11.30.2016

The Heat Is On 暖气

Some like it hot, and some sweat when the heat is on
Some feel the heat and decide that they can't go on
Some like it hot, but you can't tell how hot till you try
Some like it hot, so let's turn up the heat till we fry
-Robert Palmer



Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? Let’s go back to the last few weeks of October when nighttime temperatures dropped to freezing and our living room seemed to be equally cold. As the ginkgo leaves were transitioning from green to golden yellow and slowly descending to the ground mixing with the red, orange, and brown leaves of other ill-fated trees, we layered on the thermals, sweats, socks and sought warmth under blankets while sipping hot water looking forward to November 15-- the hallelujah day of joy-- the day China turns on the heat.

Way back when in the1950s, China drew an invisible and somewhat arbitrary boundary stretching east to west. This line is called the Qin-huai line, drawn roughly along the Huai River and Qinling mountains at 33 degrees north latitude [1]. This line is the great determinant, the Great Divide, between those who sleep with a single blanket and those who snooze under an electrically heated one.

Throughout populated areas north of the Great Divide, pipes snake in and out of people’s homes. During warmer seasons, these radiator pipes collect dust and provide not-so-attractive wall adornment. During the cold months, from November to March, these dusty pipes fill with steam turning otherwise austere homes into sanctuaries of warmth. China’s central government thus exercises control over yet another aspect of daily life: the indoor temperature.



Unfortunately, winter pays no heed to man-made lines. Residents just south of the Great Divide, particularly those living in mountainous areas, gear up with long underwear, sweaters, down coats and socks-- the same amount of clothes worn inside or outside. In more isolated areas, people huddle near a pile of hot coals or fireplaces, while well-to-do city dwellers crank up electrical room heaters taxing the stressed out electrical grid.

Fast forward to now. Here we are at the verge of December paying no heed to the winter’s whim--wind, rain, snow, come what may--wearing T-shirts or single layers. Unless, of course, we have to leave our warm winter haven. In which case, we do layer on the long underwear, sweaters, down coats and socks.

Chinese word of the blog: 暖气 Nuǎnqì
English translation: central heating

[1] http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/chinas-unlikely-divide-over-home-heat

Ginkgo trees are my favorite! Sadly, these trees no longer have their leaves.

Early November and I can't wait for the heat to turn on!
Do the radiator pipes blend in with the furniture?

Radiator pipes are good decoration! Just don't forget to dust them.
This picture has nothing to do with central heating. On September 30, we celebrated 15 years of marriage. So I made a chocolate cake.

10.03.2016

You're The One For Me, Fatty 你变胖了!

You're the One for me, fatty
You're the One I really, really love
And I will stay
Promise you'll say
If I'm in your way
- Morrissey



To the average American female reared in the midst of Seventeen magazine and celebrity waifs plastered on every form of media imaginable, weight and body shape can be deeply personal and sensitive. So what does western woman say if a friend has gotten a little rounder? Absolutely nothing. That’s the polite thing to do.

Not so in China. Noticing, after all, is caring. One time, I was out a with friend of mine. This friend is in her mid-fifties and adheres to an old-school way of Chinese thinking (for example, sitting in air-conditioning is like asking for imminent death). I only understand about 50% of what she says through her oily Hunan accent. But I 100% understood her say, “You’ve gotten fat!” to her neighbor whom we chanced upon.

The neighbor did not flinch. She in fact agreed. Yes, she had gotten fat. The pharmacy nearby happened to have a scale set right outside its open doors. What a perfect opportunity for the two old friends to compare weights. Never mind that one was about a foot taller than the other. I was glad they did not insist on weighing me. (Which by the way happened once. A shoe seller wanted to compare our weights so broke out the scale. Never mind that I was about a foot taller than her.)

Over the previous four years spent in China, “You’ve gotten fat!” has rarely been directed at me--until now. Well, I am pregnant. Of course, I am gaining weight.

I spent about a month during the summer in California. Over the course of the month, I went from 3 months to 4 months pregnant. When I came back to China, my thicker middle did not go unnoticed by the fruit and veggie lady, the nail lady, or the handful of friends who didn’t hear the news through the grapevine. So what did they say? “You’ve gotten fat!” After all, noticing is caring.

