Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mongolian Treats



Greetings Friends!!!

My time in Inner Mongolia has been so rich and fulfilling as well. Have some of you been here? (I know my dear friend Robert Xie has – as he’s from here – we actually came here on a trip together in 1999 – but not to Chifeng – we were in a different city). As I mentioned in my last update, being in fresh air, seeing blue skies and the sunshine has been such a wonderful pleasure!! And I just love being with Claire and Jergetu – Even though I’ve just met Jergetu, I feel like we’ve been friends for many years – seeing him and Claire together also seems so natural. Those of you who know Claire, know she is a master qigong teacher and healer, a wonderful cook, a great dancer and beloved friend to many. Well Jergetu is also an awesome cook, fun dancer, beloved friend to MANY, and a natural healer. Growing up he was only exposed to Mengyi – Mongolian medicine – herbs and acupressure and various other techniques. – Jergetu’s teacher whom I met explained to me that Chinese medicine is really a combination of 4 medicines – Mongolian, Tibetan, Han, and …oh dear…I choose to remember the 4th!! Anyway, Jergetu has had a keen interest in medicine and herbs since a young boy, and has been studying with this Mongolian teacher for over a year – and he is so talented!! I received a treatment from him as well and he and Claire often treat each other for various small ailments that come up in daily life. (And one day, I remember coming into Jergetu’s study room to see he had just given himself acupuncture in his head – 2 points – feng chi – for a headache he had! :) It’s so neat to see them daily using this medicine – whereas to many Americans it’s only something someone uses if they go see a licensed Chinese doctor, or have studied many years at a school themselves.


Mongolian Treats!

Jergetu has a big family – several older brothers and a younger brother and may have sisters – I don’t remember at the moment – and he grew up in the Mongolian grasslands. Many of his family members still live there (about 300 km away from the city of Chifeng where he and Claire currently live) and when they come to visit, they often bring Jergetu and Claire many wonderful homemade treats (foods many Mongolians grow up and strong with) such as….'nai doufu' --milk tofu – oh this is sooooo yummy!!! I actually bought 2 long slices and hope it makes it through customs. It’s Mongolian milk that’s then dried into large ‘bricks’ – one small piece of this ‘nai doufu’ – milk tofu is the equivalent to drinking 6-7 cups of milk – so ‘yingyang hen da’ – it’s full of nutrition! – Each morning I had some nai dofu with Claire and Jergedu – along with their ‘chao mi’ – fresh roasted millet kernels, ‘zhengke’- oh this is sooooooo delicious too!! It’s some sort of white creamy substance – kind of like whipped butter that we mix with the roasted millet, and also put in our delicious milk tea – which by the way, is a breakfast staple. And then we’d also eat ‘nai pi’ milk skin. For those of you who eat a lot of Chinese food, it’s a bit like ‘dou pi’ – tofu skin….but different :). It’s also a little sweet, but naturally so – no sugar is added. I just love how simple, natural, delicious and healthy the food is!!!

We also ate a lot of meat as the Mongolian diet is rich in milk and its various products, as well as rich in lamb and beef. Yet again, as Jergetu also told me, which Claire said he had told her many times when she first came to Inner Mongolia, “Chi. Chi ba. Chi zhege bu hui pang, zhi hui zhuang.’ “Eat, eat. By eating this you won’t get fat, just strong!” :) Claire and Jergetu both laughed as I obviously took so much delight in each new food I was trying. They also explained how these foods are one of the reasons Mongolians are so strong and were such great, fierce and victorious warriors (such as Ganggus Kang) Many of these foods were, and are still, easy and light to pack in ones sack and provide such great amounts of energy for long foot journeys. I wish they were available in the States for my backpacking and hiking trips!!


Mongolian Yogurt!!! YUM!

