Friday, September 23, 2011

Pictures of Zhangjiagang

A Typical Single Family Home

This Home Has Been Renovated with New Brick Facing

New Offerings at KFC include Beef, Pork, & Chicken with Rice & Vegetables. Looks Tasty, but Have Not Tried Them as of Yet

A Calliope Outside of the  Mall

Would You Believe it if I Told You, ARMANI Shares Space with Wal-Mart?


As Does Prada!

Zippo is Very Popular in China. Expensive Too! Fits Right in With ARMANI, GUCCI, & PRADA

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Visit to the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River & Xiang Shan Mountain

Over the weekend of September the 10th, we had  3 day holiday as the Chinese celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival (<--Click That) culminating with the viewing of the moon on the night of September 12th. As 3 of my students and I prepared for the day, waiting at the bus stop, I found it touching that they knew the significance of this day (9/11). That being said, we headed off on our journey to explore a part of the city none of us had yet been to, the Chang Jiang (westerners know it as the Yangtze river) river port, and Xiang Shan Mountain.  We started about 10:30 a.m. and returned home about 5:30 p.m. A long, but good day-a very good day. Here is a link to some of the pictures of our day: 
A Visit to the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River and Xiang Shan Mountain

I will tell you one thing, and then kind of let the pictures tell the rest of the story. We had one of my favorite food items Xiao Long Bao (<--Click That), usually called a soup dumpling, but actually a bit different than a dumpling in form. Xiao Long Bao is a delicious small steamed, ok, I will call it a dumpling, with a small pork meat ball in the middle, but what really sets it apart is the sweet tasting broth inside. Words don't, and can't really do it justice-you just have to try one. Take Xiao Long Bao and google it and you will find many who try to describe it and tell you how to eat it. I will tell you this, to experience it at its best, you should nibble a little of the the dumpling away, and then for lack of better word, suck the soup out, and then eat the rest. You can put the whole thing in your mouth, but if the soup is hot, as it usually is, you will be spitting the whole thing back out of your mouth. Opening it up like you see in the picture helps the soup cool a bit. 
Xiao Long Bao

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chinese Wedding

Ok, I finally have some time to write about the wedding of my former student and friend Shi Shao Feng( the bride) and Tan Kai (the groom). It was really quite interesting and a beautiful sight to behold. This will be a three part story: Getting There, The Wedding, and The Day After.

Getting There

Zou, my friend, former student, and Shi's classmate, and I began talking about our plan to travel Lianyuangang for Shi's wedding in June before I left for the states for my summer holiday. When I returned, I contacted her with my schedule and was wondering about the bus tickets. She told me that she would drive us, and another friend of hers would come along. This was good news to me, because I was not looking forward to a 3-4hr bus ride (no train to Lianyuangang). In June, Zou and I had gone to dinner and she drove us to and from dinner from my hotel in Zhenjiang. She was a careful driver then, so I had no reservations about her driving us to Lianyuangang.

So, on the morning of the 3rd (September) she picks me up at the hotel at 7:00 a.m. and we preceded to go pick up her friend Tao, who was Zou's co-worker and a friend of the couple. After we picked him up, I assumed that we would begin our journey, but we then drove to pick up another friend, Bao (not sure if the friend was a friend of Zou's or a friend of her co-worker). She did not go to the wedding. Seems that she was merely hitching a ride to see some old classmates. When we picked Bao up, Zou switched places with Tao and let him begin to drive.

Hmm...I did not know Tao, and had never driven with him so, I was a little concerned, but of course, I did not say anything. We all had buckled up for safety. Zou sat in the back with me and away we went. After a few minutes, my concerns were relieved as Tao seemed to be a very cautious driver and was actually driving a little slow. He and Zou talked back and forth about the best way to get to the highway (he he, we had a GPS,but that was for when we were on the highway).

Route to the highway agreed on, we are on our way. We are still in the city, and traffic is a little thick. ( I still did not know the exact time of the wedding, or exactly how long it would take to get there). After a about 10 minutes or so, Zou and Tao are having another conversation. Of course, because my Chinese language abilities are almost non-existent, I had no clue about the nature of the conversation. I quickly discovered that they were going change positions and that Zou would resume the driving duties.

As we were pulling over to a spot to do so, I asked Zou why they were changing and she softly, but emphatically whispers,"he drives too slow!" Here we go! Zou takes over and picks up the pace a bit to get us to the highway. Nothing out of the ordinary, Tao was driving a little slower than most everyone else on the road and I thought Zou's pace would be better for getting us there on time-whatever time that was. I had not asked the exact time of the wedding yet. When I did ask, I was told "maybe" around 11:30 (a.m.).

