Tuesday, March 30, 2010

'Anquan Angels', Chinese Cooking, & Surprise Questions

Greetings Friends!

Yesterday I had my first biking adventure in China - for this visit! :) My last time in China in 2005 some of you may remember I was so excited about biking again when I lived in Beijing for 1 month that I bought the very first bike I found -- without inspecting it! It was only $10 in US currency and I was so eager to hop on a bike (as many of you know I LOVE to bike) that I delightfully handed over the money and off I....teetered and squeaked! Well it had turned out I bought a bike in very bad shape that made a most horrible squeaking raquet every time I peddled -- it sounded like a very cranky cat and my friends who laughed with me when I brought it home that day, helped me name it 'xiao mao' -- little kitten. I had even taken it to a bike repair man (there's people that set up road side shops with their small truck-carts, park them on the side of the big boulevards with their numerous tools and wait for customers to peddle by with some bike repair requests). When I brought mine by, the man proceeded to inspect my bike, sigh, look around some more and sign and then with another rather bewildered sigh (like why in the world did you just buy this bike?!!) said there was nothing he could do -- just ride it until it breaks!

So yesterday, I had my first bike adventure in Zhengzhou with Jun Lin. We both had the day off and Dr. Zhao was busy attending other matters....so we first got together to go to the market, buy lots of fresh yummy veggies, and I had my first cooking lesson with Jun Lin and learned to make several YUMMY dishes that we then enjoyed with her husband, son, and dad

and then....we hopped on 2 of her family's bikes and went ....Shopping! We rode to one of Zhengzhou's shopping districts -- which really in China, can pretty much be anywhere (if you're in a city) as there are people out selling products, noodles, fresh cut pineapples, baozi-- steamed bread with meat and or veggie fillings, yummy red bean and green bean paste shakes, steamed peanuts, shoes (of which are almost ALL too small! - except one friend suggested I try men's sizes -- that may work --but their shoes aren't nearly as pretty! :)), plastic bins to wash clothes, and well the list is infinite...But there are also places in the cities that are specifically for shopping and they are most enormous!! With floor after floor of shops and each floor is a gigantic maze of stands with any type of clothes---well I guess probably about 3/4 is for women with the rest for men and kids. I'm so glad Jun Lin was with me (and she often held onto my arm for fear 'wo diu le' -- I would 'disappear.' (as we also both forgot our cell phones).sooo I've gotten ahead of myself as I have yet to rely our bike adventure to get to this gigantic shopping maze.

'Anquan' Angels
First I must say that the 'anquan angels' -- or 'safety' angels in China are VERY busy!! Especially for cyclists and pedestrians! Also, I've notice that no one else around me seems to notice this fact as most people seem quite calm, relaxed and happy navigating within and weaving through the bustling 'no-rules-anything-goes' traffic -- I seem to be the only one who is nervous -- and not just for me but the people around me - while witnessing several almost but not quite accidents! So we started on our bikes (and most bikes are very old and dusty and have seen a lot of years -- mine was also quite old (but no squeaks!) and very short! -so my peddling was short and fast with my knees coming up to the handle bars BUT luckily Zhengzhou is flat and I was just happy to be biking again :). So we started down the little side alleyways by JunLin's home weaving through the strolling crowds and merchants and tottering toddlers and then...we went onto the highway! Yikes! BUT there is a bike lane with a curb that separated us cyclists from the bigger motorized vehicles (which, however, as I relayed in an earlier message isn't much of a deterrent for motorists). In any case, Jun Lin peddled a little ahead of me and to my left-hand side and I followed and relaxed some seeing how relaxed she was peddling along.

That is until I looked up and saw another bike coming right towards me! Yet, it wasn't just a bike -- this fellow was also carrying a load of bags and bags of rice and other grains piled so high and wide he was as wide as a big truck! (this is actually quite a usual scene in China --it's amazing the massive and odd-sized loads people can carry on their bikes!) Oh dear! So I managed to swerve and miss being side-swiped by a bag of rice...only to look up and see my next obstacle. A woman had found that this bicycle lane (full of cyclists, motor scooters, an occasional horse and cart, and...as I've alluded to some 'sneaky' cars or 'mian bao che's - 'loaf-of-bread' vans :)) to be the perfect spot to set up her street cart stand of fresh steamed dumplings and 'zhongzi' -yummy sticky rice triangles wrapped and steamed in big leaves! Again, in observing those around me, no one else seemed to be surprised by this 'obstacle' - just me.

So we carried on our way, got off the highway, crossed some big boulevards and back onto some side bustling streets. We still encountered plenty of obstacles - some as small as an older man right in front of me suddenly stopping and standing by his bike with no warning. With the bike lanes as crowded as they are, this could easily be a catastrophe...but again miraculously it isn't! YAY for the 'anquan' angels (safety angels!) They certainly work overtime here!! :)

Chinese Cooking with Jun Lin!
I had just skimmed over the cooking lesson part of yesterday, but really I am so impressed with the art of Chinese cooking! If there was a book with 500+ recipes for 'Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking' -- like Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' -- that would be an inspiring project to take on! So much knowledge about what foods to eat in which season, how to cook each item in each dish so that it preserves, magnifies the flavors and the nutrients, and even selecting items/veggies to make the whole color, texture, flavor and smell a delightful, full, savory and satisfying experience! And have everyone feel full and easily digest their food! :) For example, Jun Lin taught me how to make "jia chang dou fu" -- which a tofu dish you can find in almost any Chinese restaurant -- though most don't taste as good as what we had :). In this dish, we had firm tofu

