8.29.2012

Buggin'


All those bugs buzzin’ ‘round your head
Well, they fly in the air as you comb your hair
And the summertime will make you
Itch the mosquito bites
-The Flaming Lips



Beijing trees are full of cicadas. I mean, at least, from my point of view and from what I hear, there must be billions of cicadas in one tree. They sound like screaming raddles, but soothe in their steady rhythm. We wondered what such loud insects looked like. We got the opportunity when a plate of cicadas was served for dinner.

We made some new friends here, and one is professional chef and native Beijinger. I am pretty sure he gets a big kick out serving insects to westerners. So how did we like the bugs? The cicadas tasted like potato chips, salty and crunchy. Honestly, I thought they were pretty good and I ate my fair share. birdMAN preferred the silkworms. They were meaty with a flavor difficult to describe, sort of medicinal.

Along with the cicadas and silkworms, our host fed us a mouthwatering spread of stir-fried chicken, spicy pork, tender fall-off the bone beef, and cold mushrooms and asparagus. The meal ended with a shot of báijiǔ (白酒). Home cooked Chinese food is the best.

Chinese word of the blog: 好吃 hǎo chī (literally, good food)
English translation: tasty / delicious

We want tor learn how to make this: chicken, vegetables, and candied peanuts
Cicadas taste like crunchy potato chips
Silkworms
Evening meal
Cicadas are delicious!

8.26.2012

Bicycle Built for Two


I’m half crazy, hopeful in love with you
It won’t be a stylish marriage
I can’t afford the carriage
But you look sweet upon the street
On a bicycle built for two
We will go tandem as man and wife
Pedaling our way down the road of life
-Blur 


birdMAN rarely romanced me with flowers, jewelry, perfume, or anything like that. When I started attending college at a town famous for bicycles, he bought me a basic bike. We soon married, and we invested in some decent mountain bikes. We typically spent a weekend morning in nearby canyons traversing what I thought was pretty hardcore terrain.  After three years of marriage, we bought a home in a small town surrounded by farmland and flanked by a small mountain range. We then embraced road cycling, even wearing spandex clothes which emphasize every bodily flaw. We participated in several 100-mile rides. We spent a couple weeks bicycling in Yunnan and Guanxi, China for vacation.

Previous Bicycling Ventures - Germany, Greece, Portland, California Sierras
2010 Bicycling China

By the time we sold our home last summer, we had accumulated three bikes each. So you might say bicycling has been a major part of our marriage. For us, the bicycle cycle has fully cycled. We are back living in a college area brimming with university students who use bikes for transportation. And we are back on our beater bikes, rolling up the right pant leg so it doesn’t get greased up in the chain.

Buying a bicycle in China is a different than buying one in the US.  First, we would spend a few months researching performance, components, frames,  etc. Second, we would set aside a lot of money for the big purchase. In China, we can’t read Chinese, we can’t speak Chinese, and we aren’t sure how long we are sticking around. So research involves asking our expat friends their opinions and set a bike budget on par with a Chinese lifestyle.

Again we relied on our friend Xialian, who has bought four bicycles during her time in China. First she asked us, “Do you want a real bike, or a fake bike?” China is full of knock-offs, and you get what you pay for. We visited several bike shops (Xialian knows all the shops). birdMAN picked up bikes, sat on bikes, and rode the bikes. By the third day here, we were so tired of standing on buses and subways that having bicycles was becoming desperate. Despite our desperation, birdMAN had some requirements before purchase. These requirements were:  fenders, brakes that work, multiple gears, well-built with a solid bottom bracket. We found several bicycles that met none of these, until we ended up in an upscale bike shop that you could mistake for being in the US (except everyone spoke Chinese).

The walls were a muted green promoting trust and warmth. The salespeople were friendly and helpful. They almost had birdMAN sold on a set of solid, genuinely brand bikes each costing about 900 RMB ($134 USD). Before you say, “That’s cheap!” Remember, we are now in China on a China budget. I balked. Can’t we get something cheaper? Ok, birdMAN agreed to try the last place on Xialian’s bike shop list. We got back on the bus and of course we stood on our tired feet for another ride.

Mmmhhh - which  bicycle?

