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A while back (ok, a LONG time ago, 7 months – this post is way overdue), I had the opportunity to travel to Xi’an when my mother-in-law came to see China.  Regardless if you have heard of Xi’an or not, you definitely know about it.  The discovery of the Terracotta Army in 1974 by a farmer drilling a water well is one of the largest archeological discoveries in the world.

Xi’an is a beautiful city that blends the ancient world with the modern.  It is the historic old capital of China as well as a modern, brightly lit, fun city.  My brother, who was also in China by chance for a conference was able to meet my MIL and me in Xi’an.

The main attraction is, of course, the Terracotta Warriors.  It is truly a site to see.

Terracotta Army

To be honest, pictures do not give justice to place.   It’s hard to understand the vastness of this one building until you have seen it for yourself.

I’ve heard it said that each warrior is a unique sculpture modeled after a real soldier.  In general I can’t agree or disagree because I’m not an archeologist working on the site. While scanning though my images, they all look “real” enough and everyone seems different from those around them – until I saw THIS GUY….

Stretch Wangstrong (Pronounced “Wongstrong”)

We all know the Chinese are a skinny bunch (with all the oil they put into ALL OF THE FOOD, I don’t know how).  But THIS GUY, really?  He’s got proportions 3 times worse than Barbie.  Figure it this way – with armor and clothing on, his waist is maybe 6 to 8 inches across.  I’m pretty sure that no human with such an unproportional body could survive – let along be a soldier.  By the position of his hands I guess he was a horse driver of some sort?  (Suggestions are welcome!)  Not to mention, I think his arms reach clear to where his knees should be…  Was there some strange stretching torture device in the ancient Chinese military?  Perhaps – after seeing this guy.  I will call him “Stretch WangStrong.”

I know – it sounds terrible in English… But Wang is one of the most popular Family Names in China.  (and FYI, it’s actually pronounced the same as WONG.  The ‘A’ in this case sounds like an ‘O’ as in “gong”.

Lamb Balls

This past Friday husband and I went to an outdoor Chinese barbeque in FengCheng with a bunch of people.  I’m pretty sure the sign was supposed to say “SEAFOOD CITY”.

 

They had a huge assortment of food to pick from.

Chinese barbeque

Before this, I’ve eaten a variety of unique food… pig tongue, pig stomach, duck brains, fish eyeballs, chicken hearts…  but this takes the cake:

Lamb Testicle (Before cooking)

To be completely honest – it wasn’t that bad.  Would I order it again?  Actually, yes… besides it looked much more appetizing AFTER it was cooked, so I need to get a picture of that.

Last Sunday husband and I went cherry picking with some other members of the project and several people from Yuanda Company.  Yuanda is our property management company.  The owner is a wonderful, very powerful, and very influential woman in Haiyang.  I’m always happy to see her, but her English may actually be worse than my Chinese, so our communication is really rough.  Regardless, she was our hostess for picking cherries.  There is a pretty grand entrance to the village where the cherry terraces were located:

Cherry Festival Entrance

Our bus was too large to travel up the small roads leading to the terraces, so we walked.  This didn’t stop other (even larger) busses from going and getting stuck on the roads – which are really more like wide sidewalks – hence completely blocking any other vehicles trying to pass.   It’s pretty much a normal attitude around here.  The walk was longer than I expected, but it’s always nice to see the small, back roads of the farming villages.

I’ve been told there are tons of bee farms in the mountains around here.  We saw this one on the walk to the cherry trees.  There was a little hut located just to the right of the hives where the bee keepers lived.

Bee Farm

Bee Farm

After 2 miles or so, we reached the area to pick cherries.  Unfortunately I neglected to take pictures OF the cherries – which are completely different from those we are used to in the USA.  The local wild cherries are about 1cm in diameter and a pink-red color.  The trees we picked from were no more than 10 feet tall.  However, this could be on purpose as most of the farmers are only about 5 ft tall at best and can’t reach much higher than 10ft with ladders and poles.   These two farmers were picking on the plot next to the one we were using:

Farmers picking cherries

I found a few trees, although over picked, had some really ripe cherries, woohoo!  Then I looked down… THANK GOD or else I woulda stepped in it… What did I see?  Why, a hug pile of human SH!T of course.  Yep.  Someone had recently just taken a huge dump right under the tree I was picking from….   Alright then!  Enough from that one!  (I was tempted to take a picture, but I figured I would spare you all the gross-ness).  On the other hand, I can’t say I was surprised.