And….l must remember to tell you about one of my favorite items (of which I mentioned enjoying several times in my other updates) – that’s ‘suan nai’ – yogurt!!! Yet, this yogurt here is sooooooo natural and delicious – it’s really a fresh kefir and I LOVE IT! It’s strong in its natural flavor, and is even a bit fizzy. Oh yum yum! This is also something Jergetu’s family brings to him in little clay bottles when they visit. If Claire and Jergetu are about to run out before another family visit, Claire just buys some milk, puts it in a clay bottle, adds a spoonful of this kefir, waits a day and….voila! They have another bottle of yummy fizzy deliciousness! (I included a pic of one of the bottles below) I got to recognize these bottles as ‘yogurt bottles’ and one day when we were at a restaurant with Jergetu and his MANY great friends, a server brought one of these small clay bottles to the table. I immediately joyfully exclaimed, “Oh suan nai!” “Oh yogurt!” only to have several people laugh and Claire explain that these are bottles of hard liquor. Jergetu’s family saves these clay bottles and puts yogurt in them….but the bottles themselves are originally for ‘baijiu’ – whiskey and vodka and such :)

Another great thing about ‘suan nai’ – yogurt that came in handy many times in my visit, is that drinking yogurt ‘hui bangzhu xiaohua’ – helps with digestion. :) And since it seemed in my visit that we did a lot of…eating, practicing qigong, eating, taking a nap, meeting friends and eating some more, practice a bit more qigong, ‘guang jie’ – walk the streets and shop and then eat, go to the market to buy some foods….and eat, and sleep, and then ….yes, have some more food….the fact that suan nai helps digest food came in handy many times :) For example, one day (this was the day after we went dancing) I woke up earlier , had breakfast and went to the internet cafĂ© to email you all while Claire and Jergetu slept in a bit more. Well I was hungry when I got back and ate a yummy, rather big lunch. Then, as the 3 of us were about to practice YiJinJing – a form of gongfu—together, Jergetu announced we’d have a shorter session as we were about to leave to meet his friends to….yes, you guessed it….eat! :) Oh dear!!! I exclaimed, “Aiyo! Wo gan chi bao le! Ni weishenme mei you gaosu wo women hen kuai jiu yao qu chi fan ne?” “Oh dear! I’m already full as I just ate so much food! Why didn’t you tell me we were about to eat?” I felt disappointed because I love the food and do my best to make sure I have an appetite whenever I know we’ll be eating as there is just such an abundance of new and yummy foods to enjoy! Both Jergetu and Claire smiled and laughed and said, “Meiguanxi! Lian lian gong, he yidian suan ni, jiu hao le. Ni hen kuai jiu hui hen e!” “No worries! Practice some qigong, drink some yogurt and you’ll be hungry again in no time!” And…guess what?! It’s true! I did just that and I was actually hungry…..and as another surprise to me, I was hungry again when we came home from the restaurant and proceeded to eat a bowl of rice (oh yes and this rice is also grown by Jergetu’s family!! I usually don’t eat white rice in the States, but this rice is sooo delicious! You can taste the freshness of the open grassland air….and the love and care with which his family grows and harvests this rice with) and a plate of sheep ‘innerds’ – lung, liver, stomach, intestines – I know to some of you it may not sound delicious….BUT (if you eat meat) if you tasted the way Jergetu sautees it up with some vinegar, garlic, salt, oil and onions…oh it is great! That day, even Jergetu, who is almost always hungry, was surprised to see me eating again so soon! :)

And I just love the simple lifestyle Claire and Jergetu have together. They have a very modest Chinese apartment made with concrete (as trees are sparse in the grasslands) -- no refrigerator, 3 simple rooms, a small kitchen with an electric hot plate stove (amazing the delicious food that can be cooked with this!!!) with a sink that Jergetu hung up with some wire on the faucet pipe, a simple toilet that we use water from the kitchen sink to flush with (the water drains from the sink directly into a bucket that then we transfer to the ‘flush bucket’ in the bathroom – this is so environmentally friendly! Great way to re-use our ‘gray water’)….and it all works delightfully!!! I love being with them and living in their home. Simplicity with Great Love is Beautiful. They also have a wonderful little balcony off their room that gets a lot of sunlight and has some lines for drying clothes.