Xialian led us to a hodge-podge street section, where all store merchandise is outside and most of it looking dusty and rusty. We passed electric scooters, other large equipment, and children playing while people yelled at us trying to lure us to their shop. I thought, “What bike shop is this? Where is she taking us?” Then we turned down an alley with garage-like structures filled with bicycles and salespeople. So we started looking at bikes. Most of them were knock-offs. It is pretty obvious when the label reads “GANT” when the real name is “GIANT”, a major bicycle brand. 

We came to a garage/shop owned by a tallish smoking man. Of course he was Chinese. We were the only 老外 (lǎowài outsider) in the vicinity. Three young girls, perhaps his daughters, were responsible for keeping the bicycles orderly and attaching reflectors and baskets. At this shop, I found a GIANT brand bicycle of solid construction with 3-gears. It seemed real and there was only one. The smoking shop owner offered us a cigarette and helpfully grabbed another bike for birdMAN. This one was an obvious fake. It was unsteady, didn’t shift well, and had misspellings all over the frame. “多少?” (duō shǎo, how much), we asked. He wanted 900 RMB for the two bikes. birdMAN balked.  He was not crazy about that bicycle. birdMAN cares about quality. He much rather pay a few extra dollars to get something he likes than settle for something cheap, especially for something for high-use.

Xialian noticed that this particular shop also had a few used bikes, among which was a genuine Giant. birdMAN tried it and instantly noticed the superior construction. This bike met all the requirements except it had no basket. Oh well, not a deal breaker. The shop owner wanted more for this bike; after all, this one was genuine. birdMAN pulled out 900 RMB, and indicated this was all we had. OK, deal.

We have had bicycles for a whole week, and have not crashed into anything. birdMAN being a lǎowài, however, did cause a crash. While birdMAN passed a cyclist on a heavy traffic road, the cyclist started staring. He was so distracted that his tires skimmed into the curb and he went flying. Fortunately, he flew into some bushes and appeared unscathed.

Chinese word of the blog: 行车 xíng chē (literally, self go car)
                                          English translation: Bicycle

2009 San Francisco, California
More California Bicycling
Bicycle Shop Alley - That's birdMAN back there trying a ride
Bikes are good for shopping
Our sweet new rides




8.22.2012

New in Town


Heard you're in town, want someone to show you 'round
Well, no one knows this place quite like me
Well, I don't hang with the crowd, where I go we're dressing down
I'll take you where the music plays for free
-Little Boots


Two years ago, we spent about a week in Beijing with zero knowledge of the country's language. Thankfully we had friends who ordered food for us, told us what buses to ride, and got us a taxi to the airport. This time, we came with just a little more knowledge. We know numbers. We know how to ask “How much is this?” (if we get lazy and forget to use tones, this phrase is useless). We can say “Help me please”, “I would like beer” and “Good-bye”. The terrifying part comes when someone responds to the question or comment. Sometimes I guess what the meaning is, and about 99 percent of the time I am wrong.

Thankfully, for the last week we have been under the gracious care of Xialian, an American who has been living in China for the last two years. We sort feel like she has to babysit us. She met us at the airport, got us on a bus, took us to her home, and gave us her bed while she slept on her lopsided futon. She took us to an open air market with a dazzling selection of vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and seafood. At that market, she hopped from seller to seller finding the best prices for dragonfruit. Everyday, she made us coffee and breakfast in the morning, and dinner at night. She told us where to go and what to buy (more on that in future blogs). So we spent our first week with Xialian, where we managed to eat a lot of food and watch the entire trilogy of “Back to the Future.”

The way we feel about being in Beijing may be best explained by our first night here. Yes, the sky was smoggy and the air had a metallic smell. We were among a sea of people bumping elbows and breathing on each other. But then we ate dinner. After an underwhelming selection of dumplings, saucy fried dishes, and a general lack of spice in Hong Kong, the Beijing food exploded with flavor in our mouths. Spicy braised tofu and dried chicken with an abundance the hot peppers, garlic, and onions. Yes, this place is home.