We picked about 2 pounds of bitty little cherries and had to start the trek back down the mountain.  I’m so glad we got there early!  The huge area of confusion on our way up was just as interesting on the way down, cars and people everywhere.  It was true China driving.

This was the traffic line to and from the cherry-picking area. Not only did some guy just decide to leave his motorcyle in the middle of the left lane, unattended, but then some other skilled driver took the initiative to take the right lane in order to “pass” the halted traffice. The traffice to my rear was just as bad as this – basically no one was moving or could move. Classic.

I understand that some people chose the non-traditional wedding, getting married on top of a live volcano, on a roller coaster, or while sky-diving.   I can even understand that some brides want a fairy-tale-princess-wedding in Disney Land….  But this one is really tacky.  I filmed it from our hotel room at the Shangri-La in Qingdao, China.

I’m trying to find good/funny background music for it.  Suggestions are welcomed!!

We’ve passed the 8-month mark living here in the middle-of-nowhere China.  Overall we are happy.  I have adjusted to living in an apartment, husband likes his work, and the cats have gotten used to the new environment and don’t seem to notice they’re on the other side of the planet.  A while ago I did a few posts on things I took for granted in the USA.  I purposely left out the biggest and most annoying one…  COOKING.

“They” say that only two things are inevitable in life – death and taxes.  I disagree.   I also think that laundry and grocery shopping are inevitable… and I enjoy them just about as much as I do taxes and dying – not that I’ve ever experienced the latter.  (At least I’m pretty sure.)  Back in the States I **hated** grocery shopping.  It was always a Sunday morning chore that I never looked forward to.  First you have to look in the fridge & freezer & pantry – see what you need…  eggs?  chicken?  fish?  chicken stock?  lettuce?  then what about laundry soap?  paper towels?  TP?   Then I would clean out my coupon organizer… I HATE when I go to use a coupon and the d*** thing is expired.  Yes, I clip coupons – not like the crazy people you see on TV, but I’ve managed to save upwards of 80% on little stuff at Giant Eagle (Pittsburgh grocery store if you don’t know about it).  And guess what!  Some of those 25-cent mustards made it all the way to China with us – definitely beats paying 5USD for the same thing at the import stores in Qingdao or Shanghai.

After living here for oh maybe, 3 days, I started kicking myself for EVER hating grocery shopping back at home.  It’s truly a wonderful thing to (DRIVE YOURSELF to a store) then walk in and basically find everything you need at one place.  Shopping here (with an attempt to maintain some sort of American-quality meals) takes planning at least a week or two in advance.   Now I will admit – in the midst of my complaining – the veggies and fruits at the market are dirt cheap.  I can buy all our veggies for a week for less than 10 USD (and I buy A LOT here!)  Just think to yourself how much a bag of pre-cleaned and cut lettuce is…  The produce markets here are cheap, good quality, and the people who work there are so nice it makes me sick.  Here is the tough part (not even mentioning the language because that’s always a problem), there are about 15 different people ALL selling the SAME STUFF.  I really try to spread out my business – but once one of them sucks you in to their stand, you end up buying more than you intended from one person.  It can be annoying and amusing at the same time, they keep throwing vegetables at you so you buy more.  Sometimes I like it because I forget everything I intended to buy.   “What fruit is this?”  Oh, no problem, they hand one to you and tell you to try it.  (Then they start throwing a bunch in a bag even though I’m saying I don’t want it…)

Setting shopping experiences aside…  I MISS MY KITCHEN.  Blessed-Virgin-Mary, I NEVER thought I would say that…

  1. I miss not having to wait 5 minutes for hot water to gravitate from the tank on the roof of a 4-floor building to my 1rst floor kitchen sink.
  2. I miss a GAS stove with FOUR burners that accepts every type of cookware – rather than a single induction cook-top that works with about half our pots/pans and either burns or undercooks food.
  3. I miss an oven.  A REAL oven.  Not a stupid toaster oven.  I can buy one if I plan to spend a small fortune.  No – not worth it.
  4. I miss my cupcake, cake, baking, meatloaf,  etc. pans…
  5. I miss my KitchenAid Stand mixer that I never used because I worked full-time prior to moving here.  Ohh how I could use it now!!!  A small immersion blender/single mixer/small food processor appliance is NOT the same.
  6. I miss a dishwasher.  I tried to explain to the property management girl that we have a machine at home that washes dishes… no luck.  I really need to take pictures and videos.
  7. Did I mention I miss my real kitchen?

