Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh My Darlin' Clementine

It's been a really nice day. I began the morning happily deciding where to locate Paige's food and water bowls. After a leisurely shower, I strolled, apron and two containers in hand, to a cooking class a few blocks away. I signed up for this class through the Shekou International Women's Club. I joined SWIC soon after arriving here and it has been invaluable as a a way to network with other women/mothers/shoppers/fish-out-of-water/ such as myself.

As I stood puzzling over the very secure entry door to the lobby of the building listed in the e-mail about the class, a woman approached from the other side and let me in with a smile. My new friend, Suzie, and I then took the tiny elevator to the tiny apartment which is the "Shenzhen Kitchen, Chinese Cooking Workshop, Since 2003" According to the business card given to me by the smiling young instructor of the class, it is "One of the best cooking schools in the world",Gourmet Traveler , Austrailia 2008." I have little experience with cooking schools, (okay, no experience), but I think the business card may have been embellishing just a bit. We sat on tiny stools at white plastic tables, cooked our creations on hot plates, and probably exceeded the lawful capacity of the apartment with our enrollment of 7 plus 2 teachers. Did I mention the air conditioning was not working? They did put a fan conveniently behind me which kept me comfortable - my ingredients just kept blowing onto the other student's work . But, we had a GREAT TIME learning to make Prawn Dumplings and Fried Sesame Steam Buns.

Do not write asking me for the recipes or begging me to recreate these tasty dim sum selections. The instruction sheets listed all amounts in grams and the spoon we used to get ingredients like sugar, cornstarch, and salt out of little unlabelled jars was not a standard measuring spoon. There were also ingredients like "STARCH" and "FAT" "You mean lard?", we asked? "No, fat from meat you cut off and boil." came the reply. "Oh.....right.....huh?" Still, it was fun to make dumpling dough from scratch, roll it super-thin, stuff it with a mixture of diced shrimp, carrots, bamboo shoots, "fat", egg white, and cornstarch. Our instructors then demonstrated the art of beautifully folding the dumplings, creating perfect fan shapes and cleverly folded pouches that looked like silk drawstring bags. My classmates and I laughed, struggled and sweated to duplicate these masterpieces. Most of us, especially me, had to be satisfied with the knowledge that our ugly dumplings would at least taste the same! Seven minutes in a tower of bamboo steamers over boiling water and they were, indeed yummy!
The Sesame Buns filled with red bean paste were easier to make, demanding less artistry. They went through a process of steaming and then were fried in oil like old fashion donuts. Not likely the nutrition nazi (currently a position filled by Emily; Emily received her training under General Erin) will allow THAT to happen under her watch! Besides Suzie, my new friend from, of all places, Minnesota, I met Melanie from Belgium, Marian from France, Rebecca from Hong Kong, and two young ladies from Japan whose names I cannot spell. We left smiling, containers filled with our creations. My 15 ugly dumplings will be enjoyed as an appetizer tonight. The sesame buns may not get eaten since Dunkin' Donuts finally opened yesterday!

Elly came home from school grinning ear to ear, eager to tell me about the Awards Assembly held at school today. (I did not know about this...guilt, guilt.) Anyway, she was selected by her teacher to get an award for her outstanding attitude and humor thus far this year. She also got the award for Chinese Class (hard work and good listening). She was beaming as she told me about shaking the Principal's hand in front of the whole school. She was walking on air, all the more so because she had a play date planned with a new friend from Wales - a 5th Grader!

Back at home I was visited by a repairman offering to fix my doorbell , which had failed to chime when a representative of the neighborhood management team had dropped by earlier to leave a rent notice. This was the second repair our door chime required since we moved in. The chimer is battery powered and when the batteries weaken, the "Fur Elise" rendition sounds like it is being performed by a wounded cat. The repairment showed up on his electric scooter just as I was leaving for a trip to the grocery store. I handed him the chimer and told him the batteries were "bu hao" (no good). He motioned that he had to drive to the office to get batteries; I raised my shopping bags to signal that I was leaving. We used more sign language to agree that he could bring the chimer back and put it on my door stoop even if I wasn't home. Thumbs up - off to get eggs, bananas, Grape Nuts, and some ingredients Emily requested for the Italian Creme Cake she is planning for my birthday. (Her dumplings would have been lovely!) When I returned three stores later, arms about a cm longer than when I started, there was my doorbell chimer. I relaesed my load, pressed the button and.... "Oh My Darlin' Clementine" echoed through my house.