Mongolian Music, Singing, Dancing, Eating - A Most Merry Outing with Friends

One outing I have to share with you all is when we went out to eat with Jergetu’s friends (this is the time I drank some more ‘suan nai’ to help me digest the big lunch I had just eaten). Jergetu is also a great musician…this is another thing that Claire and Jergetu share in common – Claire, before she left the States, had started singing again and also started writing music, writing her own songs. Jergetu is a great singer and very talented musician. He and many of his friends are professional musicians, often performing for groups of tourists who come to the grasslands. (One evening after a delicious homemade dinner, both Claire and Jergetu shared with me the first songs they wrote for and sang for each other – the beginnings of their beautiful romance! – oh it was so touching to hear!! And also funny – as Claire’s second song to Jergetu was no longer ‘momo huhu de’ -- ‘indirect, fuzzy or ‘beating around the bush’ – the first line is….”Ni ai wo ma?” “Do you love me?” – And it’s said with long, extended words! :)) Well, to welcome me to Inner Mongolia, one of Jergetu’s good friends invited a big group of their friends to a restaurant, reserved a separate room for all of us, ordered much good food, and also brought an electric piano, microphone and ma tou qin – the Mongolian string instrument – the instrument that once the Europeans saw and heard it, inspired the birth of violins, fiddles, bangos, etc…. This way they could all perform songs, and share their music and dancing with me – they could give me my own personal taste of authentic, truly amazing and beautiful Mongolian music!!!! WOW!!! Again, I felt and still feel so deeply blessed and so deeply delighted in all the gifts and surprises I’m being presented with!!!

So we had a very ‘renao’ afternoon of eating, drinking (I drank tea but for the ‘fellows’ in the room it’s pretty much a necessity to drink beer or some hard liquor – as this is used in the many ‘ganbei’ – toasts that we make to each other throughout the meal and merriment. Actually, as many of them practiced their English that afternoon, one young man (he’s 22 and is already a Master at the Ma Tou Qin – Mongolian String instrument with many students studying under him and he is truly magnificent!) lifted his glass and with a big smile exclaimed, “Chairs!” Claire and I laughed and explained that, while his pronunciation was oh so close….he actually just said ‘yizi’ (chairs) instead of ‘cheers’ (which is ‘ganbei’ in Chinese) – We all laughed and it became an ongoing joke in our time together.

They are all so funny and so fun to be with!! Another funny thing that happened is that one of their friends arrived late…..so the fellow that organized this event (Oh dear, I haven’t remembered his name yet….I’ll refer to him as Tian right now…) decided to play a little joke on him. We were on the 2nd floor of a restaurant and could see the roof top of the building across the street through our many windows. Well, Tian called his friend and told him we were meeting on the roof of this other building that was across the street. Because we had such a good view, when his friend arrived, we could all see him going in the building and then, pop – come out on the roof top! Ha!! And then saw him looking, looking, looking around. We all had a good laugh!! Tian then called him on his cell phone (which of course we could see him answering) and we were all still laughing while he explained we were actually all looking at him from the restaurant across the street!! :)

As you can tell, we all had a most fabulous time – I recorded several of Jergetu’s friends performing with my camera’s video function – it gives some of the flavor of it but the sound unfortunately skips and does not anywhere near adequately represent the music. Once I test a program for mailing large media files I can send some of these to you. Tian’s friend (whom he played the trick on) also performed and Tian just loves it when he sings. When I filmed Tian’s friend singing, ½ the time I was filming his friend and ½ the time I was filming Tian’s enthusiastic response to his music!! :)


Public Showers - Another Experience for 'Waiguoren'

Another thing Claire and I did, which is common in many cities, is go take a shower at one of the public shower facilities. A good portion of the older buildings/apartments don’t have hot water or showers, so many people shower at these facilities. Well, it’s one thing to be an object of people’s attention (being a ‘waiguoren’ –foreigner) on the streets, but it’s quite another to be an object of attention in a public shower! I’ve gotten used to the former but certainly not the latter! Claire just advised me to create my own bubble and go about my normal washing business….:)