Prior to coming here, I was never really a cook.  My family and Dear Husband may disagree (please disagree!   🙂   ), as I’ve had some random successes with Thanksgiving turkey and an assortment of other meals.  But: getting a meal right in the good ‘ol USA is easy.  Ingredients are readily available and (see list above) I have a wide assortment of tools at my disposal.

Before we left for the Middle Kingdom, Aunt K. said “you will learn to make anything and everything from scratch”.  I thought  hahahahaha, yeah right!.  I was set in thought that since I had lived here before, that I could suffice with basic groceries and a lot of Chinese food.  No.  She Was Right.  I’ve made different breads, a ton of different vegetable soups, miserably failed at homemade sour cream, and also horribly failed with hamburger buns that turned out as hard as hockey pucks… all with a single induction cooktop, a glorified toaster oven, and a tiny microwave.  Yay me.

I try make anything I can from scratch.  And really:  “That IS what she said”.

Kitchen

Oven and Microwave

A few weeks ago, the owner (finally) opened the village gym from 9 till 11 on weekday mornings.  (Piss-poor timing as the weather is getting nice and we can actually go outside now.)   It is raining today so I was able to get out of my bike-ride with ‘A’.   She’s in great physical shape and I, well, am not.   Let’s also say that getting on a road bike after not being in a spinning class for over 7 months can be rather painful.  We had a really fun ride yesterday!  I know I hold her back because I’m just getting started with road biking, but we figured out an awesome motivation for both of us.  Near the end of the loop, ‘A’ does an extra mile and a half or so, and I skip it.  Her goal is to catch me – and my goal is for her not to.  Whew!  That was a workout!  Of course, as I get in some sort of shape this method won’t really work as well – but it works now!  🙂

Since we couldn’t ride today we hit the “gym” here at the expat village.   The gym sucks.  I can’t find anything good to say about it.  There are only 3 treadmills (but only 1 emergency pull cord, so you can only use one at a time), 1 elliptical that feels as though it’s going to break when I use it, a few bikes that don’t have batteries installed in the monitoring system, and a variety of basic weight equipment.  It’s got enough to get a primitive lifting session in – but leaves much to be desired.

We showed up around 9:30 and (surprise!) there was a Chinese lady sitting on one of the bikes.  Now, I had seen other Chinese women “exercising” there.  They casually sit on the bikes and barely move their legs (while staring blankly at a magazine or texting everyone they know).  You could probably get a better workout cooking a delicious dinner for your husband… At least then you wouldn’t be hogging the equipment for people who actually intend to raise their heart rate.  Granted, I’ve seen1 or 2 women slowly jogging or walking swiftly on the treadmill – good for them.   When we arrived, I thought, maybe we’ll have a workout friend here.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.    ‘A’ said ni hao to the woman (girl? to be honest I don’t know how old she was… Asian women age so slow that I can’t tell).  ‘A’ jumped on the treadmill – I was there for upper-body lifting…

After about 20 seconds I realized that the Chinese woman wasn’t doing anything.  Nothing.   Nadda.  Zip.  Zero.

‘A’ starts her run and I started bench-press, etc…  Out of the corner of my eye, I see ‘China-Lady’ turn sideways on the bike… alternating her attention (aka. staring) between ‘A’ and me.  At first I figured she was just interested because she had never seen a woman run for “fun”, or any woman ever lift weights (the Chinese women always look at me lifting – with definite confusion on their faces).  I did a few of my exercises and ‘A’ kept running…

Then I had some awesome entertainment between my sets!!!!!!  (NOTE:  Aside from the 3 of us, there was NO ONE else in this gym!!!)

This lady spent the entire length of 'A's run, 2 ft away from her, alternating her staring between 'A' and me.

No, I’m lying…. at one point she fell asleep…  (Are we THAT boring to watch?!)

I know the Chinese have the uncanny ability to nap anywhere.
But REALLY!?!?!?!

 Some things I will never understand.

Working out - Chinese Style. (Zzzzzzzzz)

Notes:  ‘A’ – I appologize for featuring you in my blog.  But it just wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t in the pictures!!!!!!!

Nice Pants

Sweet outfit dude. Next time wear your pink boxers under your creepy zebra pants.

 

 

This can't be that comfortable.

There has been something I’d been wanting to do since before we arrived in China way back in September.   I had spoken to the Company’s head of communications in China last summer about starting a program in Haiyang, that mirrors one from the Company’s sister-site in Sanmen, China.  Last week that goal finally came to fruition.

