Archive for December, 2006

1965 Cambodia Videos

26 December 06

Thanks to Global Voices Online, (once again! I love that site!), I’ve found a blog with a few videos of 1960s Cambodia – years before the ruin of Khmer Rouge rule & civil war.

You can find the videos here.

Although I have only been to a few places in Cambodia, I could instantly see the irony of the videos. They show Cambodia’s agricultural, educational & industrial development during a time when much of the world was booming with scientific advances. Cambodia was no different and the videos attest to a land with so much promise – industrious people and beautiful vistas.

It is so sad to know in just ten years this blossoming society would be so cruelly cut down. What was prospering would be turned to nothing. The scientists, the leaders, the teachers, the monks – so many of them would simply cease to exist.

It is a lesson we must all learn. A once peaceful and developing society can at any time suddenly turn to one of butchery & savagery. We must always be on guard against fundamentalist elements – of any kind – that preach hatred, intolerance & strict, “their way or the highway” ideals. This kind of thing can happen anywhere, at anytime, as we have seen in the genocide of nazi Germany, Armenia, Rwanda & Sudan and the cultural decimation of the Cultural Revolution in China & Taliban rule in Afghanistan. One small group can turn back the clock by hundreds of years.

A friend told us a revealing story. His brother was working in construction in Cambodia. His firm had several electric concrete mixers yet he still found many of the workers mixing the concrete by hand, only feet from the mixer. When he confronted one of the workers he was told – yes, I know there is a mixer there, but if I use it someone might see and think I am educated. (During Khmer Rouge rule being educated meant he’d be sent to a camp or to his death.) The real tragedy is the many years it will take for the country to heal – for some, there is no healing.

The blog where the videos are posted, Phnomenon, mainly talks about Cambodian food in a light-hearted way.

Lamb for Christmas Dinner

26 December 06

Ivan & the leg of lamb

We had our Christmas dinner at the Muslim Meat Place. Above you see DH with his leg of lamb. I’d like to think we had a sort of multi-cultural celebration, since Eid Ul-Adha is also taking place at this time, and we did choose to eat in a Muslim restaurant. Eid Ul-Adha is the Islamic festival of sacrifice and also the end of Hajj. It commemorates Ibrahim/Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. Muslims observe the festival by sacrificing a lamb and sharing food with family, friends & the poor.

So there we were, the only Westerners, celebrating a Christian holiday, in a Muslim restaurant surrounded by Chinese – who could have been Atheist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.

Some Christmas Thoughts

25 December 06

Christmas is a low-key holiday for the DH and I, it always has been. We tend to observe both Christmas Eve & Christmas Day quietly without much fanfare.

DH is from Spain and in Spain, Christmas Eve is the time for celebrating. Christmas Eve in Spain is spent over a big dinner, usually made up of seafood riches, with all the family around. These dinners start around 10PM, the usual dinner time, and can last for hours. The kids wait eagerly for midnight, when they may get a present or two from Santa Claus. However, this is a new idea. Traditionally children in Spain receive gifts from the Three Kings on January 6th – Día de los Reyes. After dinner, many people get together with their friends in the streets & bars to have a few Christmas toasts. Nights in Spain last well into the morning, and this is no exception. Christmas Day  is a time for rest!

As an American, I’m used to celebrating on Christmas Day. My family did it the traditional way – excitement and an inability to fall asleep on Christmas Eve followed by an early morning wake-up to rip through the packages under the tree. We’d have a big lunch and then nap throughout the afternoon. Periodically my Dad or Mom would have to work, so sometimes our traditions changed. It didn’t really matter, the day always turned out great in the end.

Over the years, the DH and I have spent Christmas on a beach in Costa Rica, in Spain with family, in cold & snowy Toronto & in communist China (where there are an insane amount of decorations!)

This year we had our Christmas Eve feast in a small, humble Linyi restaurant. (It was so crowded when we arrived that we had to go shopping and come back in an hour just to get a seat.) I think we are going to start calling it the “Cauldron Place” because we ate a delicious, bubbling brew of a stew from a small, black cauldron. The stew was made up of beef and carrots and had a really intense flavor. Perfect for winter. DH ate there last week and kept going on and on about the stew, so I  made him take me there. The manager/owner, a round & bald Buddha look-a-like, remembered him and understood our ordering charades.

Beef Stew in Cauldron

The cauldron. In the background, the smiling Buddha and the bread making station.

When I say humble, I mean really humble. The first view on entering is a bread making station, and six dining tables to the left. In the back there is an entrance to the kitchen and a small desk where a girl sits ready to take payments. The bread making lady was interesting to watch. She had a huge terracotta bowl that she filled with flour and water and kneaded to the right consistency. She fashioned small rounds of dough and cooked them on two hot plate presses that reminded me of waffle makers without the bumps. The bread emerges flat and round, like a pita. It reminded me of the naan of India and the Middle East.

