Monthly Archives: November 2011

Snippets and Thanksgiving

I’m whirling after a few wonderful weeks with friends and family in Canada and the States, so nothing coherent, but rather snippets and gratitude are on my mind.  Apologies for the quality of the photos I’m about to post for you, but I hope you enjoy the sentiments.  What a blessing to be with so many loved ones over Thanksgiving, and I know I won’t fully be able to appreciate that until I find myself back in China.

On Marriage

This is the tapestry I brought from China to celebrate my dear friends’ Jessie and Jason’s engagement.  My husband and I bought it on our three-year anniversary trip to Yangshuo, China, it’s already hanging in their living room, and it reminds me of what a joy and a blessing and a challenge marriage is.

On Community

When I spent a Sunday morning at Peru Community Church with my friend Jessie, and experienced their service of healing, I was but a visitor in the congregation, but their love for one another and their commitment to God’s healing work in their midst was powerful.  I think it’s amazing that worship is so clearly a corporate act, so necessarily a communal moment that moves us in ways we can’t imagine.

On Family Traditions

It reigns true that there’s no one you’ll laugh until you cry with the way you do with your family, and probably no one will understand or appreciate, for that matter, your crazy traditions.  This is the plate, a recreation of the first one my Grandpa penned on Cape Cod one summer, with the rules to Real Turn, our favorite big family card game.

On Food

Food is another one of those traditions, and everyone has their favorites.  This isn’t the full meal, but the petite Saturday lunch version I put together for myself after everyone else was on their way to the airport.  The surprising favorites for me this season?  Peas with pearl onions and pureed squash.  Can’t get pearl onions in China!

Photo Credit



Canada/US Recap

I’m currently seated at my dear friend Jessie’s house in Peru, NY, with a nice mug of coffee, and looking out at Lake Champlain!

Jessie and Jason's million-dollar view.

I certainly can’t complain about waking up to this view every morning!  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This trip has also taken me to Montreal, Canada, where I presented a paper at the American Anthropological Association conference and caught up with dear friends and colleagues from the Princeton Anthropology Department.  Oddly enough, the convention center and the hotel I stayed at for the conference were both located in Chinatown…imagine that!

A photo of me "in my element" in Chinatown, Montreal, Canada.

I’ll do a separate post about all the conference events, but it was so thrilling overall to have time with good friends, be inspired by others’ ideas, have incredibly dorky talks over dinner about anthropology, and enjoy Montreal.

Occupy Montreal!
A colleague and friend and I in Montreal.

On Friday night, Jessie drove up to Montreal and listened to my paper, hit the 40th Anniversary of the Princeton Anthro Department party with me, and then we drove back to Peru, NY, where she and her fiance, Jason live.  The weekend has been absolutely perfect, including a fabulous pre-Thanksgiving party with her friends, a lovely dinner at a local Himalayan Restaurant (no, we can’t get this kind of food where we live in China!), a wonderful church service, a hike up to Pocamoonshine peak, and fabulous bleu cheese burgers made by her fiance.

The view from Pocamoonshine Peak (1800 ft), NY.
Disheveled, but happy at the top!
A birdseye view of Lake Camplain from Pocamoonshine peak.
Jason's bleu cheese sliders, which we topped with avocado and bacon.

Tomorrow I head back to Boston, where I’ll meet up with my family, and then head to my Auntie’s house in none other than Plymouth, MA for a real, American Thanksgiving meal.  I’m feeling like a pretty lucky girl to be seeing all these people I love before returning to my life in China.


You know you’ve been in China too long when…

I’ve arrived in Montreal, which means the first leg of my long and somewhat winding road (it just doesn’t make sense to have to fly from Boston to Washington D.C. to get to Canada?!) from China to North America is complete.

Along the way though, I noticed a few funny things that made me realize my time in China is not lost on me.  I’m sure there’ll be more moments of comedic “cultural shock,” but for now, here are a few reflections I affectionately title, you know you’ve been in China too long when…

Chinese coke, also traditionally served room temperature!
  • You’re shocked, completely shocked, when beverages come out of vending machines cold! (In China, they drink room temperature water, which I now prefer, and I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled upon a vending machine, except in the Beijing (PEK) airport.  If you end up there, fyi, the cheapest water (5 kuai) is out of the vending machines, so don’t be suckered into paying 15 or 25 yuan in the gift shops.  The vending machine water is cold, but they also have free water dispensers which dispense the comforting lukewarm water we’re all used to!)
  • You find the wine on your international flight excellent.  And I really did, but then I stopped in my tracks, and realized that the wine in China is just that bad.  Not that they don’t do a lot of other things well in China, but wine (red or white) is not one of them.
  • You walk just a few blocks from your hotel in Montreal and find yourself none other than smack in the middle of Chinatown.  I don’t know what to chock that one up to, but I must have radar.  Oh well, I made the best of it and grabbed some yummy little coconut balls from a Chinese bakery with almost Chinese-low prices. 
I hope to find my way to other places besides Chinatown here in Montreal, and report a bit on the meeting, and the local culture.  But for now, rest assured that China’s still very much got its hold on me, and I can’t say, besides the jet lag, that I mind all that much.

