Monthly Archives: February 2012

My Happiness Project

“The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” these unalienable rights are clearly stated in our Declaration of Independence.  But what does it mean to pursue happiness?  And is it a lofty pursuit, after all?

If you can’t tell, I have been devouring Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

I’d already been a fan of the blog, and a friend highly recommended the book.  I’ve been flying through it, and I know why it appeals to me: it’s neatly laid out month by month, following Gretchen’s Happiness resolutions, and it’s a book just as much about knowing one’s self and self-growth than happiness.

But until recently I wasn’t sure why it was also bugging me.  And then I stumbled upon a chapter where Rubin recalls a conversation at a cocktail party where someone accuses her of self-indulgence when there’s so much suffering in the world.  The person’s implication is not only that we can’t be happy when so many people are suffering, but also that we shouldn’t.  Rather than happiness we should focus on loftier things.

And this is where I’d been a little skeptical of Rubin’s so-called Happiness Project myself.  I mean, isn’t there more to life than happiness?  

But then I was reminded of a particular ex-boyfriend whose save-the-world attitude, which had once inspired me to do many of the things I do today, soured into a guilt-tripping morose cloud and made me feel small at times.  I remember telling him about the passion I had for my work at Bread for the World, helping to create a constituency to fight hunger, only to see him snickering at my naivete that I was playing a small part in a greater good, and ultimately guilting me into thinking I’d sold out.

With some kids in Anacostia during the summer of 2002.

A few years earlier when I’d lived in Anacostia, a downtrodden DC neighborhood, doing community projects for a summer, I’d felt so moved by the needs I saw that I shared my contemplation toward dropping out of school and living there full-time with an older woman who lived across the street.

“Honey, any of us would kill for that opportunity,” she retorted.  “Don’t you dare drop out of college.  You dropping out of college ain’t gonna do none of us or the world no good.  You go back and finish and then you come do your good things.  We’ll be here.  Just come back someday and say hi.”

When I returned to college my sophomore year I was still shaken up by the reality of the poverty and distess I’d seen that summer.  A wise college chaplain suggested that my friend in Anacostia had it right and told me that the letters after my name when I graduated wouldn’t be some badge to carry around and lord over others, but would represent my indebtness to the world.

Perhaps such a statement would have incited a great amount of fear or stress in another student, but for me it was a great source of peace, and even happiness.  I felt humbled by the opportunity my parents had worked to provide me a college education, an opportunity that many others don’t have, and I was convinced to see it through, and certainly not to waste it.

I think what I have always feared when it comes to contemplating happiness is not necessarily the fear of indulgence, but self-indulgence that breeds complacency.  But even complacency is not a passive thing.  It doesn’t just happen.  Sure it creeps up on us, but it’s ultimately about finding ourselves in robust, free lives and then making choices to ignore the fact that others don’t live like us. You have to work pretty hard these days to insulate yourself from the needs of the world.

To her credit, Rubin talks throughout the book about how to be happy one must be in an atmosphere of growth.  And for me growth occurs through my relationships with God, others, and myself.  I’m not saying that for everyone self-knowledge and growth begin and end with God, but I think that any happiness project needs to stretch squarely, emphatically, and broadly beyond oneself.  I needed to learn from my neighbors in Anacostia to find my way, from my college chaplain, even from my college ex-boyfriend.

If there’s a myth in that Declaration of Independence it may not so much the pursuit of happiness, but the way we interpret independence to be the very American sense that we are all individuals, islands, fighting our own way in life.  It may seem lofty, or very American, to go it on your own, to pull yourself up by your own boot straps, but I think the loftier goal is to recognize just how much we need each other.

In the end, I do tend to think it’s a privilege, not a right to pursue happiness, because I know that what is possible for me today is very much a product of my situation in life, the hard work of my parents, and the belief of others in me.  So, I feel happiest when I feel interconnected with others around me, or when I’m working to understand and be better understood by my fellow human beings.  I feel happiest when through challenges, God grants me a deeper understanding of God’s love and wisdom and myself.  And I feel happiest when humility guides me to learn from others, as well as from myself.

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Tea at The Emirates Palace

I accidentally just misread the title of my last post, Weekend Confession, as Weekend Depression, and with all this heaviness in the air, I decided it was time for something light and happy!  And where better to look for that than in our recent travels to the Middle East?

I did a lot of blogging when we were in Cairo, but didn’t hardly do any from Abu Dhabi.  Perhaps part of my reticence to post was due to the staggering difference between the two, which I had trouble internalizing, let alone putting into words.