We hit the highway and even though Zou's car is a VW, we could have begun filming one of those Mazda Zoom Zoom commercials! Zou, who I had never known to be anything but a sweet mild mannered Chinese girl, had suddenly transformed into the Chinese equivalent of Mario Andretti! Foot on the gas and we were quickly at 125 KHM, which is actually only about 77mph, it sure felt like we were going much faster in the little VW, and that is the actual speed limit. There was not a lot of traffic, and I have driven with folks who drive much faster (think, Bro. Ron ha ha)so, I was not too concerned and even began to doze off a bit.

ZOOOOOOOOM! Jolted out of my slumber by a sudden burst of acceleration, I peeked up front to see how fast we had rocketed up to on the speedometer dial. 140kmh (86mph), and by now we were weaving in out of traffic to pass the slower cars. Funny thing is, there were also many cars passing us. From Mario Andretti-to-Tony Stewart! Ha ha, she was being very aggressive. I sort of grew used to that pace but, here is where I learned a little about Chinese driving culture.

The highway (actually the interstate) is only two lanes wide, three if you count the emergency( from here on referred to has the third lane) lane. Ha ha, you guessed it, if the left lane was unusable for passing, we used the third lane. And, we used it quite frequently. At first this was a bit unnerving. No, it was very unnerving. In the U.S. we just don't do that. However, the Chinese, the use of the third lane is pretty much standard operating procedure.

Zou was going to pass, be it on the left side, or the third lane, she would give two short toots and then scoot around the car in front.

Chinese drivers never seem to block you from passing, but they will cut very closely in front of you. I'd kind of been figuring this out after many many taxi rides where the driver would pass in the oncoming traffic lane. The driver he was passing would almost seem to move to the right a bit, while the oncoming drivers would move to their left a bit, giving the taxi driver ample room to make his pass. Just as I no longer have white knuckle syndrome driving in Chinese taxis', I grew used to Zou taking advantage of all three lanes to get us to the wedding on time. Ha ha, I had already prayed, and you know that the bible says, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" Hebrews 9:27(KJV). Well if this was my time, so be it, but I had a pretty good feeling that the Lord wanted me to be at this wedding.

Two more things about the drive and then I will get to the wedding. I settled into our routine enough to doze back off, woken only occasionally by the rapid deceleration followed by another rapid acceleration. I learned that the Chinese interstate has cameras placed along the way that apparently have speed sesnors, and that the Chinese GPS systems have this information built into them. The other thing is that we stopped once at rest stop. There are not a lot of cities just off the interstate like back in the U.S. So, the Chinese rest area has a a little store and a gas station as well as bathroom facilities. Zou had announced, "Ok, time for a rest" So, I got out, used the WC and wandered over to the little store to see if there was something I felt like snacking on. Went through the entire store in just a couple of minutes, found nothing, and headed back out. Ha ha, there was Zou, staring intently in my direction. So, I picked up the pace a bit and got back to the car and zoom, off we went!

As we arrived in Lianyuangang, Zou's and Tao's phones went off. It was Shi Shao Feng wondering where we were, and how long it would take us to get there. We were about 10-to-15 minutes away. Apparently, they were waiting on us to start the wedding (He he, I forgot to mention, that I have a small speaking part in this wedding). You should also know I had previously told Zou I was going to wear comfortable clothes to travel in:sweat shorts and a T-shirt, and she said that is fine, "wear whatever you want". I had figured I would have time to change in the motel. Not! We pulled up to the restaurant/banquet hall where the wedding was and Shi and Tan were standing outside waiting on us. I had no choice, I had to quickly change out in the parking lot. Fortunately, the dress shirt-tail was long enough that I did not have to expose anyone to too much of myself and my skivvies. Ha ha, you do what you have to do.

The Wedding

Dressed and inside, the wedding is about to begin. Shi Shao Feng takes her place at one end of the Hall and Tan Kai is at the opposite end. This is not a christian ceremony, but it was a beautiful thing all the same. Unfortunately, I did not get enough pictures to show how beautifully decorated it was. I did not want to be any more conspicuous than I already was so, I did not try to move up to get better shots. but I think you will be able to get a glimpse from the video (more about that shortly).

