Monday, February 23, 2009

A Follow-Up

It's been about two months and a half since I got back to the States. Since then, I've tried to assimilate myself back into "real" life, had my laptop infected with a barage of viruses and had to get the hard drive wiped out, went through some rushed (and headache-inducing) sub-leasing processes for an apartment, moved into said apartment, had a break up between my (ex-) boyfriend and I, started school, met a new friend who had also studied abroad in Beijing but had gone the semester before I did, struggled through daily life, and just got back from an interview to become a mentor.

I also somehow got placed into my school's version of fourth-year Chinese (Modern Readings in Chinese) which is actually hard, meaning I actually have to study and try in the class. O_o I never noticed how straightforward and relatively simple Chinese class was for me until now. I still think it doesn't quite matter that I took third-year Chinese in China. I still skipped second-year Chinese and completed third-"year" Chinese in four months. I mean, the class is even difficult for some of the people in my class that went through all the classes! I find myself spending a good amount of time looking up EVERY word I don't know. On the plus side, I'm learning, never mind the fact that it's hard and killing me as well as my free time. It's actually similar to my Chinese class back in Beijing where we'd have four straight hours of Chinese from 8 to 12:10 except most of the work now is done out of class.

Other things have also come to my attention. I don't think I'll get over China very soon. I still talk to my good friends I had made there via Google Talk, MSN, or even Skype regularly and we all send mass emails to each other when we have the time. I find that a majority of the food I cook now are Asian-inspired. I had a couple of Japanese-inspired days last week with okonomiyaki, miso soup, yakisoba, and cold soba noodles. I also had a good amount of noodle soup, steamed veggies, stir-fry, and my Americanised version of Fried Eggs and Tomatoes (西紅柿雞蛋) - Americanised meaning the fact that I made it here and though it still tastes good, something's different. My usual fare of Italian consisting of a variation of pasta, speggheti, lasagna, and orzo has dwindled magnificently - not to say that I don't like it. :) My English has died drastically and I find the idea that I forget English words rather common now. In fact, it happened thrice in my interview today and even while I'm supposed to be translating my Chinese passage to English during Chinese class. It doesn't help that I know what it is in Chinese when the passage is ALREADY in Chinese.

Half of my clothes that I brought up here were bought in China and I still listen to Asian music and watch Asian dramas and movies. I have, however, been further delving into the world of Korean entertainment. I've also been wondering what East Asian language I should tackle next: Korean or Japanese. :) I also figured out how to type in Korean (well... my name, at least) yesterday while procrastinating from writing my movie critique for Chinese class. I also am trying to learn how to read in Cantonese - those KTV videos are really helpful.

Some of the more neat skills that I've developed is that I'm a little more open to speaking in Mandarin to others - but since I'm someone who rarely talks (especially before others), it doesn't happen all that often. If it does, though, it tends to be rather automatic, which makes sense as it usually happens after I find myself thinking in Chinese, if someone's speaking to me in Chinese, or I hear others speak Chinese. I'm also much more cost-conscious than before. I'm not sure if this is a good thing since I was nowhere near a spender then, but I'll count it as a good thing. I mean seriously - everything here's expensive if you compare it with China!! I actually have a healthy loathing for how much clothes cost over here now and you can't even bargain!!! If you want a good set of examples... (and keep in mind that there are 6.8 kuai/yuan (RMB/塊/元) to one USD:

  • A pair of Chinese pants (~29 kuai) vs. a pair of relatively cheap American pants (~ $12)
  • A rather filling meal at the school cafeteria (4 - 7 kuai) vs. a meal at the cafeteria here (~ $4 - $8)
  • Food from a road-side stall (~1 - 3 kuai) vs. American fast food ($1 - $6)
  • A cute watch (~20 kuai) vs. a watch bought in America (~$13 and up)
  • A large cup of yoghurt with fruit chunks (~4 - 7 kuai) vs. a cup of yoghurt in America that is 1/3 or 1/2 the size of the large yoghurt (~$0.65) to a pack of four or six (~$3 - $6)

All in all, I still miss Beijing, and China, in general, and I think about it everyday. I think the funnest thing that I miss was having somewhere to go when you walk everywhere. You know what, though? I found out last night that there's an 8-time felon living in the apartment below mines. Even before that, I've been told by many friends not to go wandering in my neighborhood at night. -_-"

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Food: How I Miss You

I watch the Travel Channel show, Bizarre Food, hosted by Andrew Zimmern and yesterday night’s was on Beijing, China. I just had to watch it! One, for old time’s sake (OK, so it’s only been a week and a half since I was last there but it seems like quite a long time has passed!) and two, because Beijing holds a special place in me.