International Travel Tips

Now I’ve only made one long trek back to the states since we moved to China in July 2010, but thinking back on 2011, I realized that when all’s said and done I’ll have spent time in over six different countries this year (Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, China, the US, and next on my list, Canada).  That doesn’t make me an expert, but it does make me a frequent traveler, who’s put a little bit of thought into the not-so-fun pre-packing, and long flights.

Here are my tips…what are yours??

1.  Pack Light:  I know, this is obvious, but I always tell people, have you ever actually packed too little?  Most of us over-pack, so when you have the urge to edit that last sweater, go with your gut and take it out.  You’ll be thankful that you have lighter bags and more room to bring home fun things from your travels.

2.  Pack a little detergent, a clothing line, and do your own laundry!  This is one place I’ve definitely adapted to the Chinese lifestyle.  When I travel with Chinese friends, they usually pack just two changes of clothing, and do laundry in the sink every night.  I usually only wash my workout clothes by hand, but this saves me precious space in my luggage.  I also do undergarments in the sink, because I usually handwash some of them anyway.  Make sure to bring lightweight or dryfit clothes that dry quickly, so you can be ready to run everyday.

The travelista on packing light.

3.  Skimp on the clothes, go wild on the accessories: The travelista has a great visual for what it means to pack versatile items, and then pack enough jewelry, scarves, and light sweaters to make each outfit morph into three or four.

4.  Pack gifts!  Chances are you like to pick up a few souvenirs for yourself when traveling, so what better way to leave space in your luggage than pack gifts for those whom you’re visiting.  Another alternative is to pack a light carry-on, and then pack a lightweight bag inside, and then you can check the carry-on on the way back and carry the extra bag, but I’m sure your friends would prefer the presents.

5.  Save some work for the plane.  “Air plane mode” means no distractions from the web, phone calls, or facebook, which, with a little music to block out the din of the engine, can be a great work environment.  I get antsy with so much time, and I tend to squander it, so I find it’s good for me to plan to hit the work first, and relax later, structure my time a bit so it goes by quickly.

6.  On board survival kit.  It sounds obvious, but for overnight flights it’s important to pack all the little things you might need (contacts, solution, glasses, facewash, mouthwash, toothbrush & toothpaste, medications, allergy meds, eye drops, sleeping aids, and cold medicine) in a reachable place.  This means they need to be small– under 3.4 oz–so you can carry them on.

7.  Stretch and walk around.  On long flights, it’s important to do some chair stretches every couple of hours and to get up and walk a bit.  It may feel awkward but it’s healthy, so get out and roam.

8.  Don’t be anxious about getting sleep on the plane.  I know it’s hard to sleep on the plane, but the anxiety over “getting enough sleep” can be paralyzing.  Plan a few days into your schedule to acclimate to your new time zone if you’re traveling internationally, rather than expecting the sleep on the plane (usually sparse and uncomfortable) to be something it’s not (relaxing and satisfying).

9.  Do travel with your comforts.  When I travel in China, I like to pack Starbucks instant coffee, because they don’t have good coffee in most towns.  Although they’re heavy, I also love magazines, because I devour them with pleasure, and then I can ditch them to another happy reader.  For this particular trip, I’ve packed a rather bulky sweater, but it makes me feel at home.  Maybe you travel with a pillow that gives your neck support or another favorite item.  Whatever contributes to that comfort (think one or two small items), don’t skimp on it.  This is something you’ll actually wish you packed, and think about longingly, so you don’t want to leave it behind!

Spanish cuisine: tortilla de patatas

First, a disclaimer:  I have my wonderful husband’s culinary innovations to thank for the opportunity to eat anything besides Chinese food in China!

And, here’s what he made this week:

Yes, that’s right.  Tortilla de patatas–Spanish food–in our very own kitchen here in China.  And it was glorious.

Evan’s been raving about everything he cooks off this website, but I like to think I had something to do with the brilliance of this simple meal.  After all, I’m the one who suggested we make our own bacon bits to top the fresh salad, the homemade dressing, and the savory tortilla.  What’s even better, it made for three separate meals!

But from the rest of the photos, you can see who really did all the work…

Ta-da!  Perfection.

And later that evening I followed Clara’s recipe over at Channeling Contessa for a simple weeknight apple crisp, except I threw all the contents in the crockpot, because Evan and I had to head over to judge the second evening of the English Speech Competition at his school.  We were even able to snag something like vanilla ice cream on our way back, so three hours later, we were able to preview some of the flavors of Thanksgiving in our living room!

