curvy.  Then use a paring knife to reach inside and cut out the seeds, without cutting the pepper in half.  Now, take the de-seeded pepper, and slice it one time from top to bottom.  The pepper can now be rolled out flat like a square piece of paper.  Now slice it as thin as you can, and the strips will all be straight.  To use the parts from the top and bottom, just slice the useable parts of the top and bottom of the pepper into small bits and add them into the rest of the pepper.)
 
If you want to put a chili pepper in your fajitas as they cook, of course you may!  Just get a red chili pepper, deseed it, and slice and add to the mixture.  I don’t do this because there are usually some small children at my table. 
 
Now, it’s time to cook.  Ya know how fajitas are served on a sizzling hot plate?!  Well, I don’t have one!  But you definitely want those veggies hot and sizzling brown.  So, cook the meat first and set it aside, and then cook the veggies.  After the veggies are done, you will add back in so that everything is fresh and sizzling hot. 
 
Meat:  Set the heat on medium and throw some oil in your cooking pan (if meat is cooked too fast it will turn tough).  Don’t put the meat into the pan until the oil sizzles when you throw a sprinkle of water on it (not too much, this is just literally one or two drops of water, which should immediately sizzle and turn to steam).  Now, drop the meat in and toss it around with your spatula.  If there is a lot of liquid, thicken it with a bit of corn starch.  You can do this by using your fingers to sprinkle just a bit on top of the meat and then turning it.  Season by sprinkling a bit of cumin on top.  As soon as meat starts to be brown all over, take it off heat and set aside.  Do not cook it too much, because you’re going to add it back into the veggies in a bit and it will cook some more at that time.
 
Veggies:  Here’s where the pan gets hot.  Put the pan on medium to high heat.  Corn oil will enable a bit hotter temperature than some other types of oil.  You want it to smoke just a tiny bit (or sizzle and pop when you throw in a drop of water), then throw the veggies in.  Don’t stir frenetically.  Instead, let them sit just a bit so they actually cook and turn just a tiny bit translucent (onion) or brown (peppers).  But do stir them and turn them enough that they all get cooked.  Remember, you’ve already added garlic and cilantro and seasoned the meat with soy as well, so it should smell pretty good.  If you feel it needs more of anything, feel free to add it.  Once the veggies are done, add the meat back in to stir and mix.  Then, squeeze some lime on top and garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl (or onto a heated sizzling platter, if you have one!).  Put this bowl on the table, so that all that’s left to complete the meal is the flour tortillas. 
 
Now quickly wash your pan.  Put it back on the heat, throw in the flour tortillas one at a time, heat each one for only a bit being careful not to burn it, transfer to a plate, cover with a paper towel, now serve everything.  As I re-read the way I wrote this recipe, it sounds like you will be doing a lot of "throwing" stuff around in your kitchen.  Of course!  Cooking should be fun! 
 
Enjoy! 

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Recipe for Nachos

I got this in the email box:  "hi mom, i’ve got a request for your famous nacho recipe."  I don’t know that it’s famous, but here’s the recipe! 
 
Ingredients
 
Corn chips (the fresher, and not crumbly, the better, and also, don’t use the "lime" etc varieties), 1 med bag
Either home made vegetarian chili (preferable) or refried beans (if using refried beans from a can, add a bit of warm water to help them spread), about 1 cup

Diced sweet peppers (prefer red, yellow), about 1/2 cup

Jalepeno peppers, sliced (fresh or pickled, your preference)
Home made picante sauce (see below, this supplies the tomato, cilantro, and green onion, and it’s also a great topping for home made fajitas)
Grated cheese (whatever type you prefer, but not terribly sharp), about 1 cup 
 
Sour cream
Guacamole (see below)
 
Preheat regular oven to 350 deg F (175 C)
 
Spread Corn chips out on a metal cooking sheet or heat-resistant serving platter.  (In my opinion, it’s better to make two batches with more goodies than to get the chips too thick)
 
Sprinkle or smear on chili or refried beans (hopefully so that each chip gets a bit) over top of corn chips
 
Sprinkle on other goodies, to taste
 
Top with grated cheese
 
(But note:  Just like a pizza, don’t pile on too much glop or the chips will be heavy and soggy!)
 
Bake in oven just until cheese is melted over top.  (Some people broil it but this tends to burn the chips and doesn’t get them as dry and crispy; and if you microwave, same thing applies, it’s just not the same in terms of getting the chips nice and crunchy.)
 