Well, fortunate for me, I had a good reason, so their comments didn’t sting so bad. I admit, I did eat my fair share of In n’ Out cheeseburgers and Chipotle burritos, but my expanded waste line was not necessarily due to overindulgence. I mean, seriously! I am growing a human.The first few times I heard “You’ve gotten fat!”, I would simply smile and say I was pregnant and then wait for the excited reaction followed by the inevitable unsolicited advice.

Then I got annoyed at that detestable sentence: “You’ve gotten fat.” Soon I found myself just nodding my head in agreement and letting it be. Eventually, they’ll figure out why I have become such a fatty. Now more than halfway through my pregnancy, I am beginning to look more pregnant than just plain fat. Even so, I still hear that detestable sentence, “You’ve gotten fat!” along with “You’re so big! You must be having twins,” or “Wow! You’re so big for six months. You should eat healthier food.”

Westerners tell other pregnant women, “What a cute baby bump!”, “You look great pregnant!” or “How wonderful the baby is growing.” That’s what people should say to pregnant women. Pregnancy means getting bigger, and that is a good thing. A human is growing en utero. A growing baby is a healthy baby. Telling a pregnant person she is getting fat or that she is so big she must be carrying twins makes no sense. And its hurtful.

Seems like every day someone tells me that I am big/fat or asks if I am having twins. I began to wonder if perhaps telling a pregnant woman she’s big is actually a compliment. I asked my world-cultured Chinese friend if I should feel complimented. Nope. Noticing is caring.

So I have to turn off my American sensitivities and take the comments in stride like the rest of my Chinese friends. I have to assume that my Chinese friends grew up hearing their family and friends throwing around “You’ve gotten fat” like talking about the weather. To them, such topics are no big deal.

So for now, just call me what I am-- a fatty (aka pregnant).

Chinese Word of the Blog: 胖 pàng
English Translation: fat or plump
Example sentence: 你变胖了!Nǐ biàn pàngle!
English translation: You’ve gotten fat!

18 weeks and gettin' pudgy
19 weeks. Can someone please get me some potato chips?
21 weeks and feeling a little hungry
22 weeks and about to enjoy a house-made sausage at Arrow Factory brewery.
24 weeks. Does this dress make me look fat?
22 week ultrasound. Our little dumpling is getting fat.

9.30.2016

We Weren’t Born to Follow 肢体不一样

We weren't born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
-Bon Jovi

Being pregnant in China has perks, such as other people giving up their precious seats on a crowded subway so I can rest my weary feet. I also have a new answer for ever annoying and ever nosy questions--“How many children do you have? Why don’t you have children?”--- thus avoiding the imminent unsolicited advice on how to get pregnant or mild chastising for not having any kids. 

On the other hand, I now just get scolded for a host of other stuff. I am apparently doing everything wrong as pregnant lady.

Here’s a list of DOs and DON’Ts when pregnant (according to what I have been personally told):
  1. Don’t let your feet get cold. That means don’t wear flip flops even if its 90F outside.
  2. Don’t consume cold things like ice water, watermelon or ice cream. I guess the baby might get brain freeze. 
  3. Do drink warm water. Obviously, the baby must be kept warm.
  4. Don’t eat hot pot. Who knows what goes in that hot pot broth?
  5. Don’t chew gum because of the preservatives.
  6. Don’t wear earrings or necklaces. Rings are okay.
  7. Don’t wear make up. Don’t do your nails. (On that note, I think Chinese makeup should be avoided by pregnant and non-pregnant women alike.)
  8. Don’t wear tight clothes. Do wear humongous underwear that covers the belly.
  9. Don’t wear a belt, including a running belt for carrying a phone and money. The baby will get tired.
  10. Don't get in a crowded elevator. It’s too tight for the baby. I assume this would also rule out riding the subway, the bus, or being in any public place during rush hour.
  11. Don’t stand in front of a fan or air conditioner. You’ll catch a cold and obviously that is bad for the baby.
  12. Don’t exercise. No running, jumping, or putting your feet above your head (that rules out split dog). Walking is okay.
  13. Do rest--a lot. The baby needs to rest, so you do too.
  14. Do wear a special radiation-defensive belly apron to guard against cellphones, computers, and microwaves.
  15. Do eat a lot of seaweed and walnuts.