Watching the show going to Wang Fu Jing to eat Seahorse and Grasshopper chuanr all the way to dining Imperial Style at Bei Hai park as well as going to a restaurant that specializes in penis and another that specializes in Donkey made me want to go back to Beijing. Not necessarily to go to those places, but to go to the places that the show didn’t go to, for even though I did go to Wang Fu Jing before (and it’s nothing but a place geared to tourists and Chinese in the upper-crusts of society… and others just seeking the exotic choices for chuanr there), I hadn’t gone to try the chuanr there. [For those who are all (???) about what chuanr (串兒) is, it’s basically food on a stick – and Beijing has a lot of it!] I mean, I didn’t actually expect for the show to go to where I had gone before, since I tend to go to where the locals eat since I’m just cheap like that, but it made me miss Beijing even more. So this blog is about Beijing – and the food that I love (and miss!) so very much. Keep in mind that this will not be of exotic dishes and fine dining.

First, there’s the chuanr (串兒) and yes, it can be found everywhere in Beijing. Not just at Wang Fu Jing. It’s usually defined as “meat on a stick” – the Chinese version of a kabob, but it’s BETTER and Beijingers usually don't eat scorpions on a stick. Although, be forewarned: it’s not quite vegetarian friendly – or at least not for strict vegetarians. Let me explain as a (semi-) vegetarian myself. You have the choice of various vegetables like eggplant and lettuce along with other vegetarian items like tofu and even bread – yes, bread – but the problem is that when they cook it, they cook it in the same place and that ‘uncontaminated’ food item of yours most likely will touch the squid it’s cooking next to. If it hasn’t touched the squid (or the beef, or the chicken heart, or the goat meat…) yet, it will when it’s ready and it’s bundled and placed in the corner of the makeshift grill with the other meat items ready to be handed out to the waiting customer. Now, the thing that makes this special – besides the fact that if you’re buying it out on the street and it’s being cooked in front of your very eyes and the aroma that hits you (and your stomach) in the face (something pretty uncommon in the streets of America), the sauce and spices they add on to it are AMAZING. I’ve never tried any of the meat chuanr except the squid, which was absolutely mouth-watering and the experience ended too soon, but the vegetables that I’ve had were akin to having fireworks light up in my mouth. Actually, it’s similar to Ratatouille’s Remy who tried to explain the explosion of flavors in the mouth to his brother rat. Anyway… I usually get the lettuce bound with strips of soy, eggplant, and the mantou (饅頭 aka the bread). I usually get the mantou because it’s more filling. It’s simply spectacular how such simple things can be so satisfying! AND the experience and the choice of picking which stick of raw vegetable/bread/meat you want… Oh gosh, I miss it, not to mention the absolute convenience of it all! One thing though: it depends on the vendor/restaurant (yes, some restaurants do sell it as well!) but the spices can be quite spicy so if you’re not for the spicy types of food, tell them not to add it.

And other snacks… there’s the tang hu lu guo (糖葫蘆郭), which is basically some sort of fruit (or vegetable) on a stick that’s coated with hardened sugar/syrup. I tried the grape and the tomato before and I have to say the tomato won it – and no, it’s the tomato that’s closer to the cherry tomato in size. J The grape one was good, but it was rather too sweet – I mean, the sweetness of the fruit coupled with the sweetness of the sugar was just a bit too sweet. With the tomato, though, there was the juicy, tart tomato taste along with the crunch of the sugar covering was perfect and it balanced out perfectly! That’s what you call a sweet tomato! :) Actually, Beijing’s teaming with little vendors and even those on the go on their bikes – so just go look for your own snacks as there are way too many for me to write about and remember!

Then there’s the jiao zi (餃子, otherwise known as 水餃, or shui jiao, in other parts of China) and bao zi (包子), also known as the dumpling and the bun. Both are sold everywhere and cheaply all throughout Beijing (though the ones in Xi’an [西安] are even cheaper and just as yummy, if not more so!). I usually get my jiao zi on campus since they have one of the few vegetarian options for dumplings, even though it’s only one flavor (雞蛋白菜/eggs and bok choy). They sell it at half a jin (; one jin is equivalent to 1.2 pounds) for 4 kuai. It’s just so good – with or without the vinegar and chili sauce on top. I actually never really tried bao zi, mostly because they mostly have a meat filling, but I’ve heard good things about it. AND both of these items are good for all three meals of the day – and for a snack if you so wish!