Top with picante sauce, sour cream and guacamole, all to taste
 
Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro, if desired
 
Enjoy!  And here are instructions how to make the guacamole and fresh salsa:   
 
My recipe for home made picante sauce (from memory, I haven’t measured ingredients to see if these proportions are right, but this will make enough salso that you can take it with chips as a contribution to a party, or you’ll have plenty of leftovers if you are making it for a meal.)
 
4 – 6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and de-seeded, then chopped — about 1.5 cups  (canned tomatoes, drained, will do if necessary)
4 green onions, diced (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 chili pepper, diced (use to taste, the amount is highly variable!)
1/2 sweet green pepper, diced (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 to 3/4 cup diced fresh cilantro
a dash of salt
a dash of black pepper
a dash of tabasco sauce
 
Note:  you can use whatever amounts of the above you have on hand, but in my book the cilantro is non-optional! 
 
My recipe for home made guacamole is to mash together the following:
 
1 ripe avocado
lemon juice
a bit of minced garlic
 
 

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The 50 RMB Plug Converter

I did, indeed, accumulate a month’s worth of blog entries during my week in Beijing last month, and this is the latest installment.  I propose it as a case study!  I will relate the facts and leave the discussion to you! 
 
 
My cell phone is a Hong Kong phone.  Chinese electricity is the same current as Hong Kong, but it uses a different type plug.  So, in order to charge my phone in China, I have to use a plug converter.  On my recent trip to Beijing, I forgot to carry my plug converter. 
 
 
The hotel where we stayed didn’t have any plug converters, either.  They had one Hong Kong type outlet in their main office.  There were some inconveniences and risks associated with leaving my phone at the hotel desk from late at night until early morning.  I wanted to purchase a plug converter.  None of the stores we walked past to and from our daily goings and comings looked like they would stock plug converters.  My main hope was either a specialty electronics shop (think Radio Shack type store) or a large department store (think Wal Mart type store). 
 
Lo and behold, on our second day out, I located a shop that had plug converters!  It was primarily a camera shop, and it was in a major tourist district.  Foreigners of all kinds were coming in there and plunking down big bucks for the latest in camera technology.  When I asked if the store had plug converters, they opened a drawer full of them and asked what kind I needed. 
 
Knowing that the store would ask an outrageous price, I had already called David and asked him what a fair price would be.  He told me I ought to be able to get one for 10 RMB.  Sure enough, the price they asked was outrageous:  200 RMB.  I offered 10, they countered at 150, etc.  After several minutes, they refused to budge off of 50.  I figured that while 10 was probably the true, reasonable price, I really wanted a plug converter.  Watching people plunking down 2500 and 5000 RMB for cameras and electronics gadgets, I also figured that they didn’t really need my 50 RMB business, and that they likely wouldn’t budge more.  Moreover, the difference of 40 RMB comes to roughly $5. 
 
Balancing on the one hand the fact that I probably couldn’t get one any other way without major inconvenience (to me and my traveling companions) during my trip, plus my need for one versus the extra $5 — I agreed to pay 50 RMB.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know I’d been snookered.  To the contrary, I made a calculation about cost and benefit and decided to buy it in spite of the poor bargain. 
 
When I came outside from the store,  to where my Chinese friends (and bargaining mentors) were sitting and waiting for me, I joked to one that I had to pay 50 RMB for it.  She was appalled, and (I was told later) smitten with guilt that she hadn’t come inside to bargain on my behalf.  She huddled with our other companions and they decided that I had been heinously taken advantage of.  They conferred among themselves and, yes, indeed, everyone knew that 10 RMB was more than fair.  A good price would even have been 5 RMB.  I was not, until this time, aware that there actually are published prices that are supposed to govern plug converters!  They called some pricing authority that someone knew about, and confirmed that the published price was 10 RMB.  They marched me into the store with them and demanded that the shopkeeper refund the difference.  He refused. 
 
His primary argument was that, though the law does apply to a non-negotiated sale, the fact that I had counter offered and bargained took my transaction out from under the protection of the consumer protection law.  Secondarily, he countered, they should not be helping a foreigner anyway.  While all of this heated argument went over my head (way beyond my comprehension level of Chinese), my companions told me that he said some very derogatory thing about stupid Americans who come to China and think they can get around knowing just a little bit of Chinese.  He told them that they shouldn’t be helping Americans because Americans were taking all their jobs and economy away from China and stealing from their country.  Well, this latter tirade just served to incense my friends even more.  They were embarassed and offended that someone had treated their guest this way.  They were livid.  But, there was nothing anyone could do, so we left to go catch our bus.  It was late, as well, about 9 PM and we had been out since early morning.  Everyone was bone tired. 
 