The majority of residents in Haiyang had probably never seen a Westerner until the past few years when the Company started work here – even though the children diligently try to learn English and about the cultures of the West (mostly the USA).  It’s a very cute thing to see.  The extent of English conversation I had with a random Chinese person in Haiyang is “Hello”.  I can walk down the completely isolated street in front of our housing complex and randomly encounter a (Chinese) truck full of men riding in the back – and almost always, as they putter along, one will attempt to shout out “hello”  (so long as I smile and try to a pleasant person).  I’m sure that is the only word he knows.  But hey!  That just shows you how far the English language has permeated even the most rural of areas in China.  Another situation I’ve encountered is a parent walking with a toddler who is just learning to speak.  The poor kid looks at Westerners like WTF are you??  But the parent keeps poking them “Ni shuo ‘hello'”  (say ‘hello’).  I do the obligatory wave, smile, try to say hello to the kid,  tell the parent “hao ke’ai de haizi” (cute kid), and go along my business.

Last week a bunch of wives and employees of the Company visited a local primary school for the kick off of a new language and cultural exchange program.  We were greeted by this sign, which I cannot read but had translated for me:

"Welcome friends from *Company* for visiting Xinyuan primary school and providing coaching"

Outside the School

It was still morning when we arrived, so the children were out doing morning exercises.  If you’ve lived or worked in China, this is a really common practice – even among adults.  It is nothing to see a crew of workers in the courtyard doing stretches or arm circles before their shift.  Next time we go, I will try to get a video.

Morning exercises

Now, the Chinese like to make a huge production and celebration for just about anything and everything.  It was no surprise to me that we were greeted by the head of the Haiyang education system, the head of the local school, and a bunch of other Haiyang officials and well-connected (“Party”) people.  The local news agency also showed up to take video, pictures, and interviews.  First was an initial introduction from the ‘important people’ in what I think is a formal greeting room for important events.  It was a soft lounge-type room.  They offered us water, small oranges, and Haiyang cucumbers.  Alright, the cucumbers may sound strange – but these things are friggin amazing!  I hear they are only grown locally.  BUT they are so delicious you can just sit there and chow down on a whole cucumber, or two, or five.  (I usually buy 20 or so a week when I go to the market.)

After formal introductions it was time to meet the children in a very ceremonial fashion.  We left the first building and walked about 100 meters to another building which housed a Board Room.  This is the first Chinese school I have been to, but I imagine they are all similar.  This one was set up in a campus style – rows of buildings that (to me) looked like apartments.

Upon entering the room was about 35 kids uniformly dressed in orange and black jumpsuits.  They stood straight at attention until told, then the front row sat uniformly and (uniformly) crossed their arms on the table.  Very cute little soldiers.  I couldn’t help but smile!  I know they must have practiced many times because it looked so perfect.

Children at Ceremonial Kick-Off Meeting

The important people gave a bunch of speeches in Chinese and I could only pick out a word here or there that I understood.  I tried to act interested even though I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.  The Company communications guy roughly translated once the speeches were done.  Meanwhile, the children all stood and sat at attention.  Two days earlier I had asked my good friend A if she wanted to come with my because I had no clue what was going to happen – and didn’t want to be the only woman there.  *Eeeek* – poor thing was asked to give a speech in front of this roomful of people.  I still feel very bad – but she was probably the best person to do it – thin, beautiful, smart, dark blond hair, and has this perfect way of connecting with Chinese.  I can’t explain it – and even though I still feel terrible for getting her into it, she did a wonderful job and definitely ‘broke the ice’ after all of the formal speeches.

Finally came the fun… and kinda scary part!   I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO!  Hahaha!  I sat down with a table of absolutely beautiful girls and one adorably shy boy.  I was stuck.  I guess I didn’t think ahead that I was actually going to speak to children.  I had no plan, no clue how much English they know, and I’m an ENGINEER, not a teacher.  Awkward!!  Thank goodness for little girls though!  They started talking to me in textbook English.  I was impressed at their initiative and took that as a cue.  “Hello, how are you?” …  “I am good, how are you?”  I went around the table and was impressed at their perfect pronunciation.  Ebonics has NOTHING on China!