Well another neat thing about these public showers is that you can pay a bit extra and have someone scrub you down with these special brushes (that take off all the dead skin) and then get this wonderful mixture of clay and grapeseed oil rubbed all over while getting a massage at the same time. This oil cream treatment is so nourishing for one’s skin, makes it extra silky soft and helps keep the moisture in. Claire and I both got this done and came back home shining and squeaky (almost literally!!) clean! :)


A Most Marvelous Dancing Proposal

In my last update I mentioned the fabulous evening of dancing Claire, I, Jergetu and his friends had. One thing I didn’t mention, however, as I found out a bit later, is that while Claire and I were dancing on the stage (after being invited up there), the owner of the dance club came up to Jergetu and asked if Claire and I would be interested in working there. – Basically if we could please come each night, dance, boogie and rock out like we love to on the stage in the early hours to get people going, and then once others started dancing too we could stay or go. WOW! What a fun proposal! :) It was fun to watch as Claire and I so freely danced, how others slowly opened up and started dancing too :)

Back to Beijing

So this trip to China is about to come to a close. I left Inner Mongolia, took the overnight train to Beijing and arrived for one more brilliant sunshine day in the country’s capital. Gosh, Beijing is quite beautiful. – the flowers are blooming now and the vibrant spring leaves are coming out on the trees….and of course the food is still delicious! I found a delightful little hotel for my last night in one of the old ‘hutongs’ – alleyways in the center part of the city. I rented a bicycle, biked down one of the famous alleyways with lots of little shops, many ‘waiguoren’ – foreigners from all over the world, yogurt stands, and delightful little restaurants and cafes (below is a picture of one – it’s taken from the table I sat at while eating my lunch and you can see my bicycle through the door :), went by Kundawell Institute once more to say hi to Mingtang, and….went shopping! :) Claire had told me of 2 long blocks with lots of little shops of clothes and great prices, so I found many wonderful treasurers – including an extra bag to hold them in.

One shop I went into had a very friendly, ‘sturdily built’ man working there. After we chatted a brief bit he asked me, “Zai Meiguo, wo suan pang ma?” “Would I be considered fat in the U.S.?” Well how am I supposed to answer that question politely?!!! Yes – but I didn’t want to say that. Anyway, luckily he went on to explain that he has met several American men who seem rather lean except for the fact that they have very big pot bellies. He, on the other hand, had his ‘extra padding’ well distributed around his whole body with a very round and rosy-cheeked happy face :).


I enjoyed his store as he had some really beautiful clothes in his shop – flowy, whimsical shirts and dresses that I like. There was also a pair of cacky (how do you spell this color anyway? My spell check just comes up with ‘tacky’! but they’re actually cute, not tacky :)) pants that I liked and tried on. Oh they fit! Wow they were long enough! Actually this store manager I think was even more excited than me when I walked out of the dressing room to look in the mirror! He said NOBODY has fit into this pants and he practically gave up on them (that explains why they were hung way up in the corner in the back of the store!) They were too small- fitting and too long-legged for most people. He explained that most people in China who are really thin are rather short and those that are taller are rather ‘pang’ – or a bit fatter. These pants, however, were both slim and very tall which is not a phenomena that happens that often I guess. Well, anyway, because he was soooo excited to find someone who actually fit in these pants, he gave them to me for only ½ price! Oh what fun to shop in China :)

Up in the Air

So I’ve been writing this email over several days and through several places. And now I’m on the plane heading for San Francisco (I’ll be there for a few days before heading back to Seattle), and I’ve had quite another and unexpected adventure! :) Flying on this big plane from Beijing with hundreds of passengers, most of whom are Chinese, we have the most odd situation of having only one flight attendant who speaks Chinese!!! Oh dear! This is a most unfortunate situation for many of my flight-mates and…I must say for all of the flight attendants! The one who does speak Chinese is rather overwhelmed, and those who don’t speak Chinese are overwhelmed in a different way and have fallen into the trap of thinking if they speak just a bit slower and louder, maybe those who only speak Chinese will understand?! Anyway, when the flight attendants handed out the immigration sheets….and um…only had them in …um ….English….....well…as you can imagine we had quite a commotion on board! I, on the other hand, have actually been having fun acting as an interpreter for the flight attendants and my flight-mates. Everyone really all means well….and speaking a common language is really such a big help!