My friend, Ben, had posted this little table to Facebook.  Check out where Abu Dhabi and Cairo stand on the GDP per capita scale when it comes to the world’s largest cities: the contrast could hardly be more dramatic, and explains why we had less cultural shock going from Nanning to Cairo, than from Cairo to Abu Dhabi.

But I digress.  I promised this would be a light post.  So where was I, oh yes, tea…and a palace!

A view of the corniche in Abu Dhabi.

We were walking along the lovely corniche (just the arabic word for shore or beach, but it sounds so much more exotic and intriguing, doesn’t it?) our first afternoon in Abu Dhabi, and I was flipping through the little guide book our friends had given us.  It said that if you wanted a taste of luxury to make your way over to the Emirates Palace and treat yourself like royalty and order tea.

When in Rome…er, I mean Abu Dhabi!

A view of Emirates Palace, positively glistening in the sun!

So we made our way to the stunning, grand hotel, one of the most opulent places I had ever seen, with classy cars stashed at the entrance, manicured lawn and fountains, and marble inside as far as the eye could see!

The ceiling in Emirates Palace.

We found our way to the cafe and checked out the elaborate tea menu, but decided to skip some of the more pricey spreads and go for the real thing: a cinnamon and vanilla latte for me, and earl grey for the husband.  Apparently my modest coffee actually had 24 karat gold flakes sprinkled on top!

Me and my fancy coffee.

I can’t say that the gold flakes tasted like anything, but to the right you’ll see the complimentary macaroon, date, and truffle–those were all to die for!  I’ve never tasted such a succulent, plump date,  and the other munchies were decadent.

Tea for two…and two for tea!

So despite the culture shock, let’s just say the two of us blended in pretty well with the high society at high tea.  It really was a luxurious little afternoon.  We peaked around the palace before we left and watched the tourists frolicking in the fountain.

When we returned to our friends’ apartment they admitted that they’ve never been to tea at the Emirates Palace. It’s always fun when you go somewhere new and do something novel, even to your hosts!  And it’s certainly fun, even when you don’t live in one of those cities up near the top of the chart, to pretend for the day!

Photos by Evan Schneider

Weekend confession

Dear Reader,

You probably already know this, but I confess that I’m not nearly as put together as my blog would often make it seem.  

For example, you know those pieces of advice that I gave about writing fieldnotes everyday, or embracing the lack of rhythm in the process, or refusing to feel guilty about living your life?  I find it just as difficult to heed those as you do!

I had an amazing week of fieldwork, a jam-packed week of living and breathing with people here, and what did I do? I got myself thinking and wishing I was doing more, doubting the work I’ve done, and becoming frustrated with the inconsistency of it all and my inability to plan.

And you know the connection I feel with God in centering prayer and the conviction I feel toward seeking God’s vision for my life?  Well, I often let prayer fall by the wayside, and then I naively wonder why God feels so far away.  I worry about the future, about my own happiness, and I miss friends and family back home.

In reality, it’s not only fieldwork, but life that is not so clear-cut.  Over the last week two of my Chinese friends have shared with me shameful family secrets that are tearing at their hearts, I continue to see the brokenness that is a fact of life in foster care here in China, and witness the struggle of these disabled kids to feel the love and grace that only God can give.

So I just wanted to, nay, I had to confess these heavy things to you readers this weekend.  I have to confess that sometimes I doubt what I’m doing or what God’s doing here.

But I’m not going to give up just yet.  

In this season of Lent, I’m going to look at confession, look at all our brokenness, and give God praise, recognizing that all that pain, fear, and self-doubt, that’s just me, that’s just us being human, and if we can hang in there, it’s also part of welcoming God, of growing toward God, and letting our great God to be God in our lives.

And I want that.

I’m absolutely sure that whoever I am on the days I’m at my best or not at my best, I’m always in some way or another reaching out, flailing for, sometimes, God-willing, reflecting that God to whom I owe every ounce of goodness and growth in this life.

So thanks for reading about my shortcomings, for beholding them this weekend, and putting up with a little bit of a downer of a post.  I hope you’ll accept me and maybe even keep reading my blog.  More than anything, I hope you’ll continue to seek truth and goodness even when you’re not feeling up to it.  The world needs more of that kind of resolve, and thanks for being a companion on the journey.