I laughed. Living here offers funny moments like this every day. Crazy that someday, when I hear THAT tune, it will make me think of CHINA!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To Market To Market

Picture me standing with my grocery bags on the double yellow lines. This is where I cross when I am too lazy to walk up and down the 146 steps.over the street! I don't do thisoften since a lady told me she witnessed a fatality here.

Some glimpses into our pantry in Shenzhen.

Some snack foods from Sams and WalMart.

A tiny fraction of the special "Moon Cakes" for sale EVERYWHERE in China as people prepare to eat these for the Moon (or Autumn) Festival. Ladies in special costumes stand nearby and accompany you to the register if you buy some.
More snacks from Sam's. We thought the bag on the left might be like Cheetos - it was not. The big jar is oats.

All of the rice here is sold in JUMBO quntities. This is the smallest bag I could find. Elly was struggling to hold it up and I had removed a large canister amount of it already. I try to store all grains in the freezer to kill/prevent (you guessed it!) bugs.

These are quail eggs. they are a little bigger than a malted milk easter egg. Very cute and taste great hard-boiled.
Hmmm.....Is it "The Real Thing"?

Ellysa and I outside our local general goods and groceries store. This place carries mostly Chinese items and a few imports. Two import stores are right next door and carry lots of the other items we normally cook with, eg: chocolate chips and pancake syrup!
As I have said before, shopping in Shenzhen is always an experience. Compared to the first couple weeks of living here, I can now (usually) focus on the task of fulfilling my shopping list as opposed to being awestruck by the sights, sounds, and smells. Of course, the other day when a fish jumped out of captivity and onto the floor near our cart, Elly and I were a little distracted. And then we got mesmerized watching the frogs in their adjacent tanks, wondering how high they could jump. But the eels in this particular little market were just baby-sized - not nearly as impressive as the several feet long ones at Sam's or WalMart.

Other things, I have learned to NOT study too closely. The poultry, which is most often sold whole, always includes the head, tucked neatly beside the wing so you can look it in the eye. Then there are the trays of organs and innards which I give a blink and a swallow to and hurry on past. In the produce section, I am mostly frustrated that I can only recognize about 25% of what is sold. Even the stores that have taken the time to translate the label to english limit the effort to "Green Vegetable" (how dull do they think we foreigners are?) Plus, I get thrown off by even some of the familiar items - like the "green vegetable" that looks exectly like a green bean but is about 18 inches long. I'm thinking "Blue Ribbon" at the fair but wondering how long do you cook those things?

The packaged items are usually a little easier to navigate. If they are Chinese versions of well-known brands, there will be enough of the logo to make the item seem "normal". Even if Tony the Tiger has a thought bubble written in Chinese, I know he's saying they're "TERRRRific!" This commercial used to annoy me. Now I am happy to glance at Tony grinning at me as he slides around in my cart. I am trying to buy fewer of such import items. In part, because I can't justify the price; in part because I know we need to try other foods. I wrestle with the quality fears and try not to dwell on the tainted milk headlines that were so sad (I do still buy imported milk.) The girls have found some lunch snack items they enjoy. We're not sure of the contents or nutritional value but we're trying not to be too paranoid. Elly discovered some seaweed packets that she first had from an Asian import store in Knoxville. She would eat these salty, fishy things every day..... but Emily won't let her. (She, not Mommy, is the Nutrition Nazi of the house if the truth be known.)