So after most people’s forms were filled out on this flight, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my two seat mates (we’re seated in rows of 3). They are an older couple from Hunan Province (though with their local accent, they say ‘Funan’ :)) and they’re going to Dallas to see their daughter for 6 months! Oh they are so excited and bubbly! The husband, Shuqing, has been to the States once before (he was a Geology professor and went on a trip to some of the great natural geological sites—such as the Grand Canyon-- in the U.S. years ago). For his wife, Jinhui, this is her first trip! We chatted quite a bit and when our meals came, I’d ask them if they wanted beef or chicken and then promptly tell the flight attendant their choices. They were so excited to have me sitting with them and said I was like their personal ‘angel’ sent to help them! (Well I felt very blessed too!!)

It was funny with Jinhui to see her inspect this first taste of ‘western food.’ In our first meal, among other items they each got a dinner roll wrapped in plastic, along with the plastic ware and a little plastic-sealed serving of butter. Well both Jinhui and her husband chuckled that we have 3 ‘utensils’ with which to eat our food (a fork, knife and spoon) versus the one utensil they use – chopsticks (3 just seemed a bit ‘tai guo fen le' 'over the top/excessive' to them! :)). And Shuqing was also explaining the use of each utensil to his wife.

After the utensil review, Jinhui then picked up the butter package, turned it over several times, and didn’t quite know what to make of it, let alone how this little container was supposed to be opened! I explained that this was ‘nai you’ (butter) and that it was to be eaten with the dinner roll (while the Chinese also have many delicious breads, they don’t usually eat butter with it! So this was all a new experience for Jinhui!!) Oh she was so surprised! And then I showed her how to open, what seemed to be a tamper-proof little plastic container :). It was fun to be able to help Jinhui experience her first such meal – and I just remember and am so grateful to my Taiwanese friends who similarly helped me (when I first went to Taiwan to study abroad in college) get introduced to Chinese food….not to mention learn how to skillfully use chopsticks!!! If you’d like to guess how long a foreigner has been in an Asian country, just see how well they can eat with chopsticks! If they’re only getting a few grains of rice with each bite, you can bet they have just newly arrived! :)

Attached are some pictures – a few more from Inner Mongolia – Claire and Jergetu cooking in their kitchen, a picture of the 'zhengke' and ‘suannai’ –yogurt- bottle, and some pictures of Jergetu’s friends singing. In the picture of Claire and Jergetu sitting down to the delicious dinner they just made you'll see a little note written in Mongolian taped to the locked cabinet. Jergetu wrote that note as a joke -- it says, "Don't Open! There's Gold in here!" It's a joke b/c if there really was a treasure, who would write such a note and put such a puny lock on the door? :) Ha!)


Oh my! I have oh soooooo enjoyed sharing this most magical, fulfilling and blessed journey with you all!!! Thank you so much for enjoying it with me and for all your emails. Thank you Thank you! If you know of others who would enjoy reading of my journeys, please direct them to my blog (thanks to my friend, Rick!!!) at www.qidancer.blogspot.com.

I’m already dreaming up plans to go back….(oh and I just heard from Nicole (Dr. Zhao’s daughter) that the TV report on my studies in Henan aired this week!! Dr. Zhao, Ayi, Nicole and her family, JunLing and her family, LiZhun and her family all gathered to watch the 1/2 our report together! They said it is just great and the head of the reporting crew is finding a way to send it over the internet to me. I'll forward it on when I figure out how....or have a public viewing in Seattle :))

Thank you! And so much LOVE to you all!! Dr. Zhao, his family and my friends all know of you too – what a most beautiful exchange this has all been indeed.

I am Grateful. I am Blessed. And I thank you for ‘traveling’ with me and for you, your love, support and JOY.

Much Great LOVE,

KarenJOY