The Bride and Groom in place, the music begins, and Tan Kai begins singing a song to Shi Shao Feng, and she responds by singing back to him. Sorry, I can't tell you exactly what the song says, but I am sure it is a song that expresses their love for one another. Now, I guess is the time to explain the video. I was at the back of the room standing about even with Shi Shao Feng and had begun filming. Tan Kai, as you will be able to see is quite some distance away. Ha ha, this is when Zou got really excited and snatched the camera out of my hand, ran around a few tables and positioned herself about in the middle of the walkway between Tan and Shi. That is why you see a bit of shaking and blurring.

She positioned herself pretty well, and when she was not trying to capture every movement, she got a nice bit of Shi & Tan singing, with Tan coming to get Shi and then they joined together and sung their way back to where Tan had started from. Now, I got to say my part.

Shi has seen a lot of western films and TV shows and has always been moved by some of the wedding vows, in particular where the Groom and Bride are asked if they Promise to love, to honor, to cherish, to protect, and to forsake all others, holding only unto him/her (It now dawns on me that I left off the “until death do you part” section), and then I got to pronounce them man and wife. Well, with Zou as my interpreter, that was my part, and I was deeply honored that I was asked to be a part of their wedding. Technically speaking, they were already married. In China you go to the marriage registration office, fill out a form, and then you are married (sort of like getting a license in the U.S). The ceremony is is just that, a ceremony for the bride and groom and their friends and family. Don't get me wrong, just as in the U.S., this is a very special event, and I know from talking to my students, that just as the U.S., most Chinese girls begin to  dream about their wedding day at a very young age, dreaming of what they will wear, what the wedding hall will look like and so forth.

The wedding is also quite a production, with professional photographers and film crew down to the point of have Klieg lights so that the lighting is perfect for photography and film. This was a special day and Shi was absolutely radiant and so beautiful. Tan, a handsome young fellow, was also one big smile from ear to ear. I am very happy for them.

After I said my part, the wedding host resumed his duties and there were some toasts made with Shi and Tan interlocking arms and drinking out of each others glass. The parents were introduced, and they seemed pretty happy as well. And then, as suddenly as the ceremony began, it was over. Time for the meal.

The wedding and the reception are often held in the same place. All of us had been seated at round tables, with about 8 to a table. Zou and I were sitting at one of the tables reserved for Tan's co-workers. The meal was huge, maybe 5 or 6 courses not counting the cold dishes that were already on the table. By my estimations of table counts and guest per table, I would say there were about 300 guests in attendance. So, just as in the U.S., a Chinese wedding can be right expensive. I am not even going to try to guess how much it cost.

Fortunately, I was not sitting at a table where a host was serving me so, I could eat only what I thought I would like. I did try the turtle soup though and found it to be quite tasty. How did I know it was turtle soup? By the large, whole turtle (sans shell) in the middle of the serving bowl! He he, you have to remember in China, when it comes to food that comes from the water, it is usually served whole with heads and tails, and uncut. There was also shrimp and fish in their whole, unadulterated forms. They also served a dish I discovered last year called 大骨头
Dà gǔtou (gu towe)or Big bone (Chinese friends, if I have it wrong please correct me). This is a big big pork shoulder, and man is it good!

While everyone is eating, the bride and groom make their way to each table to have a toast and thank everyone for coming. He he, Shi and Tan know I don't drink, so I was able to "cheers" with my heart and a glass filled with OJ.

When it was all over, Shi took us to the hotel to check in. Along the way she had asked if I minded sharing a room with Tao ( who by now had taken off to visit some of his college classmates, he went to school in Lianyuangang). I had not planned on bunking with anyone, but I was also not aware that the bride and groom were going to pay for the rooms of their guests. I told her that she did not have to do that, but insisting would have probably hurt her feelings, so I did not fight too much, and I had no problems bunking with Tao. He was a nice guy.

After checking in, we headed to the seaside where Tan and Shi would take some more post wedding pictures. So, while they were taking pictures, Zou, and some of the other close friends and I just hung out a bit and waited to go to dinner.

Well, we end up going to dinner at a nice place and I was seated to the left of Shi Shao Feng, ahem, a place of honor. So, naturally, she would ask, "have you ever tried this"(various dishes). Some I had, some I had not, and the ones I had not, I would ask,"What is it?" And, she would reply, "Try it first, and then I will tell you." Oh boy! I have let too much time pass to remember everything, but I do remember that I ate some sort of green worm/bug. In the dish, it sort of looked like scrambled eggs, but upon closer inspection, you could see its larvae looking body. Actually, it was also quite tasty. However, Shi would not eat any!