Sincerely, Erin

P.s.  Here’s some inspiration that’s circling the web this week, a quote I’ve always loved from a wise, wise guy:

P.p.s.  Here are some other bloggers who’ve been inspiring me lately with their vulnerability, authenticity, and confessions:

 

Thanking God for the woes

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. –Luke 6:24-26

I’m not usually such of fan of negative passages in the Bible, you know like the whole ‘Loving God, please heap burning coals upon my enemies’ heads’ lines that often fall at the end of the Psalms.  Something just doesn’t seem quite right with those…

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

So I guess that’s why I tend to gravitate toward the version of the Beattitudes in Matthew 5, you know the one that wraps up with blessings, joy in heaven, and then moves onto that cheery salt and light bit.

And perhaps that’s why these few verses at the end of Luke’s version struck me so profoundly with their recognition that it’s not only poverty of spirit that’s too be cherished, but gluttony, wickedness, and pride that are to be avoided.

Yesterday, as we made our way to a foster family’s home on the outskirts of the city and down a dusty road, a Chinese friend of mine turned to me and said, “You know people think that because China is developing so rapidly that things are fine here, but we still have a lot of problems.”

This morning I read an article about the education that few can afford in China, and the widening gap between the rich and poor.  And yesterday I saw it with my own eyes, far removed from the gleaming skyscrapers in the city, among these lovely old ladies who live in shacks and take care of severely disabled, needy kids for next to nothing.

But we can all relate to that story of the haves and the have-nots, can’t we?

It’s the same story in America just on a different frequency, and it must have been the same story back in Biblical times or Jesus would have been able to stop with that list of blessings.

But he didn’t.  

He went onto to preach that he wasn’t just talking about the plight of the poor or charity, where the rich could chip in a few cents for the poor and go on their merry way, but life-changing justice–the kind where we’d all have to give up something so that others don’t have to go without the necessities, where we’d have to stop rejoicing in the struggles of others, or attributing our success, wealth, and status to our own good graces.

I’m grateful during this Lenten season that Jesus didn’t stop with the blessings, but heaped on the woes.

Because its causing me to ask myself the hard questions like, What is Jesus calling me to give up this season so that others don’t go without?  And what burdens is Jesus calling me to shoulder so that others don’t stumble and fall?  

These are the questions that Lent begs of us, and the questions that renew our search for God’s wisdom and for Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

They are the questions that I ask even now when I’m afraid to do so, so that in some humble way someday I might not be facing these woes or trashing Jesus’s good name with them, but that I might be a blessing to others.

The Great Subconscious

Yesterday’s post had to do with dragging oneself to write those pesky fieldnotes during anthropological fieldwork, because no matter how insignificant they seem, they often contain pearls of  wisdom.

And speaking of pearls of wisdom and fieldnotes, if there’s one thing I believe in (without having a clue how it works), it’s the power of the subconscious.  

I know I’m starting to sound a little crazy, but hang with me here.

For instance, I find that despite the feverish writing I do after an exciting fieldwork encounter, and the myriad of details I cram into that thick description, there’s always a bunch of a-ha moments that pop up on the horizon a few days later.

I’ll be in the shower the next morning, and I’ll think I’ve figured out some great cultural misunderstanding, I’ll be chattering away to my husband about some meaningless detail, or lying in my bed at night, and suddenly I’ve got to grab my notebook for fear that my million-dollar thoughts desert me!

And that’s how our subconscious works.  It seems that if we just give things time, our brain starts to mull through things on its own in a way that’s not only far more effortless, but usually a lot more insightful than the muscling-it-through alternatives.

Getting the subconscious engaged is why psychologists and physicians recommend musing on problems you want to solve as you fall asleep, and it’s also why when I find myself stymied with writer’s block before a big due date, often the counterintuitive, yet sure bet is to set aside whatever I’m tearing my hair out over and let things ruminate, germinate, and come together in that all too mysterious, subconscious.

It’s a totally disarming thing, perhaps particularly for we folks in academia, to consider that our minds already have the answers, and that we merely need to let go to tap into them.  It sounds a bit like the TED talk I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert give on creative genius, and the ancient belief that creativity was mostly a gift of the gods, that geniuses were not people, but kind of like spirits that blessed us with not only our good, but also our mediocre ideas.

And it’s kind of like faith, too, if you really think about it.  Or at least the part of faith with which I struggle the most–the need to rely not on my own abilities, my own ideas, my own timing, but to trust that there is something greater out there than me, and that what is good and true in this life is connecting with others and with God enough to trust my greatest work, my grandest hopes and dreams to someone other than myself.