At one point, their English teacher came over with their English book.  I was a bit freaked out – but I wonder if maybe HE has trouble saying some words and wanted them to hear it from a native English speaker.  THEN the pressure was on!  Think about it – try to pronounce “clothes” perfect…  when I speak ‘normally’, it sounds like “close”.  Regardless – everyone at my table said it PERFECTLY!!!  Next was “grandparent”…  JEEZE… When I talk normal it sounds like “gran-par’nt”, worst of all, I call my grandmother “gramma” or “G-ma”.  I made my best attempt to speak slow (something G-Ma always said I had problems with!), and I pronounced it properly.  They imitated it wonderfully!  I was so happy!  Maybe it’s just me – I still speak a bit of Pittsburghese…  For those of you not from Pittsburgh, it’s an old steel-town-kind-of-speech.  I lived there my entire life before coming to China, so now my speech is a weird mix of Pittsburghese and Englese (English/Chinese).

Anyways…   The most fulfilling experience came at a few different moments.  First – one of the girls across the table from me wanted to sit right next to me.  Second, after me talking to the table for 10  minutes, she wanted to give me a huge hug.  THAT was the moment when I knew this was worth it.  Once we were told our time was over and it was time to go home, the kids scrambled around to try to get our ‘autographs’ as fast as they could.

Later that day I got the request to be the organizer/point person for this exchange program.  I’m probably the least qualified, but there is nothing I can’t handle.

After the short time I was there I realized a lot.  Sometimes TIME is the best thing you can give someone.  The children were genuinely interested in us.  I have a few topics in store for our next visits.  They want to practice English and are eager to learn about our lives.  I am eager to learn about their’s as well.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go grocery shopping in Qingdao, therefore we are running desperately low on meat of any sort.  I can definitely get pork at any of our local JiaJiaYue supermarkets, but I have trouble justifying the purchase of meat that sits out all day being poked and prodded by masses of people who probably haven’t washed their hands in over a week and a half, and refuse to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.  Call me picky, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. At the XinHai market there are several concrete bomb-shelter-like looking buildings full of cages of hens, roosters, and some other small mammals.  I hadn’t purchased one yet, because I assumed that I would need to kill and clean it myself.  I’m sure I could handle that, but plucking feathers off a bleeding-out chicken on a Wednesday afternoon just didn’t seem like my idea of a fun and productive day spent.

It wasn’t until last week that I learned they will kill, clean, and remove the lower digestive system for me.  Perfect!  I can handle that.  The rooster costed more than I would’ve expected (about 20 USD), but it was more than worth it to know it was fresh and only handled by one guy after it was killed, AND that I got to watch the who process.  This just isn’t something you see back home when you go to Giant Eagle (grocery store) to pick out a chicken.

I went with my friend A.  Her driver always helps a ton with these traditional Chinese things.  He asked if I wanted a boy or girl chicken.  Well that wasn’t a question I had ever been asked before?  I asked him which one was good?  The hens were much smaller, but the A’s driver picked out a big rooster and said they are let out to walk around more and the hens just sit around and eat.  Does this make it better?  I have no idea.  Now I want to clarify, when I describe these conversations that I have with just about any Chinese person in Haiyang, it’s usually a mix of my broken Mandarin, their local Haiyang dialect, and a lot of funky charades.  Thankfully, most of the drivers that work for us Westerners have learned a small amount of English, making something like buying live poultry MUCH easier!   But, as you can imagine, I don’t really know how to ask “will they take off the feathers and remove the sh*t from the rear end of that bird?”  Between my Engl-ese (opposite of Chinglish), and some creative chicken dancing, I usually can figure out what is going on.

After we picked out a rooster, the owner pretty much ripped the wings off to put it on the scale. I was taking video the entire time. If you are a fan of PETA, you might not want to watch these videos. Since I’m a fan of People Eating Tasty Animals, I have posted these videos and will share them with you.

After I paid for my bird, he slit the neck and put it into a rotating drum to bleed out.  From there my rooster and some other guy’s chicken were put into a vat of boiling water.  Unfortunately the other bird was still very much alive.  After that there was another drum for defeathering.  Also, notice the gutted dog hanging in the middle of the room.  This is the first one I’ve seen.  (This may be offensive to some individuals, watch at your own risk.)

And finally, removing the intestines, etc…

Alas, I brought my rooster home to the roaster:

Dinner

 WARNING:  THIS POST CONTAINS IMAGES THAT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME INDIVIDUALS.

DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU HAVE A QUEASY STOMACH OR SMALL CHILDREN ARE NEAR.

Meat table at the market

Delicious, Pig Heart

And finally, this pitiful creature was hanging in the “store” (more like a concrete bomb shelter)   where I bought a live chicken…

Yes, That's a Dog