Chinese on a Chalkboard

The corner wall behind the desk was devoted to bottles of homemade liqueurs. On his first visit, the DH tried one that reminded him of a popular Spanish liqueur made from herbs. The bottles are filled with various foods, herbs & spices, many of which I couldn’t identify. Several customers ordered shots of the liqueurs but we decided not to. At our Muslim Meat dinner with Mr. W, we tried a liqueur made to “increase male strength” made up of, ahem, animal penises. I took a sip and was not impressed. I think I’ll leave the liqueurs to those who know what they are made of!

Chinese Liqueurs

Chinese Liqueurs Close Up

The rest of our Christmas Eve was spent drinking coffee and reading magazines at Coffee Language and doing our grocery shopping.

Coffee Language Magazines

What I love best about Coffee Language – the Chinese Magazine Wall!

As for gifts, today we received presents from the company and students: boxes of Dove & Cadbury chocolates – yummy. Yesterday while walking down the street, we were stopped by a tall, skinny Chinese Santa who presented us with carefully wrapped apples, to the amusement of everyone on the surrounding sidewalks. As for the DH and I, our best gift to each other is always the ability to be together on Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

24 December 06

Happy

Calvin says: “You don’t like my snowman house of horror, do you?” (I couldn’t post a bigger photo)

***

Os deseo una Feliz Navidad! Espero que el año nuevo esté llena de diversión y alegría. Con mucho amor, Ivan y Heather

En la foto: Calvin dice “No te gusta mi escena de miedo, verdad?”

It’s a Small World?

24 December 06

I used to think that everyday the world was getting smaller – or flatter if you are Thomas Friedman. I mean that the world seems so explored. Don’t we know every little nook & cranny? Haven’t we met all the tribes and people? Isn’t there mobile phone coverage everywhere by now? Personally, I don’t like the idea. I would love to believe that there are places in the world still undiscovered, still isolated enough to live without satellite TV and Coca-Cola. But unlike Harrison Ford in “The Mosquito Coast,” I know the Gods Aren’t That Crazy. So I am always surprised when I hear about a new tribe in the Amazon or a new animal species in Borneo…

I was also surprised, in this day and age of cell phone mania, Google maps and internet connectivity that two American mountain climbers have been missing in Southwest China, near Tibet for more than a month. It sort of reminds me that the world is still big and there are still plenty of jungles, islands and high mountains that, while not altogether unexplored, are still remote. Having lived in China’s overpopulated Eastern region for over a year, it is difficult to believe that there are parts of China where you could go five minutes without seeing another person. Of course, China is immense and the Himalaya Mountain range and the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet still have loads of villages and lands barely known beyond their boundaries.

Reading about the climbers made me hope, against all odds, that they are holed up in a nomadic camp or isolated mountain village, unable to contact anyone. I want to believe that the very remoteness of the region is what is keeping them away from their families and loved ones this holiday season.

Aviation Nerdom Official

23 December 06

This morning I showed the documentary, One Six Right, to my students and as we watched it, I actually got a little misty watching the planes soar through the clouds. I was so excited that the students were actively engaged in watching it, too, since many of them probably couldn’t understand the English dialogue. The movie is just so beautifully filmed that it doesn’t matter. The pictures speak for themselves. The scariest part – I am beginning to recognize the makes and models of the airplanes!

The Muslim Meat Place

23 December 06

We all know that learning Chinese is difficult. Learning written Chinese at times seems nearly impossible. Still, I’ve managed to memorize a few characters here and there, not enough to help me read properly, though. So what happens when you go to a shop or a restaurant that you really like? How do you know what it is called? If you don’t ask and attempt to repeat carefully the pronunciation, or there is no pinyin writing, or romanized spelling, then you just don’t. Us expats here in China usually just invent creative descriptions and names to remember the places we like – “The stadium supermarket” “The KFC mall” “The Mongol place” “The flashy restaurant” “The 24 hour restaurant” “The good chicken wrap place.”

Last night we discovered “The Muslim Meat Place” and ooohhhh what a discovery!!! First of all, for those unaware, there are quite a few Muslims in China. While the largest Muslim population is located in the Western province of Xinjiang, there are Muslims scattered all across the country. Most cities have a Muslim area with mosque, halal markets and restaurants. The restaurants are famed for having excellent barbecue kebabs and good lamb and beef dishes, in other words – MEAT! (Han Chinese, the majority people, eat a lot of mainly vegetable dishes with meat pieces added in, but the Muslims use meat as the centerpiece.)

Our Chinese friend, Mr. W., invited us to eat Beijing duck with him last night, but because we arrived fairly late, the restaurant was closing. We sped off to what Mr. W. promised would be a delicious meat feast, instead. We weren’t disappointed. The restaurant was almost empty but they welcomed us anyway and before I could even take my coat off several dishes began appearing at the table. (Food always comes fast and hot in a Chinese restaurant.) We had calamaris, mushrooms and beef, marinated beef with green peppers (so good!), a dish which looked to me like hot chilis with more hot chilis (super hot), and the highlight – one of the best things I have ever eaten – a whole leg of small lamb, served Fred Flintstone style. The waiter brought me some plastic gloves so I wouldn’t get dirty because this is not something you eat with a knife & fork or chopsticks. You eat it with your hands like the hungry caveman/woman you are.