I imagine that in our subconscious a lot of those fears and anxieties fall by the wayside, and so we enter into an open-minded (pun intended), childlike state, where we wrestle with things for what they are, and where we know no better than to trust both ourselves and others.  Scientists say when we are children, even before we can speak, our mind is soaking up the world around us in inexplicable, but important ways.

So I’m hoping to do a little more trusting in the universe, in God, and my subconscious the next time I run up against writer’s block, self-doubt, or hard-to-write fieldnotes.

But that’s my conscious mind rambling again.

I wonder what my subconscious will have to say about all this…

The Discipline of Fieldwork: some of the finer points

These creative little memes are currently circling the interweb, and I finally stumbled on the one for anthropologist…

…which got me to thinking about some of the idiosyncrasies of this work, specifically, some of the things I wish I knew before I went to the field that I know now.  I hope, as I always do with this blog, that this post will attract some conversation from anthropologists who have been to the field, are there, and are going so we can continue to share with one another what we’re learning.

And for those of you who tend to think of anthropology primarily as Indiana Jones, international intrigue, or fossils, evolution, and dusty deserts, I hope you won’t stop reading…or at the very least scroll down for some fun photos of my last couple years as a Ph.D. student!

But for now, on the discipline of fieldwork, and some of the finer points:

1.  Take notes everyday–no matter what.

I mentioned in a previous post about the anxieties and insecurities of fieldwork about the ways self-doubt can derail really meaningful tacit learning.  Well, something I wish I had done ever since I arrived was to put a pen to paper everyday—as a discipline–no matter what.

The point is that when you’re in the thick of things it’s pretty hard to tell what’s significant from what’s not, and it will be hard to bring yourself to write about the monotonous times just as feverishly you write about the lightbulb moments.

But it’s worth doing, because it’s the only way to see your own biases on the page and look beyond them to a new understanding of the culture in which you live.  I said to my husband last night that it’s such an out-of-body feeling to have lived here in Southwest China for nearly a year and a half and feel so close to Chinese friends and families, and yet so far away.  We still come from such completely different cultures, completely different worlds, and even that sense of ‘otherness’ is essential material for fieldnotes, powerful and palpable, and important to capturing the everyday on the page.

So, buy yourself the prettiest notebook and the best pens imaginable, invest in an awesome computer program, an ipad, whatever, and set aside at least fifteen minutes everyday with your favorite coffee or tea, and your jams, to journal anything and everything.

And then watch and wait and have faith that your discipline WILL pay off.

2.  Reflect (often) on the tension in being a participant AND an observer AND the damn instrument of your own research.

This is something that I never really considered in depth before coming to the field:

How does one know when to play the part of observer and when to err on the side of participation?  And to wax poetic, how can one really ever do both faithfully?  

The point is there will be times in your fieldwork where you are more observatory than participatory and vice versa, and only by reflecting on your role, you as the instrument, can you discern which side of the role to err on.  This has been particularly tricky and insightful for me here in China where no one ever gives you a flat-out, direct no, nor do people often give you and emphatic yes, and so we Americans are especially navigating in the dark through the curious conditions of guanxi that make everything here possible.

Journal about these points faithfully, write about what you’re doing in the field (not just what your informants are doing), and talk with friends and professors who you trust as sounding boards for your next step, and toward forming a really conscious plan for attacking the fieldwork.

3.  Set up a weekly email check-in and a monthly call with your advisor.

It’s one of the blessings and the curses of twenty-first century fieldwork that we anthropologists are now rarely out of the reach of technology, one another, and the world when we’re doing our fieldwork. So take advantage of technology and commit to checking in weekly with your advisor and connecting with he or she on a monthly phone call.

There have been many times where I felt completely lost in my fieldwork, and also felt as if I had nothing insightful to say to my advisor.  But without fail, talking to her on the phone made me realize how deeply my head was buried in the sand and how productive (duh) conversation can be with someone who has been there, is wicked smart, knows the discipline, and is rooting for me.  

Fieldwork is an emotional, solitary experience no matter what, so cut yourself some slack and keep in touch with those people who are investing in you.  Trust me, they want to talk to you, and you won’t ever regret talking with them, no matter how humble and messy you’re feeling about what you’re accomplishing or not accomplishing a world away.