Now… onto a meat item – the only one I eat… besides trying new things. SUSHI, otherwise known as shou si (壽司) in Chinese. I actually have a favorite restaurant that I go to for my raw fish needs and that would be at Isshin (一心) located in Wu Dao Kou/五道口. It’s usually packed or close to it, but the décor is rather nice and relaxing and the food is amazing. I’m rather biased when it comes to sushi (I mean, it’s the main thing I break my vegetarianism for – even in China, a place that’s not very vegetarian friendly and has a lot of rather tasty meat dishes) but it’s pretty good. If you don’t believe me, ask the others that go there! Usually, though, you see a good number of foreigners (something I usually tend to avoid, but hey – sushi calls!). While I was still there, there was a 20% off all sushi items but I believe it ends at the end of December. …In fact, it’s probably ended by around now. I went there around four times and I loved every minute of it! I also went to another sushi place in one of Beijing’s biggest shopping centers: Xi Dan (西單), but even though they’re a little cheaper, the sushi at Isshin is much better. And… there ends my little plug for my favorite sushi place in Beijing. A note of warning: it’s located in a little alley but once you look in, the bold red spelling out “一心” will be there!

In addition to that… and on another completely random food – ICE CREAM. Actually, all diary products in China are to die for. The yoghurt (酸牛奶/suan niu nai/sour milk)… the ice cream (冰淇淋/bing qi lin)… oh gosh. So tempting! First – throw away your thoughts about the whole milk scare in China. It only really applied to baby formula anyway – and unless you plan on drinking some baby formula, you’re out of the danger zone because the stores had already pulled out the suspected/bad merchandise several months before anyway. Now… try a yoghurt! I recommend plain because, well, it’s good! It’s different from the plain yoghurt here which tastes rather… plain. There, it’s just made beautifully! I mean, you open the top and there’s this thick creamy layer that you just lick off and the bottom part has the perfect amount of tart and sugar just dancing together! There’s also ICE CREAM if you’re a bit iffy on tasting the yoghurt. The ice cream tastes like ice cream as we know it – but not. I know, weird right? But it’s just as good – taste it. What puts the cherry on top is that they’re all – you got it! – cheap when compared to the good ole US. I actually brought over a little bag of milk (because milk there comes in these cool little thermal bags that keeps the milk fresh!) but because of my mom’s prejudices, she had thrown it away before I had the chance to drink it. I got rather annoyed – and mad. I still miss China like heck now. My milk brand of choice is Meng Niu (懞牛). However, the cheese is rather expensive and the native cheeses of China’s minorities (at least the Tibetans) are a bit odd and need getting used to – but they’re all still pretty good. Well, then again, I can’t live without dairy!

Those are some of the main items that I simply miss – but for last kicks… here’s one of my last lunches in Beijing:

It’s ma la tang (麻辣湯) which is various vegetables (and meat if you so wish) along with a special soup, ji dan bing (雞蛋餅) which is a sort of egg + bread “cake”, and dou sha bing (豆沙餅) which is fried dough with a sweet red bean filling for dessert – all for about an American dollar. Also, they're all OH SO GOOD... ^_^

Not to mention my favorite of su chao mian (素炒麵; vegetarian fried noodles) or qie zi ji dan chao fan (茄子雞蛋炒飯; tomato paste and eggs with fried rice) at the school's cafeteria...

AND THE EGGPLANT IN CHINA IS TO DIE FOR! I'm serious! It is amazing. The Americans know NOTHING when it comes to cooking eggplant - or vegetables, for that matter. Uh... no offense - but you'll know what I'm talking about when you visit China. :)

Uh... yeah, needless to say, I gained a bit of weight by the time I got back. :) Now... I don't buy anything. IT'S SO EXPENSIVE IN AMERICA!

Monday, December 15, 2008




我已經到了沒過兩天了,還沒忘記中國和我的朋友。我們還是去上網,一起聯絡一下。我每一個話説都跟中國有關,比方説,“在中國我看得到,”“我在中國的朋友說。。。”和“你知道嗎,在中國,這。。。” 在這裡,我沒對所有的東西有興趣。對現在的我,美國是我住的地方而已,沒什麽特別。我覺得是因爲我有點怕如果我忘了我在中國的事,我會永遠忘了,所以我這樣走下。我知道,這個方法沒還道理,對我家人,我一定越來越很煩,但是我停不了,不知道爲什麽是這樣子。