A pretty successful week of cookery, if I do say so myself.  And oh yeah, thanks to Evan!

Like a child

There are days that I find doing fieldwork with children really trying.  

When I walk into a cramped room, and children are strewn about the floor, unoccupied, with dead, long looks on their faces, my heart hurts.  When I see many of them, especially those with disabilities, struggling so hard to communicate with us, and I see the ways we all fail them, I have my doubts about God and humanity.

And then there are days like one this week, when I become so utterly consumed in holding the hands of a child with CP who is so eager to walk, and taking each step with her that I literally can’t think of doing anything else.  Children are wonderful in the way that they demand our attention, and they force us to put our thoughts at bay to focus on the present, where they live.

It was hours that this young girl and I walked about the tiny living room of her foster mother’s house, toddling past her three foster siblings, and she tipped her head back, laughing at who knows what.  But that laughter was contagious.  We sat on the floor, and perhaps because I couldn’t understand the dialect her family was speaking, I became part of her wordless word, and in awe of the way in which, despite her inability to speak, she could pick up so quickly on all of my motions, even my mood.

When it was time to leave, I had to hear the words three or four times before they registered.  Perhaps this is not the way fieldwork should be done, allowing oneself to become lost in the daydreams, the world of a child.

But I keep thinking if I can do one thing this year, let it be to live like a child, to enter her world, and to be a companion, who, despite all my inabilities to make everything better, patiently and wholeheartedly, walks beside her.

Photo Credit

Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal

It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s worth waking up for.

The start to a perfect morning...

I started making peanut butter and banana oatmeal on my 5:30 am mornings to get me out of bed and give me some long-lasting brain food for those marathon work mornings.  I just love peanut butter, and these big bowls of fluffy goodness are so satisfying.

Here’s a quick how-to, and be sure to let me know how yours turn out:


2 tablespoons of your nut of preference (I usually use almonds, cashews, or walnuts)

Just under 2/3 cup of your preferred kind of milk (I prefer a fuller fat milk because it seems to make the oatmeal fluffier, but you can even use water or soy milk)

1/2 cup of quick oats

1/2 banana to a full ripe banana, mashed (depending on how much you prefer)

1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter

Brown sugar to taste

Then follow these five simple steps:

1.  Toast your nuts on the stove for 4-5 minutes until they start to brown and then chop.

2.  Heat milk to a boil in sauce pan.

3.  When milk boils, add oats, banana, and peanut butter.  Stir for about a minute, and then reduce heat to medium.

4.  When the oatmeal starts to stick, (or preferably before!), after about 1-2 minutes, dump oats into your favorite bowl, and top with chopped nuts and brown sugar, and any other toppings you like.

5.  Enjoy with a large mug of coffee, and alongside a productive morning!

The perfect bowl of oatmeal.

The Good Samaritan, Yueyue, and one church’s response

Several weeks ago, a two year-old Chinese girl was the victim of not one, but two hit and runs in Guangdong province.  Security cameras caught the incident on tape, as well as the eighteen individuals who passed by the little girl, before an elderly trash collector finally came to her aid, and went door-to-door in search of her parents.  Little Yueyue, as she is being called by the Chinese media, eventually passed away, but her tragedy prompted national and international soul searching regarding the roots of such negligence.

However, this Sunday, the pastor at our local TSPM church, read the familiar passage from Luke 10:25-37 entitled “The Good Samaritan.”  He did not offer any explanations for why eighteen people passed by Yueyue that day, but merely called attention to Jesus’ indirect response to the question of who is our neighbor, and to the priest and the Levite, supposedly rich in spiritual wisdom and social status, who were among those who passed by.  “Chances are, we’d be part of the eighteen,” he mused.

And then he lifted up a powerful piece of good news in the midst of this story that has been full of bad news, bad press, and shame for China–namely, the someone who stopped.  Actually that someone was a nobody–an elderly female trash collector, someone who literally picks up after those in society who are fortunate, prestigious, and powerful.  The parallels between this trash collector and the good Samaritan are uncanny.

And so the pastor suggested that God used this trash collector in the midst of evil and suffering to teach us what it means to be human, to treat love our neighbors, to value the life of others, and to know human dignity.  “Are we changed by the tragedy of little Yueyue, and then, how do we live out this challenge of loving our neighbor in today’s society?” he asked.

There has been plenty of finger-pointing from the West and the Chinese alike, trying to find someone, or something (Communism?  Atheism? Legalism?) to blame for Yueyue’s death.  And yet, in quiet humility, the pastor at our church pointed out that we may never know, nor does this witchhunt actually accomplish much for God’s kingdom. Instead, how do we take the example God has provided us, and how do we go on living?