4.  Embrace the lack of rhythm.

So if it isn’t apparent to you, I’m one of those Type A personalities, one of those planners who likes things to be on schedule, likes to check things off lists, and likes routine.  A professor of mine looked at me before I left for the field, and told me fieldwork would be very difficult for me for this very reason, because it’s not a regular routine.  There are some weeks where I feel as if I’m doing nothing, and then there are other weeks where I’m so busy and stretched for time I get backed up almost months in writing fieldnotes.

The other thing that I never considered before going to the field was the fact that IRB applications, grant applications, and departmental requirements wouldn’t be put on hold in my absence.  I conceived of fieldwork as this authentic, out-of-academia experience, and it’s not.  Advisors and colleagues will send you journal articles and books to read while you’re doing your fieldwork, you’ll need to meet with professors in your field in the field, you’ll be required to meet deadlines for grants, IRB, and department requirements, and if you’re like me, you’ll lament and feel like you’re having to put aside your face time with people in the field for the monotony of applications with due dates in some alternate universe.

But try not to think of it that way.

Because gradually you’ll see how helpful it is to have to do that conceptual work on your project while you are in the field, how interacting with a few books or journal articles can draw your attention to what you’re seeing around you in a whole new way, and how, well, it’s kind of impossible to complete your project without doing the leg work for visas, IRB clearance, and departmental requirements.  

So, embrace the experience of living in these incongruous worlds and recognize that it’s going to make you a better scholar, even if it does drive you nuts at time.  Set self-imposed due dates and reading and writing projects for the lulls in the action, give yourself grace and embrace the breaks that you have, because you know the storm will come.  And resolve to be a good correspondent and do your best on meeting those deadlines- you won’t regret it later, and you probably won’t miss out on what fieldwork is offering you either.

5.  Don’t feel guilty about living your life.

The thing is, life will also go on in the midst of fieldwork, and that’s also out of your control.  You’ll learn to love your informants despite your fears of going native, things will go on at home and around the world with your friends that you have to choose whether or not to be a part of, and you’ll still be an American no matter how fiercely you’re living as part of any other culture (and here I’m speaking from my own ethnocentrism, so you can plug in wherever you come from and wherever you are!).

But don’t be afraid to love people and be who you are wherever you are.  That’s part of being an authentic instrument, you know, being an authentic human being.  I mentioned in another post that it’s good and okay to take frequent breaks, even get out of the field to think about your project if you can.

And finally, it may be the most obvious thing in the world to state, but you’re still going to be required to be a husband, a wife, a child, a brother, a sister, a mother, or a father regardless of where you’re living, who’s with you, etc.  So do that first and foremost and do it well.  Years later you will never be able to remember your fieldwork fondly if you sacrificed your life relationships to it.  Believe it or not, that’s not the point!

But that’s just my two cents.

So what does an anthropologist really do, you ask?

Well, it’s a little Indiana Jones…

A little bit of danger…

A lot of conversation…

And a little caring.

Photo by Leslie Santee.

What do you think?

The (Coffee) Club

My friend Beth was sweet enough to buy a French press for our visit to Abu Dhabi.  She knows not only how much I love coffee, but how much other guests do as well, and told me she’d though it would be a worthy investment.

But as I brewed a press full of the stuff one morning she wrinkled up her nose, and said something like, “I still just don’t get it, I don’t get what people love so much about coffee.  I can’t stand the smell or the taste of the stuff.”

I told her I’d been thinking about this a bit lately, about the allure, the obsession with coffee that some of us share and others of us decidedly do not.  And I told her that the closest thing it brings to mind is membership in some sort of club.

Because as much as it’s about the taste, the smell, gulps of really, really good coffee, it’s also not.  It’s also just as much about the rhthym of the morning, the ritual of brewing a really good cup, the laughter with friends, the hours spent in coffee shops, the belief that a perfect cup of coffee is the necessary compliment to a good conversation, a productive session of writing or reading.

Yes, I know caffeine is a drug, people.

But being part of the club isn’t about using, but about sharing.  It’s about sensuality, peace, joy, home.

Who makes a cup of coffee for someone they don’t like?  Who goes to a coffee shop to really be alone?

We go for the collective energy, the buzz of being with others and yet the comfort, the conviction of finding our own slice of solace.

At Cong Caphe, Hanoi, Vietnam.

I just don’t have any bad memories with coffee in them.  And that’s not to say I haven’t had some really bad cups of coffee–that lovely brunch in Fujairah was actually one of them.  But you don’t hold those cups against coffee, because being part of the club comes with so many benefits.

Lifetime conversation, companionship, (yes, caffeination), clarity, and collective energy.