We had walked only about one block when our group spotted two policemen.  Eureka!  Perhaps these policemen could help, someone said.  My friends explained the situation to the policemen.  The policemen listened, with a crowd of bystanders gathering.  They replied that they didn’t know if they could help.  They said that legally their hands were tied, since I had bargained with the store, but they would talk to the owner and see if he would voluntarily comply with the pricing regulation. 
 
The store employees and manager’s tune changed when the policemen arrived.  They were less hostile.  They still refused to give me the published price, but they agreed that I could return plug converter and they would refund my 50 RMB.  Of course, after all that trouble that’s what I had to do.  After the policeman had negotiated this, I saw the store manager offer the policeman a cigarette, which he refused.  I returned the plug converter and got my 50 RMB back. 
 
During the entire week, I never did get a plug converter!   I survived without one, too. 
 
 

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Thanksgiving 2007

Is this our fourth Thanksgiving in China?  I think it was!  I can’t quite believe it!  But now, we know how to do it. There definitely is a learning curve.  Part of that learning curve involves knowing what to hold on to, and part of it involves learning what to let go of.  I recently read an exercise for a Thanksgiving meditation, suggested by Crown Ministries.  It is this:  write down everything you are thankful for on a sheet of paper.  Then, cross off everything that involves money.  This doesn’t mean that we aren’t thankful for the things that money can buy, but it can be surprising what is left when we cross off those items. 
 
When we have Thanksgiving in China, those same things are the things that we primarily let go of at Thanksgiving.  For instance, when one cannot access a turkey at Thanksgiving, it becomes readily apparent that one can have an equally meaningful Thanksgiving celebration with Magi Xia and Gan Bian Si Ji Dou (Shrimp with magi sauce and Green beans served with pork sausage on top).  We become acutely aware that the celebration is not about a turkey, but rather the abundant blessing that a turkey represents. 
 
At Thanksgiving time, I find myself especially thinking of, and thankful for, my family and friends.  I don’t know whether it’s a process associated with aging, or if it’s because we are in an environment where "adventure" tends to be a bit too much sometimes and leaves one pining for home and familiar things.  But for one reason or another, my values at this point in my life are clearly focused on my friends and family, and what they (you) mean to me.  It seems to me that part of what it means to be human is to be woven into the tapestry of life through our relationships with each other.  A person isolated is a person unhappy, in need, and likely depressed.  I am thankful that I am anything but!  Thank you (yes, YOU!)  for weaving me into the web of your life! 

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Talking about Jiangxi Province

 I’d like to link you to an interesting blog entry written by my friend Molly.  I’m trying to figure out how to do it as a "trackback" because her photo album is equally fascinating.  . . . . Okay, don’t know how to do a trackback (or even what one really is) but here’s a link to the photo album to accompany this text.  Thanks Molly! 

http://mjherrington.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!E1EF91FB0A2A5A28!905/?startingImageIndex=4&commentsExpand=0&addCommentExpand=0&addCommentFocus=0&pauseSlideshow=0

Quote

Jiangxi Province

At the beginning of this month I had an unusual opportunity. I was hired by a glove exporting company to travel with them to Jiangxi Province to a town where most of the small "factories" (read workshops) that produce the gloves they export are located. Nine of us drove there in 2 cars, one of which (the owner’s) was a Mercedes Benz E-230, and I rode in that one. It took over 8 hours to drive there, and then we spent the next 3 days visiting both factories that were already suppliers and looking for new sources. I was introduced as the American customer who had been sent along to check on the quality of the gloves being produced. We’d go to a factory, go in to look around. I’d try on gloves, test the strength of the construction, nod or shake my head, and take pictures. Then we’d go sit with the owner in his office, drink tea, talk about our current order and how much more we wanted, the owner would give his quality speech ("blah blah blah blah, Molly, blah blah blah, American, blah blah, Molly") and they could get their picture taken with the owner and me. Then off we’d go in the Benz and the Chevy to the next place.
 
I asked a lot of questions, and learned some interesting things. First off, we have a pre-conceived concept of places like this being "sweatshops" where the workers slave in horrendous conditions for pennies. I’m sure those exist. But that wasn’t what I was seeing. Now, by our standards, these places were filthy. Check out the pictures. The conditions seem horrendous, and there’s no heating and it’s starting to get cool. A lot of these were storefront operations, with maybe some rooms upstairs. At least two were in former hotels, and one was in a former school. But there’s no heating in any buildings in most of China. Even the university I taught at didn’t have heat in the rooms, I always taught wearing my coat and scarf and gloves. If anything, since there would be a number of people in small rooms it might be warmer than their homes.
 