This humble acceptance of God’s omnipotence, and of our own complicity in moments of inhumanity and tragedy, was what struck me Sunday morning.  It would be much easier for Chinese brothers and sisters to try to take control of their society, to find their way to move forward, but I am encouraged to see that they are trusting God to do that great work, and calling on God to empower them to play a small part in that plan.

Perhaps in such earnest seeking, not of our own will, or our own power, but of God’s, some justice will be done to Yueyue’s young life, and we will begin to love our neighbors as that trash collector did that day.

This is the humble prayer of my Chinese brothers and sisters, and God, I praise you for their faithful response.  May your will be done.  Amen.

On Italian pleasure and in defense of American comfort and pajamas

Americans. You work too hard, you get burned out.  You come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the T.V…you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says: ‘It’s Miller Time!’  And you say, That’s right, now I’m going to buy a six pack and then drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible.  But an Italian doesn’t need to be told…–Luca Spaghetti, Eat Pray Love

For the past two weeks, my husband and I have reached Friday night, and all we’ve wanted to do was hunker down with a good bowl of soup, shut out the world, and lay around the apartment in our pajamas.

A night in and a table set with homemade soup, good olive oil, bread, and wine.

There’s been something oddly satisfying about that feeling of falling asleep around 7:30 pm on a Friday night, because you know it’s the 5:30 am starts, the hard work of speaking another language all day, teaching, learning, reading, writing, traversing the city, and generally accomplishing life in a foreign country that’s using every last bit of energy in you.

And so the challenge for me has been and continues to be to accept the rhythms of life in the here and now, as they come, in all their gracelessness, with all their American faults.  For while I heed Luca Spaghetti’s chide here–it’s probably partly the hubub of the week that’s left me stranded on the couch this weekend with a migraine–there’s also something to be said for the way many of us Americans fiercely and passionately love our work, and live out our vocations with an eagerness and vigor that may even put our Italian counterparts to shame.

The closest we ever got to Italian pleasure: on honeymoon in Andalucia, Spain, Summer 2008.

It’s good and right to draw lines around work and home, to find time for rest and relaxation, and to take both in moderation, but the whole idea that you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure, well, I have to respectfully disagree, Mr. Luca Spaghetti.

Stovetop Americano.
My favorite blanket.

A week of hard work and a weekend in pajamas, with a blanket and a warm cup of coffee, may not be an Italian’s lofty idea of pleasure, but there’s something to be said for comfort, and we Americans pretty much wrote the book on that.

A Weekend in Guilin (Part 2)

I’m behind with the recap from Saturday and Sunday of our wonderful weekend in Guilin, so here goes…

The gang out in front of Rosemary's for brunch.

On Saturday morning, we slept in a bit and hit up Rosemary’s Cafe for some Western-style breakfast.  It was a bit pricey, but everything, from the oatmeal to the sandwiches, was quite good.  We then took the local bus out to the Reed Flute Cave, which probably took about thirty minutes.  We used the package tickets we had purchased the day before at the Elephant Trunk Hill to get in.

Reed Flute Cave.

You can see the Disney-land like lights in the photo above, and get an idea of the experience.  We had fun clowning around, and it was a bit larger than we had expected, but nothing really spectacular.  We walked a bit around the area outside the cave, where you could probably do some light hiking to some even better views.

View from the Reed Cave of Guilin karsts.

But we had more places to go!  Because the Lonely Planet recommended Seven Stars Park, after scarfing some Guilin Rice Noodles for lunch, we decided to head out on foot from our hotel.

After one underwhelming cave experience, we decided not to go in either of the caves in the park, but checked out the pitiful waterfall and a couple of the other “attractions,” before stumbling on the path up to the moon pagoda, which proved to be a lovely, quiet, deserted scenic overlook, with a great view of Guilin.

Climbing our way up the steps.
Our little castle in the sky--the moon pagoda in Seven Stars Park, Guilin--where we played cards waiting for the sun to set.
The view of Guilin as the sun began to set.

We grabbed some dinner, and spent the evening at an outdoor bar and having some drinks back at our hotel.  The next morning, we got a Western breakfast, which was a pretty great deal the hotel, before hitting the last site on our group ticket package– Diecai, or Folded Brocade Hill.

I mentioned in a previous post that this is where The Lonely Planet really failed us, as in, we waited until the final morning to hit Diecai Hill, when it turned out to be the most beautiful views, and we spent more time than we needed to the day before at Seven Stars Park, because they ranked it as their top site.  Oh well, live and learn.  Check out my previous post for some of the great views from the top.

Ladies exercising by the banks of the Li River.

Don’t worry, Guilin, I’m sure we’ll be back soon!

All photos courtesy of Evan Schneider.