As I get further along in my pregnancy, I expect this list to get longer. How do I respond to this advice? After all, I have blatantly violated all of these DON’Ts in the presence of others. Poor westerner doesn’t know any better. 

Usually, I merely smile and nod. Yeah, sure. I will stop drinking ice water (in front of you). Sometimes I say, “I am a westerner. We don’t believe that,” or “Don’t worry, I wear special make-up that is OK for pregnant women.” My remarks and nonchalant attitude usually evokes the reasoning that western bodies must be different from Chinese bodies.

Well, I guess if that reasoning gets them to stop asking questions and giving more advice, then ok...western bodies are different from Chinese ones.

For now, I am going to drink ice water and hope the baby doesn’t get brain freeze. 

Chinese Word of the blog: 肢体不一样 Zhītǐ bù yīyàng
English Translation: different body

Be stylish and protect your baby from cellphones
Caught on a double offense! Earrings and a cold soda.

8.31.2016

California Dreamer 假期

You dream of seasons that never die
You go to oceans that never touch the ice
Surrender this city to sender
Creatures getting younger and younger
-Wolf Parade



At the end of June, I had it with the weather. The weather had fully transitioned from just plain hot into hot, humid and intolerably sticky. Typical Beijing summer air is permeated with a stagnant steam vapor that melts make-up, frizzes any styled do, leaves clothes damp, uncomfortable, and if not careful, quite stinky.

So every morning I looked at the weather forecast, dismayed that I was in for another hot, sticky one and chose my clothes accordingly. What could I wear in which my abundant sweat wouldn’t be too obvious or too uncomfortable? I wished I could walk around in running clothes without feeling too self-conscious. Blame my upbringing in the vicinity of Roseville, California, where people look like they have just walked out of an Anthropologie catalog.

Granted, Beijing can’t compete with Shenzhen or Hong Kong humidity. We traveled to south China last summer and I thought I would suffocate from the sultry weather. This year, I am blaming my intolerance to sweat and stifling heat on pregnancy.

As I was saying, this June I really had had it with the weather. I really, really, really looked forward to our summer sojourn in dry and sunny California. While California clocks a higher daytime temperature than Beijing, nighttime temperatures often descend into the low 60s. That means in the morning you wake up feeling refreshed and not like taking a shower because you sweated all night during a fitful sleep.

In addition to enjoying California blue skies and of course gorging on avocados, we also looked forward to telling our families about our little dumpling in steamer. Needless to say, our families were super excited. My mother-in-law immediately went to work sewing baby blankets and ordering the softest newborn baby clothes online.

Moomoo hard at work

Our month in California went by in a flash. We had a lot of down time, but managed to pack in the traditional family Lake Tahoe trip, a haircut, 3-day regional convention (in English), a dentist visit, and just plain ole’ fun catch up time with family and friends. We were also overwhelmed with everyone's generosity. We got plenty of used (but not used up) maternity clothes for me, and little clothes for the dumpling, as well as supplies to ease us into parenthood.

Noticeably absent were my younger sister and her husband. They were in Texas attending the 54th class of SKE. Upon graduation a couple weeks ago, they were assigned to a sign-language group in Georgia. Georgia’s gain is California’s loss. Maybe we will have to start making trips out to Georgia as part of our return to the States.

The kids did what they do best: they got older. My nephews Caden started fourth grade and Zephram started kindergarten. Milan has sprouted into a lanky nearly 7-year old adept at using voice commands on her dad’s iPhone to search scary dragons that breathe fire. Capri was all smiles finding confidence in her ambulatory skills. Sabella is a road trip champion, traveling all the way from Idaho to her California family. Seeing our many little friends growing strong, happy, and secure make us so happy. We aren’t around, but life goes on.

Epic bike ride suitable for kids and pregnant ladies
Two dumplings in the steamer! Plus Elliot's bagel belly.
Usually by the end of our California vacation, with our luggage loaded with chocolate chips, coffee, and hair gel, I am ready to jump back into my China routine. This time was different. Leaving was emotionally hard. I knew that this baby will grow and grow and be born far, far away from where I was born and grew up. Far away from both of our families and away from the loving arms of our parents and friends. And that makes me sad, even now as I sit in my white-walled apartment on this unusually blue-skied day.