I aksed how much they were making, and was told it was hard to say, since they’re paid by the piece, but it probably comes to about 1000 RMB per month, or 128 USD. Seems awful to us. However, the vast majority of the workers are women . . whose husbands have gone to one of the big cities, most likely Guangzhou, where they can get high paying jobs, and they can sit at home raising the kid or take a job like this where they can bring the child to the factory with them and be around other women talking and gossiping all day and making some extra cash while they’re at it. Considering that a college graduate can expect to start at a salary of 2,300 RMB per month, making 1,000 extra for the family is a lot. One of the primary reasons this company had to do this trip was not so much trying to get them to improve the quality, but to try to get them to fill the orders on time. Since it’s not a "necessary" job, sometimes the women just don’t show up and that obviously slows production. Although the factories are running shifts 24/7, we never saw a room with all the machines being used, even on the weekday we went to shops. And while there were people working on Sunday, there were also a lot more empty stations. What was sad was the number of elderly women working, most of them doing jobs like turning the gloves right-side out after they’re sewn.
 
This was a pretty small town however, if my internet research is correct it’s only around 150,000 people, tiny by Chinese standards, and once we got off the main streets the buildings were quite old. We stayed at a 4 star "international" hotel which actually was quite nice, and one night I did actually see 3 people who looked Indian, and some Japanese, but otherwise I was the only white person I saw. And I’m probably the only one that’s been there for a while, judging by people’s reactions to me, although sometimes I wasn’t sure what was the bigger attraction: me or the Benz. So I got rock star treatment, a trip out of town, got to ride in a Benz, take a lot of cool pictures, learned all about work gloves, and got paid. All in all a pretty cool experience.

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Happy Firebird Day

My vocabulary word for the week is how to say "Turkey" in Chinese.  It’s Huo Jie, which translates as "Fire Bird."  After I put my bird on to roast this morning, I thought about what a neat word it is.  If I had a copy of Stravinski’s Firebird Suite, I’d put it on right now!  I’m mentally celebrating because I’m cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time in a long time!  We’re going to have turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, rice and gravy, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie.  Oh, and home made dinner rolls (which I need to go make).  I like the name "fire bird" much better than plain, old "turkey," how about you?!!
 
It’s still just an ordinary school and work day.  D is at work and C is at school.  C will likely have a ton of homework when she gets home.  But we’re going to put our foot down for just a few hours this evening, have some friends join us, and have a family time set aside for our special meal and for giving thanks. 
 
Speaking of, it’s thanks to Sally that I found my Thanksgiving Turkey yesterday!  I had shopped at a local foreign grocery.  They did have one, but they wanted 45 RMB per kilo, which would have come to about $36 for a 12 pound bird.  I figured I could do better a the wholesale market.  Sally told me the name of the shop where she bought her bird.  Or, let’s clarify this.  Sally’s housekeeper told my houskeeper, in Cantonese, the address and phone number of the shop as well as the pertinent information that we ought to be able to get one for 30 RMB per kilo.  Song Ying went alone to purchase the bird.  The shopkeeper wanted 32 RMB per kilo, but Song Ying told him "No way!  My friend says to pay 30 RMB."  So, he relented and we paid 30 RMB per kilo, or about $24? 
 
Anyway, the turkey came home in a package that says it was raised on a family farm in North Carolina.  It has an address and phone number.  The town is a place I’ve never heard of.  But here’s the strange thing:  the package says it’s a premium turkey, but the word premium is badly misspelled.  It’s misspelled so badly that I can’t imagine an American company doing it, especially on a package that will be shipped overseas. 
 
I decided that just for fun, I would call the 800 number listed on the package and see if it’s a real company.  Doggone it, Song Ying is so efficient that she’s already taken out the garbage!  Oh well.  I guess I’ll never know.  But I just can’t quite believe that an American farm in North Carolina would be shipping turkeys to China that are labeled something like "Preemmumin" or some similarly horrific spelling.  Can you? 
 
Okay, back to cooking. 
 