(I also included a pic of Jun Lin and I at the market by one of the tables where they were just selling tofu! -- all different kinds of tofu - tofu 'mian' - noodles, dried smoked tofu, firm tofu blocks, silky tofu for 'dou hua' - makes the most yummy sweet or savor soups! and many more kinds I'm wondering how to translate into English!....this market was sooo fun to visit and there are many, many everywhere every day --where does all this fresh produce come from?! It surprises me as China's land is fast being developed with so many high sky-scrapper buildings -- Dr. Zhao's neighborhood has no trees now - there used to be trees everywhere and places to grow veggies -- now it's all mostly cement). The dish also had 'mu-er' - wood ears -- its a fungus that grows on trees and is soo delicious! Jun Lin said when she was little her sisters and her used to go gather this after it rained. It also had green peppers, tomatoes and garlic. All these items are specially picked to have a full range of color and flavor and nutrition. (I'll save writing the recipes for after I double-check them -- meaning I test them out on myself first to see if I've learned it right! :) -- and include it in my book)

She also taught me how to prepare and steam a fish, stir-fry eggplant, make a most delcious 'zhou' -- rice/millet porridge with red beans, 'lian ou', hong zao - red dates, and many other yummy ingredients that I don't know the English names for yet. Jun Lin had said she would go to the market with me to buy all the ingredients and then have me cook it up so I'd remember and learn the techniques....yet she did most of the work (chopping and preparing) while I took pictures, asked questions and wrote in my notebook...and then she just had me hold the spatula to stir fry the veggies for a few minutes while taking a few pics of me

and then declared to her son, husband and father, that this meal was made by Karen! Well that was a very generous stretch of reality for her to make! -- in any case, we all enjoyed our meal and I am excited to learn more and treat you to some good food when I'm home :). (Note: I also include a pic of Jun Lin and I making 'jiaozi' - steamed dumplings today :) -- Dr. Zhao and I had lunch with Jun Lin and her family as Ayi is out of town helping her son and daughter-in-law for a few days.)

Daily Surprises in Speaking a Foreign Language (when others don't know it!!)
Those of you who speak another language and have traveled to other countries know the fun experience of hearing other people talking about you without knowing you are understanding everything they're saying! :) This happens quite a lot to me here. Sometimes if I'm in more of a hurry (like in the morning to get to clinic), I'll smile to myself and not say much, and other times I start talking -- which creates a big surprise and often a crowd of people then start to gather to speak to a 'wai guo ren' -foreigner. At breakfast in the hotel, often I hear people whispering about me - as I'm the only foreigner here and they often wonder amongst themselves why I'm here, if I'm studying, if I'm married, what country I'm from, etc. If I say 'nihao' or hello to someone, I often hear people say "oh her Chinese is very good!" (The Chinese are sooo generous with their compliments to foreigners! I wish we in the states would learn from them! When I just say one word in their language, they are so pleased!! Whereas I often witness English-speaking people in the states being frustrated and impatient with people who don't speak English fluently. What if we started the same practice with people who are learningEnglish and being delighted by even a 'hello' or 'good morning' and complimenting and encouraging them on their English skills! :))

I've also noticed that many Chinese seem to be shy in talking with me directly at first (maybe for fear I won't understand). This morning, however, one business man did talk with me, yet it was the most odd question I've been asked yet! :) First he explained the types of 'zhou' they were serving. And I responded with how the millet zhou was my favorite. He was surprised in my Chinese and then asked with great curiosity, "so are you here to buy a car?" -- What?!! Wow- I have yet to know what made him think that! :) Anyways, I laughed and said no, I'm here studying.

So yes, lots of surprised everyday! Jun lin surprised me after lunch today with a big smile on her face -- she brought this little device, pressed some buttons, held it to my ear and giggled -- It was a famous dance song from a different province. She laughed and said we could listen to it later as she'd like me to teach her how to dance :)

More about my studies with Dr. Zhao are to come in my upcoming updates...the clinic has been very busy lately and I've been working a lot in the herbal dispensary with Jun Lin as Ayi is away. I'm realizing that 2 months is actually quite a short time and I have soooooooo much to learn. Jun Lin said - 'oh if you come for 1 year, I can teach you all about Chinese cooking too and the different foods for different seasons.' Our world is really so fascinating -- so much to learn and experience! I am often one who loves to see as much as I possibly can! And this trip has been/is more about depth in where I am and who I'm with than in the quantity of things and people I see. I'm learning more about focus too and will continue in the next few weeks as Dr. Zhao is also realizing my time is short. We're going to set up evening study sessions starting later this week (as clinic time has been too busy), so my updates may be a bit shorter in the coming days.

Thank you again for all your emails and love and support! I just love hearing from you and am so grateful to share my experiences with you. And thank you to Rick for creating and updating my blog! YAY! If any of you have connections, ideas, contacts for creating a book - I desire to share my experiences of and with Dr. Zhao with many - please let me know your thoughts.

Much Love and Joy,


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