A few nights before we were to board our plane, I found my older sister sifting through a box of her son’s baby clothes. Tiny jumpers and tiny booties. Hand sewn beanies and baby blue sweaters. Unsuccessfully stifling tears, she picked out some gender neutral pieces out and handed them to me to take back to China. She was so happy for us, but sad not to be able to hold our baby when it’s born.

But its fine, she said. We have Skype. We’ll see each other next summer. I was crying too, and I cried the whole next day and the next when we boarded our plane. And I am crying now.

It will be fine. We will be fine.

My baby will be so cool born in an exotic faraway place. He/she will understand both Chinese and English. He/she will be skilled with forks and chopsticks. He/she will not be spoiled with American consumerism and overabundance. He/she will grow up knowing two cultures, and an expansive worldview of which most American children haven’t got a clue. Instead of Disneyland, vacations will be in beach side in Indonesia or Thailand. My baby will be surrounded by uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters that come from all over the world. He/she will know contentment and love. That is, of course, if we can truly stick it out in China for the kid’s foreseeable future.

We are fine.

So we bid goodbye once again to sunny California, our suitcases busting at the seams with donated maternity clothes, second-hand baby clothes, Aveeno baby wash, hypo-allergenic diaper rash cream, bamboo cloth blankets, toys, and a nursing pillow (that took up a lot of space).

A year from now, we’ll have an infant in tow. He/she will meet grandmas and a grandpa, aunties and uncles, scores of cousins and even more friends. And she/he will know that we have two homes.

We will also be infinitely happy to escape our giant sauna we call summer in Beijing.

Bye California! See you in a year.

Chinese Word of the blog: 假期 jiàqī
English translation: vacation

Want to see more pictures from our 2016 California summer trip? Click HERE

Baby ready
Soaking up the sun in Lake Tahoe

7.09.2016

Pregnant 有喜

Pregnant with doubt
You figured out
Tricks of the trade to make a whisper a shout
- Cold War Kids



It was a Sunday. As usual, we had checked Great Leap Brewery’s Wechat account for its weekly beer special. That night the Chesty Puller was on special, meaning the normal price of 40 RMB is slashed to 25 RMB. Once again, the Chesty Puller pulled us in to one of our favorite Beijing haunts. Not only is GLB’s beer a welcome, hoppy, happy respite from Tsingdao’s lightly flavored beer water, but GLB’s double cheeseburger dripping with gooey cheese layered with dill pickles counteracts a week’s worth of noodle overload.

Earlier that afternoon, I told birdMAN I probably should take a pregnancy test before libations. Why? Well let’s just say the Big Aunt hadn’t come for a long time (Big Aunt 大姨妈 is slang for a lady’s monthly ya’ know). So we headed to a nearby pharmacy and forked over a whopping 15 RMB (~2 USD) for a home pregnancy kit. I was pretty sure I was imagining things and I would indeed drink a couple Chesty Pullers that night, but the pee testified positive-- there were two visible lines indicating, well, I was pretty sure anyway, the presence of the pregnancy hormone HCG.



2 lines = Pregnant
Can someone read this to me?

I called to birdMAN from the bathroom, “Well, I have some bad news!”

“It’s a no?” birdMAN has wanted to start a family for awhile but let’s just say nature hadn’t been super cooperative.

“I can’t have any beer tonight.”

“Really?” Yes, really, or at least I thought so. The test kit was entirely in Chinese so we spent a few minutes confirming that 阳性 meant positive. No Chesty Puller that night, but at least GLB makes a tasty cheeseburger.

That was about seven weeks ago. Since then, I have had three ultrasounds. The first was to confirm pregnancy and date it. I was only at six weeks. Normally, ultrasounds aren’t done this early, but I really had no idea how long I had been pregnant. The second was to confirm that the little stinker was sticking around. It was. The twelve week ultrasound showed everything normal and good to go. OK, now time to tell people.