Today, I remembered to have every item of produce weighed at WalMart - before I got to the final check-out! And I had enough of my own bags with me to hold everything! I didn't count out small change but, having recently mastered the many versions of coins which can add up to a Yuan, I could have done it! I then navigated myself to the nearest "travelator" (a label which seems to fit the moving sidewalk that takes you between levels at many malls and parking areas here) and found the "car park". I was grateful to NOT be on foot as the weight of my bags might have caused me to take shortcuts on the streets. I have written about the road hazards here, and I respect them greatly, but sometimes my tired arms and shoulders get the better of me. At such times, I find myself standing on the yellow lines as buses whiz by in front of me and behind me. Crossing Kingston Pike, at rush hour, between the North and South Campuses of Cokesbury UMC doesn't even seem risky to me anymore.
I hope this gives a better picture of some of the "day to day". I'll try to take my camera out more in the days ahead. I will begin a weekly Mandarin class next week. I'm also signed up for a class to learn how to make prawn dumplings. I cannot bring myself to buy the live shrimp just yet - I can't envision how you kill them before consumption - so our version will get made from the frozen shrimp I have purchased at the grocery. Tell the folks at Kroger "hello"!
(Lest you feel too much sympathy for all of the food adjustments we've made, let me confess that the new Dunkin Donuts opened a few blocks away this morning. Buy 5 get one free - we'll be there this weekend! They are located a few doors away from Starbucks, not far from the TCBY and across from McDonalds!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Connected Again!

I am not the "techie-ist" woman of my generation - never claimed to be. I am always slow to embrace new gadgetry. I probably would have sided with those who said TV would never catch on! The thought of buying new electronics (whether DVD players, phones, PCs, or anything else with more than an obvious "ON/OFF" switch) almost never appeals to me. I cling to my exsisting models, even if they are taped together, scratched, faded, partially functional, or, as my children put it, "from the old days". If some gadget still does the basic task I needed for in the first place, then it is good enough for me. I usually never figure out how to use the fancier features on the newer models anyway. And if my old gadget is slow, so what? I'm pretty pokey myself!

So, when our old desk-top computer showed signs of serious aging, I was the family hold-out on agreeing to get a new PC. Fortunately, I was out-voted and we shopped for a new laptop before moving to China. Of course, I became the biggest fan of the new toy. I loved being able to carry it around the house and take it on trips. With the move looming, it was comforting to have a gadget I could rely on to keep me connected to the world I was leaving behind. I hurriedly signed up for Facebook and even started this blog to make communicating easier. I was SO HIGH TECH!

And then....poof....I entered the People's Republic of China and much of my new-tech world was blocked! Every time I tried to get to Facebook or this Blog, "somebody" knew it and my session would be ended. "Humf", I sighed, thinking that just when I was catching on I had to give up.
But this time was different. I WANTED the technology; I NEEDED the technology! So, I asked and searched and tried lots of ways to get around the blocks. It was a HUGE undertaking for a non-techie. I gave up several times, resigned that e-mail and Skype would have to be enough. Then a new acquintance would suggest something else or I'd get a response from one of my many e-mails to "tech. support". I'd uninstall things, reinstall things, change settings daily. I even followed instructions like "extract all files then drill down to the Config. File and copy and paste to the C:\Program file"! Me! I did all this - sweating profusely, of course, and quite certain I would disable our new laptop completely by messing with things I did not comprehend.

Then, last night "TADA!" (This is probably not what Bill Gates said when he invented microsoft in his garage.) something worked! I cannot tell you what, or how ('cuz like we used to say in Oak Ridge, then I'd have to kill you, plus, I really don't understand how!) But, I can now get to Facebook and this blog. I can view You-Tube and other content that was previously blocked as well. Oh Happy Day! I'm a Techie and I'm connected to the world because of it! I plan to start using the blog again to organize thoughts and images from our aamazing adventure here in China. I hope I don't get derailed again. I'm paying a monthly fee and I have "support" people who know me on a first name basis, so I'm optimstic.

One more thing.... Necessity has also led me to using more of the features on my new cell phone here in China. I can text using the crazy T9 feature. (Okay, I admit I am really slow.) I use the calculator feature and the currency converter on a daily basis. I even write myself memos on my phone! Now if I could only figure out which remote control to use to change channels..... hey, gimme a break.....the labels are all Chinese!!