And . . . as a post script . . . the menu for the day was:  Turkey, southern cornbread dressing, rice, gravy, cranberry salad, cranberry sauce, home made rolls, broccoli casserole, sweet potato casserole, okra pickles, pickled beets, sweet cucumber pickles, a nice wine, and sweet iced tea.  And . . . notice there’s no dessert?  We ran out of time so . . . we put syrup on the rolls.  Yum, it was fine!  Our guests were two Americans and two Chinese, and a good time was had by all! 
 

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sleepers in class language distinction

Somebody linked to my page from a Baidu search for "sleepers in class."  This search linked them to my web long entry about classes of sleeper cars on trains.  The reason the search linked to "sleeper class" because native English speakers don’t usually refer to people as being "sleepers," unless they are talking about spies. 
 
As a language issue, a person who is physically sleeping is a "person who is asleep," or we would say, "he is sleeping." We see the person still as primarily being a person who happens at this moment to be sleeping.  On the other hand, a person who was planted by a spy organization with the plan of being inactive for many years would be primarily viewed as an inactive spy.  Colloquially we might refer to him as a "sleeper," since his condition is not temporary but rather characterizes his whole identity.   
 
If one wants to do an English language search for pages about students who sleep in class, I suggest that a better search would be for the words "student," "asleep," and "classroom" or "in class".  The word "teacher" could also be used to clarify the search parameters.   

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Lost in Translation

I was so proud of myself.  My Chinese has gotten passable enough that I can use Chinese language to tell the joke about the three Japanese and the three Chinese in the train.  (It is told here http://xanskinner.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!F92952EA9124A41B!2053.entry .)  I told the joke at dinner the other night, but it was a bit rough.  Things like, I didn’t know the word for "train conductor."  So, I ran it by a friend, Chandler, who is a Chinese teacher. 
 
He coached me a bit, and I added the word "maipiaoren" (train conductor) to my vocabulary.  I was overjoyed when he told me that he understood the joke and it was funny enough that he would tell it to the friend he was meeting at lunch that day.  (Or, was it funny that the American was trying to learn the joke.) 
 
Anyway, I was thrilled to learn that I could finally tell a joke in Chinese that Chinese people would think was funny!  So, yesterday, I decided to tell the joke to Song Ying.  Since she doesn’t speak English, I lacked the safety net of being able to fall back into my native language.    
 
Song Ying understood what I was saying.  But her response?  Not quite what I was expecting!   
 
"The Chinese were very bad people!  They must not have been from Guangzhou!  They must have been from the countryside." 
 
Even when I explained to her that I was kidding, and that they weren’t real people, she didn’t seem to think the situation was funny. 
 
I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me. 

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Ice Water Diet

This is an update on a new way I have found to lose weight, called the ice water diet.  You diet normally.  Then, you jump in a pool of ice water.  To avoid immediate death from hypothermia, you burst into a flame of speed splashing across the pool.  You burn up all the calories at once that you’ve consumed for the last five days.  Then you go lay in bed the rest of the day to recover. 
 
Actually, to be honest, it’s not really that bad.  I’ve decided it really, truly is an issue of mental attitude!  If I sit there and shiver and think, "boy this sure is cold," well, yeah, it feels like really cold.  Water torture.  But if I tell myself, "this really isn’t so bad," and just swim, then it’s just refreshing.  I can actually make myself feel good or bad at that moment, depending on how I think.  It’s like walking on a razor wire — lean one way or the other, and the whole body goes that way. 
 
The contrast was obvious on Sunday, when David joined me after I was already in the pool and had done a couple of laps.  He thought the water was frigid.  He never got to the point of enjoying the swim.  I, on the other hand, finished the laps I had set out to do and decided to do two more for good measure.  I could have done more, but I didn’t want to overdo it in one day. 
 
This is in pretty sharp contrast to even a few months ago when I first started swimming.  The first time, when it was much warmer, I thought it felt like torture.  It really does get easier over time.  I do truly believe it’s about 95% mental, both in terms of taking the first steps as well as making the decision to stick with it and keep going back every day, even when one doesn’t feel like it.  Then, over time, one does begin to notice a difference in stamina, and it becomes rewarding. 
 
But it definitely doesn’t feel rewarding in the first 20 days.  Those days are just a matter of making the commitment and doing it!  What the cold water actually did for me was to remind me that it truly is all mental, in terms of making myself do it to start with. 

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Harder Bodies Faster Stronger

Epitomizes qualities that make America great:  light hearted, creative, active, well planned and executed, excellent teamwork . . . FUN!   
 
 
Oh, is this about fitness?  Well, maybe so.  Good humor => Good health 
 
 

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