Here are some answers to some questions you might want to ask:
  1. Was it planned? Sort of. We left matters to the whims of nature, and didn’t think about it much. A few years later, a positive preggo test leaves me on a strict no alcohol and sushi diet, and seriously reducing my coffee intake.
  2. How do you feel? No vomiting, but morning sickness is real! I was super tired from weeks 6 to 12, and couldn’t get anything done before noon. Around 10:30 or 11 am in the morning, I get struck with a gnawing hunger no matter how much I have consumed earlier. Morning sickness, however, now seems to be abating.
  3. When are you moving back to California? We aren’t. We found a great international hospital in Beijing with an international medical staff and plan to stick it out in China. Can you imagine? Our little 75% white baby will speak fluent Chinese!
  4. Are you having a boy or girl? I don’t know. It’s too early to know from an ultrasound. We, however, are going to stick with China’s policy of not finding out the gender until birth. It’s technically illegal for doctors to tell expectant parents their babies’ gender due to historical favoring boys over girls and the resulting prevalence of selective abortion.

So yes, it’s true. Great Leap lost one moderate beer drinker and China is about to a get a little more overpopulated.

Chinese word of the blog: 有喜 yǒuxǐ (literally, have joy)
English translation: pregnant or to be expecting
Chinese example sentence: 我有喜了!Wǒ yǒuxǐle!
English translation: I'm pregnant!

12 weeks. Am I showing?
 



6.08.2016

Policy of Truth 诚实

Hide what you have to hide
And tell what you have to tell
You'll see your problems multiplied
If you continually decide
To faithfully pursue
The policy of truth
-Depeche Mode




My landlord sent me a text about a month before our rental agreement was up. The text read something like this: "I have found new renters who want to rent for 6,500 RMB. You have lived there for three years, so I will only raise your rent to 6,000 RMB."

Yikes! That's an extra 1,000 RMB a month. An extra 12,000 RMB per year. That's a lot of beer and cheese.

We texted back and forth a few times. She made it abundantly clear she would not bargain and she already found renters willing to pay 6,500 RMB. So--being the gullible person I am-- I believed her. People--especially Chinese landlords-- are always honest. Right?

birdMAN and I spent the next three days evaluating our options. Current available rentals were scarce. Apartments were dumpy, expensive and filthy. Cleanliness, I should add, is not a requirement. In China, finding a clean rental is like finding genuine leather in Forever 21.

Just as we were about to accept the rent increase, the real estate agency called. Qingqing, our very excitable real estate agent, was frantic. There was an apartment in our same complex, the same size, and cheaper than 6000 RMB. Within five hours, we had seen the apartment, looked past its filth, saw potential, and paid the first month's rent as a deposit. In the current rental market, apartments get snatched up quick. We had to move fast.

Then the landlord texted me: How about 5,800?

Ok, now she was ready to negotiate? But it was too late. We had sealed the deal. We were moving. Goodbye twelfth floor view of the garden and Olympic Park towers. Hello third floor view of parking lot and gray cement buildings. Goodbye peach and baby blue wall paper (not terribly devastated about that). Hello cigarette smoke stained walls, ceilings, and doors.

Before we knew it, a parade of real estate agents and potential renters came knocking on our door, sometimes unannounced, calling me, texting me: can they come now and look at the apartment? Uh? Didn't the landlord clearly state that she had found renters willing to pay 6,500 RMB?

The landlord had not found renters at all. Furthermore, she posted the apartment rent for 6,000 RMB, not 6,500 RMB. Ohhh what tangled webs...

She straight up, blatantly, unapologetically lied. And I was miffed, not only because she lied, but because I didn't understand the point of the lie. Why didn't she just say that the rent is higher and leave it that? Didn't she know I would find out the truth eventually?

Here we had a collision of cultures. She interacted with me as though I were Chinese. She expected me to know that what she said is not what she meant, and that I should know what she meant. I expected her to be straightforward. You know, I expect her to say what she meant.

After we had packed up and moved out, we met with the landlord one last time to return the keys and get our deposit. I told her we really liked living there and we were sad to go. She said I should have called her. She said (as I understand it), "Chinese people are like that. We like to discuss things. If you called me, we could have talked about it. I really liked renting to the two of you."

So I should have called her instead of communicating through texts. Then maybe we would have negotiated an acceptable rent. Maybe we'd still have our awesome 12th story view and peach and baby blue wall paper.