It was delicious. The meat was so tender it just fell off the bone and melted. The whole leg was covered in a hot spice mixture that is very commonly used in the Chinese Muslim and Mongolian cooking. I like that kind of spice so it didn’t bother me, but it did get hot towards the end. I’ve never eaten lamb like that before. I have to say it was the best I’ve ever tried. Of course this is the night that I left the camera at home, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

The night was a really special treat for DH as lamb is his most favorite food on the planet. When I glanced over at him, happily devouring the meat off a leg that he held in his hand, I knew he was in heaven.

As we were leaving, the owner or manager (I’m not sure who he was.) invited us to come back later in the week for the 18th anniversary party of the restaurant. He promised delicious food and gifts for us!

After experiences like this I can’t help but be thankful that we decided to return to China for another year. I think that if we based our ideas and opinions of China on our time in Shijiazhuang only, we really wouldn’t have a clear picture of how much fun this place can be. (or how much incredible food there is!)

Coffee Language

22 December 06

Coffee Language is not a new language developed for coffee geeks – although maybe Starbucks should consider a dictionary in their shops. It is the name of a chain of coffee restaurants in China. (A coffee restaurant is what I call a restaurant that serves Western style food and different coffees and teas. They are becoming very popular.)

Last night the DH and I went to the local Coffee Language to check out the food and ambience, part of our ongoing Grand Tour of Linyi. The Coffee Language is located right off of the People’s Square, which is pretty much the heart of Linyi.

When we walked in we were greeted in the usual fashion, “Good Morning!!” (No, really it is Chinese for welcome and is more like Guan Ying.) Then we sat down in the restaurant area where there were four groupings of tables and sofas. After ordering we realized that everyone that entered was going right past the ground floor tables and up to the third floor, where a huge dining room is located. (Remember that for next time.)

We orderd a “company sandwhich,” fried rice with beef and some spaghetti. Everything turned out to be quite delicious. I am often weary of sandwhiches in China because the kind of bread they use is normally sweet, adding an element to the sandwhich I just don’t like. But the company sandwhich – well this is a sandwhich I could eat everyday. It’s basically a club sandwhich with tomatoes, pickles, ham, egg and bacon. And surprise, surprise, the meat didn’t taste sweet, either. (Chinese ham is often sweet.) The spaghetti was good with a thick tomato sauce studded with carrots and beef. The fried rice tasted fresh and faintly nutty.

To end the meal the DH ordered espresso and I ordered hot ginger cola. What is that, you ask? Heat up a can of coke, throw in some shredded ginger root, let it steep and there you go. It tastes sweet and slightly peppery and is excellent for your stomach. I first tried it in a Tibetan restaurant in Southwest China and I have been craving it ever since.

After dinner we walked across People’s Square to observe the huge groups of hundreds of people dancing together. Some were line dancing, some were doing traditional Chinese style dancing and others were ballroom dancing. We are talking crowds of hundreds of people, in a park, at night, in the cold, dancing. I cannot in a million years imagine that happening in America.

P.S. American T, if you are reading this, we were thinking of you at the restaurant because they kept playing “Tennessee Waltz” on the sound sytstem all night.

Happy Winter’s Solstice! er…yesterday…

22 December 06

The shortest day of the year has come and gone and now we can look forward to longer days. I, uh, forgot to wish you a happy solstice yesterday. I, uh, actually forgot to observe the day myself.

Why am I wishing you a happy solstice? I believe that in order to live a healthier life we should be aware of what happens around us, not only on the news, but also in nature. I practice this philosophy by trying to eat foods in season and living more simply. Currently I am doing that by eating all the winter squash in China and trying to stay warm!

Already looking forward to spring on the second day of winter…

Street Fight?

21 December 06

The other day we were waiting for a taxi on a street corner when I noticed two shapes moving around in my peripheral vision. As my ears adjusted to the cold and the noises of the street traffic I realized the two figures were arguing.

We moved in a bit closer to see what was going on. The men were standing next to two mangled but drivable mopeds. Judging by their position and condition, it was obvious they had just collided with each other. But what were they fighting about? In the US I could imagine two people arguing over who was to blame and who was going to pay, but I wasn’t sure about crash-etiquette here in China.

Watching for a while it became evident the men were arguing because one of the men refused to take the two red bills (200 yuan or $25 USD, actually a huge sum of money!) offered by the other. They kept passing the money back and forth, stuffing it in every available nook and cranny – closed hands, wallets, pockets. It was really turning into quite a big scene and I thought they might even throw fists over it. I’m not sure how it ended because by then a taxi had stopped and we sped away.

The people here constantly puzzle and amuse me. If only I could understand Chinese!

**Many months after this incident occurred, I learned that, most likely, the men were not arguing about how one did not want to take the other’s money, but that one was not satisfied with the amount of money offered by the other.**