The Day After

The next day before leaving, we had a lunch together with Tan,Shi, and a few more of their guests from the wedding. As you can see by the pictures, it was a pretty cool looking place. Kind of a rainforest cafe look. We had some pretty delicious food, and again a few dishes that were unusual, with the obligatory sampling. One, I recognized right away, the squid. I saw the legs. I had had this before when I went on a bar-b-que with some students. At that time, the legs were as big as the body, but this time the legs were separate from the body, and the body had some decent size to it and sort of looked like pieces of pork. Pretty good. Seems, that Shi preferred the legs, so that all worked out. I also tried some jelly fish. That was a little more crunchy than I thought it would be. Did not care much for it, but a least I tried it.

At the wedding lunch, I was able to avoid the shrimp (I prefer it fried), but of course I was offered some. Tan helped me a bit with it, letting me know that it you should remove the head and little swimmer fins first, and then peel the skin off. They had a soy base sauce to dip it in, and it was pretty good. And, I found good use for the discarded heads. We had an unusual lunch companion. A nice little kitty cat. Seems, he knew his way around and was accepted by the restaurant. Having developed an affection  for cats, I called him to my chair and set the shrimp heads down for him. You can see by his expression that he was grateful.

Well, that wraps up the day, and long, long, blog. The ride home was uneventful because we had plenty of time to make it back to Zhenjiang before my bus would leave to take me back to Zhangjiagang. Tao drove, and he drove rather slowly, but of course, he utilized all three lanes, giving a little toot toot of the horn when necessary. Here are some links to the pictures: The Wedding Day  The Next Day: Lunch 

Make sure you click the magnifying glass on our lunch companion. Ha ha, until the next time...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oatmeal! Something to Ponder While Waiting for the Chinese Wedding Post

Oatmeal! Can't get anymore mundane than this. Actually, when I was a kid I loved oatmeal, and could, and often would eat it everyday on the cold days of winter. My mom used to make it for me boiling the oats with a little salt in the water. She knew that how to add just so much milk and sugar to give it that sweet creamy taste I like, with just a hint of salty flavor underneath.

I still love oatmeal, but have generally just too lazy to make it in the morning. Actually, for more years than I care to remember, a cup of coffee was my breakfast, and if really hungry, a couple of pieces of toast, or a quick stop at Mickey D's for a bacon egg and cheese biscuit. ( a side note, if Hardee's could combine Micky D's bacon with their egg and cheese biscuit, they would own the bacon-egg-cheese biscuit market-at least for those of us who prefer crispy bacon, but I digress!)

This summer I took a little trip with my family and when we would stop and get breakfast, my brother Jay would get a bowl of oatmeal and one or two boiled eggs. I knew that after "finding" 20lbs over the last year, I had to figure out a way to "lose" them and maybe a couple more of their buddies who have decided to hang out with me over the years. I have read and heard so many times how a good breakfast is key to a healthy diet, and would help you to not be so hungry during the rest of the day.

So, I have determined that I would begin everyday with breakfast, and have chosen the oatmeal and boiled eggs to be my main staple. Just so you know, I am one of those people who can go all Elvis on a meal, meaning I can eat the same thing almost every day and not get tired of it. Elvis would go on a kick and have his chef make him the same meals for weeks on end. (Think fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches) I discovered the same affinity for pizza while working for Domino's Pizza. People would ask, don't you get tired of pizza? Unfortunately, my answer was no, never!

In China, you can't drink the water out the tap, so everyone has a water pot to boil water quickly. I have discovered that is a perfect way to make real Quaker Oatmeal (yes, I get them in China)as quick as any instant.

I still make it mostly the same way my mom did, but instead of sugar, I use some honey. So here is my recipe: I pour about a cup of oats into the bowl, sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over the top and then squirt about 2 teaspoons of honey over the top. When the water is done boiling I pour enough in to cook the oats and leave it with just a little creamy texture. I no longer use the milk, but I do have that lightly sweet taste with a hint of saltiness underneath. This seems to be working for me. Since I have been back I have "lost" a couple of those pounds who had found me.

So, Here is my question for you, Do you like oatmeal, and if so, how do you like to prepare it for yourself? Let me know in the comments. Like I said, I could eat the same thing for weeks on end, but a little variety never hurts. Until the next time...