Chinese word of the blog: 诚实 chéngshí
English translation:  honest

12th story view of clouds and Olympic Towers. Nice day!
12th story view of Super Moon
12th story view of pollution
12 story view of sunrise
12th story good times. Bye wallpaper.
Third story view of parking lot. At least there's a nice tree.

5.18.2016

Eat It 鸭肠

Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate
Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate
You won't get no dessert 'till you clean off your plate
So eat it
- Weird Al Yankovic



It’s good to have a couple of authentic Asian friends eager to take you out for “real” Asian food. Otherwise, you may just stick to eating pizza and cheeseburgers and miss opportunities to try real delicacies like, oh I don’t know...duck intestines or almost alive octopus.

My taste buds are very open-minded. As such, I have had an array of culinary experiences that left me feeling from hey-I’m-surprised-that-was-actually-tasty, to ehhhh-that-wasn’t-good-but-edible, to that-was-so-gross-this-taste-will-be-in-my-mouth-forever. The surprisingly good include cow stomach with a tasty sesame sauce (牛肚). The edible but not good include spongy and sweet meatballs of mysterious origins, fish-flavored tofu, smoked pork fat, fermented soybeans (known as natto in Japanese) topped with raw egg, and salty dried plums. The gross include a big, black scorpion, salty egg moon cake, and pig intestines (no matter how long it’s cooked or smothered with sauce, pig intestines still tastes like an outhouse).

Yum! Cow stomach

One Saturday, I found myself sitting across from my young friend, Yanyan. Between me and Yanyan’s effulgent smile was a giant pot of boiling broth and an array of assorted raw edibles soon to be boiled and consumed: mushrooms, cabbage, spinach, frozen tofu, quail eggs, shrimp cake, sliced beef, noodles, and duck intestines.

The pot was divided in half: one side bubbling with Sichuan style broth, a devilishly spicy concoction of pepper oil, peppercorns and tiny red peppers, and the other a simple, light broth fragrant with mushrooms and ginger. I recommend that Sichuan hot pot broth be coupled with a non-spicy partner. Those fiery peppercorns increase in spice intensity over the course of a meal. A non-spicy broth gives your mouth much-need breaks from the peppercorn burn.

The duck intestines, long, thin, pink as cotton candy but shining slick and smooth, were neatly laid out on a bed of cabbage. I wondered if that plate of intestines came from one duck or several.



Yanyan carefully dipped the duck intestines in and out of the spicy Sichuan broth. After a few minutes, the duck intestines cooked and soaked through with those deadly peppercorns, I dipped the duck guts into a bowl of sesame sauce and garlic and took my first bite ever of duck intestines. I chewed, masticated, gnawed, then chewed some more on the rubbery viscera. The verdict? If you don’t mind the tire-like texture and you have strong teeth and jaws, duck intestines is eatable. Unlike pig intestines, the duck variety has no strong feces flavor.

My jaw needs the workout

A few weeks later, my Korean friends asked me if I liked seafood. Of course I do! So one drizzly Wednesday, a group of us convened for Korean style hot pot. The restaurant walls were lined with tanks full of-- you guessed it-- fresh seafood. The mollusks imprisoned in glass tanks contrasted with the splashy cartoons of jovial octopuses, squid and clams emblazoning the restaurants’ walls-- a grim reminder of a former carefree life at sea.

Apparently, Koreans prefer their seafood really, really, really fresh, so fresh that the seafood comes to the table alive and writhing. Then the poor creatures either get cut into pieces with scissors to be consumed raw (and writhing) or suffer a slow death as they are brought to a boil before the diners’ eyes.

The verdict on the raw (and still writhing) octopus: very fresh, like fresh sushi. The octopus was chewy with not much of a “sea” flavor. Now I wasn’t just giddy with the novelty of eating the still moving, but I actually thought that the hacked cephalopod  (with sauce) was just plain good.

So, what’s next in my food adventures? Who knows? I never imagined that saying yes to hum-drum lunch invitations would result in a duck gut or live octopus feast.

My motto remains as is: Eat it. Don’t say no to food.

Chinese word of the blog: 鸭肠 yācháng
English translation: duck intestines


Say yes to fresh seafood
Say yes to this loaded cheeseburger

Watch this 3 minute video to see how we eat and roll