That’s the good stuff.

Are you a member?  So how do you explain it?

Some of my favorite places in this world

I know I recently mentioned the “problem” on my Current Loves page of running into a shortage of pages in our passports.  Turns out you can get an extra 48 pages in Abu Dhabi in one hour, so that’s just what we did.  It was weird, trying to guestimate how many more pages we need, given that we’ve both flown through the alotted 24 in the first three years, with nine more to go until these passports expire.

Photo by Evan Schneider.

And getting that extra fat passport into my hands this past week got me to thinking that although I don’t count among the most-traveled of my friends, I’ve been fortunate to make it to some beautiful, thrilling places in my years.  Thought I’d share a few of my favorites, and I’d love to know:

What are some of your favorite places in this world?

1.  Cape Cod, Massachusetts

My Grandma, sisters, and I on the Cape.

I’ve mentioned how special this old sandy stretch is to me and my family in another post, but it’s certainly worth mentioning again.  My grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles all used to rent little cottages and camp out here for a couple weeks every summer, and we kids would make sandcastles, catch sandcrabs, only come off the beach for a sandwich on a paper plate, and practically sleep in our swimsuits.  Part of what makes the memories so nostalgic for me is that they’re the memories of my mom and her cousins as well, who came there every summer.  I haven’t been back in quite sometime, but you better believe I’d jump at the chance.

2.  Halong Bay, Vietnam

Summer 2011, on our cruise of Halong Bay.

It clocked in as #15 on the New York Time’s 45 Places to Go in 2012, but by then we’d already been!  My friends and I made it out to Halong Bay this past summer, and it certainly lived up to its heavenly reputation.  We loved floating between the karst peaks on our cruise, and my husband and I are planning a trip back with some other friends for our anniversary this May.

Another look. Photo by Ben Robinson.

3.  Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Another favorite family vacation spot, about an hour from the brightly colored homes and breezy porches of Charleston, South Carolina, this island is full of history, gorgeous beaches, and great food.  We spent beach week out here after graduating from college, my parents rented many a house here, and it’s where I first fell in love with shrimp and grits.  The southern pace of life promises the ultimate relaxation–perfect walks on the beaches, mysterious lagoons, and great little bars and restaurants on the water.

4.  Canillas de Albaida, Spain

On our honeymoon in Canillas de Albaida, Spain, 2008.

Then again, it was my honeymoon, but this quaint town in the mountains where we rented a little villa for two weeks in the summer of 2008 was the perfect spot from which to launch day trips into the historic cities of Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada, Andalucia.  I’ve never been to the north of Spain, but don’t pass the south up if you have the chance.  The wine, the olives, and the coffee left me wanting more, and the breathtaking views from the mountains of white-washed villages, terracotta patios, mosques and cathedrals weren’t bad either!

5.  Lijiang, Yunnan, China

A temple outside Lijiang, Yunnan.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me rave about how magical Yunnan is, particularly Lijiang.  So far it’s my favorite place I’ve visited in China, especially the little town of Shuhe, Lashihai Lake, and the Snow Jade mountain.  Yunnan was the first place where I saw the beauty of the Chinese countryside, and the food, the people, and the landscape have left a lasting impression on me.

Another view.

Perfect Valentine’s Day Menu

1.  Sleep Way in…perhaps due to your jet lag, or just plain indulgence.

2.  Whisper “Happy Valentine’s Day: to your favorite someone in the early afternoon, get up, enjoy several cups of coffee, a little transcribing of fieldnotes on your own, and when he wakes up…

3.  Beg him to make the perfect mid-afternoon lunch: bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, of course!

4.  Craft Valentine’s Day dinner menu together snuggled on the couch.

5.  Go your separate ways, me to the grocery store for none other than bars of dark chocolate, butter, sugar, and wine (really, is there any better shopping list ever penned?!), and he to the market for chicken, lemons, peas, mushrooms, and bok choy.

6.  Turn on some music and whip up your favorite dark chocolate cake.

7.  Be surprised by roses in the living room when he arrives a bit later!

8.  Sneak in some more work, while he sets the homemade mushroom-leek broth on the stove to stew and marinates the chicken.

9.  Open the bottle of wine, throw on the risotto, stir frequently, and wait.

10.  Savor lemon-herbed chicken, mushroom-pea-parmesan risotto, and bok choy, with white wine for dinner.

11.  And dark chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream icing for dessert.

12.  Valentine’s Day never looked better!