First Chinese beer, cost less than $1 USD
Garlic greens, spicy tofu, and chicken w/ peppers
A store for both ladies and gentlemen
Street food - BBQ Squid
Xialian makes awesome popcorn

8.19.2012

Memories of the Future


Give me the keys to your heart, oh you’ll never know
Give me neon night, give me new world oh ah…
I threw my hands to the sky
-Handsome Furs


After 14 hours on a plane, four movies including an entertaining but indulgingly silly Bollywood movie, two meals, Haagen-daz, and zero hours of sleep, we arrived in Hong Kong. We have been seriously TV deprived for the last two months and fulfilled our TV watching needs (thank you Cathay Pacific for an awesome selection of movies and TV programs!). Hong Kong, xiāng găng, in Chinese literally means “fragrant harbor”.

Every place has a smell and a feel. Hong Kong smelled like a harbor, with the humidity and heat hitting us like a wall. After a few days, we grew to enjoy the humidity. We also enjoyed the astonishing city scape, gleaming high rises framed by green mountains and enveloped in a bluish haze. The city has a very New York/London feel, with a lot of western stores and having the largest Starbucks I have ever seen.  Most people seem to speak perfect English, making maneuvering around the City pretty easy for English speaking Americans. 

But are our memories are fondly filled with meeting up with good friends from distant places and wowing them with our amazing chop stick skills. Our Hong Kong holiday lasted only five days, serving as a good transition before moving north.

Enjoy the pictures!

At San Francisco Airport. Hope we didn't forget anything too important! 
Eating a fried chicken foot smothered in sauce. If you can forget you are eating a chicken foot, you might actually find it tasty.
On Sundays, the streets are filled with Filipino women on break. They work 6 days a week, 16 hour work days as house servants. We saw them eating, painting their nails, dancing, and in deep conversation. I can imagine them saying "You know what my boss did?"
The second tallest building in Hong Kong
A packed 2-story Apple store around 9 pm
Chicken head anyone?

8.07.2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standing here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say good-bye
But the dawn is breakin', it's early morn
Taxi's waiting, he's blowin' his horn...
-Peter, Paul, and Mary


We spent our last day in the United States moving out of our apartment. For the last two months we have lived in a friend's partial apartment. She pitied our homeless state while we transitioned from home ownership to living abroad. Even though the apartment is fully furnished and cozy, we still managed to cram a lot of food, books, papers, shoes, computer equipment, and cleaning supplies into the apartment's nooks and crannies. It took two trips with a full-size vehicle to move everything out.

With our bags packed, and our car sold at the final minute yesterday, we feasted on a grandiose meal of prime rib, scalloped potatoes, squash, and salad prepared by birdMAN's mom and sister. A great sendoff after an insane week of worrying whether the car will sell, trying to decide how many shoes to bring, and asking how many tubes of toothpaste and deodorants will last us the year.

The dinner felt strangely normal and casual. Our parents reminiscing raising children and lamenting the state of the economy. Caden and Milan running laps around the staircase and pretending they are lions. Zephram, not yet stable enough to walk, trying to keep up with his older brother. birdMAN and his brothers-in-law discussing the first documented transportation of a photon, time travel, and the rabbit hole. Yes, there were a few bottles of wine opened and emptied.

Then the time came to kiss my sisters goodbye and shed a few tears. I pinched the chubby thighs of my 11-month old nephew. My mom told me she was afraid we would love living somewhere else and we would never come back. But we aren't turning back now. The plane takes off at 1:45 pm tomorrow.

Countdown until take-off: 13 hours

 Not all of this fit in my suitcase
"What is the meaning of the universe?"
The squash came from my dad's yard
Caden
Zephram
Trying to keep it together for the goodbye
Before bedtime, Milan was kind enough to paint birdMAN's toes (in the back)

8.04.2012

So Long, Farewell


So long, farewell, auf Weidersehen, goodbye
I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye- Goodbye!
I am glad to go, I cannot tell a lie
I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly
- The Sound of Music

Now we must say goodbye, and the best way to say goodbye to everyone all at once is to have a party! And I love parties. We had everything needed for festivities -- delicious food, beer, swimming and face painting and most importantly a lot of fun people.  Goodbye everyone! See you next year!

Countdown until take-off: 3 days


Beautiful children that will change so much in one year
Face painting isn't just for kids
Summer swimming!
Lots of food -- Do you think we can find deviled eggs in Beijing?