Archive for March, 2007

So What Do You Miss?

27 March 07

I’m thinking of visiting the US soon, (It’s been 2 years…) and so I thought I’d answer a question I get asked a lot: What do you miss about back home?

First of all, the concept of back home is kind of difficult for me. Which home do you mean? Do you mean my birth state of New Mexico? The happy childhood years I spent in Colorado? All of my moves in Texas? Perhaps my high school years in Kuwait? What about that adventure in Costa Rica? Or my husband’s home in Spain? I spent 3 years in Toronto, too, does that count? How about my grandparent’s place in Utah? My parents’ house? What about where I am right now? Where exactly is home?

For our purposes today, I am gonna say that home is Texas, where my parents live, where I attended college and where I had my first job. But in a general sense, I also mean the United States. For instance, (and you’re gonna think I am soooo weird) I really miss cottage cheese. That is not just a Texas thing. I’m pretty sure cottage cheese is a standard issue supermarket staple across the US. (It is not, however, across the globe.)

When I ask myself, “what do you miss?” I immediately think of food. What else matters, right?

The truth is that I’m not your typical American, and that goes for my food choices, too. Among the things I most desperately miss are: V8 juice, cottage cheese, all-natural sugar-free plain yogurt, buttermilk, Perrier water and my indulgence, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

What a sicko, you are probably thinking. All the great food available and she misses sour milk and pureed vegetables? Yeah, okay. But I also miss Mexican food and kolaches and Texas barbecue and Jolly Rancher candies. So I’m not a complete nut. Mmmm nuts. I miss pecans, too.

As far as non-food items go, I think I most miss the absolute ease of getting things done in the US, where there is very little baeurocracy (How in the *** do you spell that word?) and things like mailing a package or getting a driver’s license are pretty straightforward. Also, I kind of sort of miss the ability to converse freely in my own language any time I want. Like if I am at a clothing store, how great would it be to be able to get assistance without having to mime “No, I need a bigger size. Go ahead and laugh at the enormity of the foreigner.”?

I don’t really miss too much. Life can be lived no matter where you are. I remember before we moved to Kuwait, my mom went to Sam’s and bought all these giant sized items to ship over. Like, what if there is no Windex in Kuwait? Some of those things came in handy, some didn’t. I’ve made that mistake in my own moves, too. When I went to Costa Rica, I tried to bring a year supply of the beauty products I loved the most, only to find I could buy almost anything there. Now that I live out of one suitcase, I like to just stick with necessary items. (And if you’re planning a move to China anytime soon, that list should contain deodorant! ☺) You live and you learn. Mostly I’ve learned not to get too attached to any one kind of shampoo.

That being said, the moment I made the decision to go back for a visit, the first thing I did was put in an order to Sephora and for all the products I’ve been craving. One thing is being able to survive and another thing is being spoiled.

So if you are an expat, what do you miss? And if not, what do you think you would miss?

Chickens Make Me Smile

22 March 07

I haven’t been blogging much lately, I know.

I suppose the general monotony of our routine and life has suppressed my creativity. I go to work. I go shopping in the neighborhood. I smile at the locals when they shout “Laowai!” or “Hello.” I blunder my way through short Chinese exchanges. I enjoy my life here, but my daily experiences are becoming more and more normal.

Then yesterday, on my ride home from work, I saw it. A little bit of inspiration. The kind of China experience I adore:


This man had at least 80 chickens attached to various parts of his motorcycle. It really took me back to the time I saw a big, plump pig strapped to a moto in Cambodia. The chickens, for their part, hardly seemed bothered by the situation, including the ones hanging upside down from the handlebars.

That sense of resignation is pervasive in Chinese life. If you’re in an uncomfortable situation, more than likely you can do nothing about it. So, just go with the flow.


Seeing these chickens, probably just minutes or hours away from the butcher’s knife, reminded me of the book I’m currently listening to, (it’s an audiobook), “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

The book is all about where our food comes from, and after reading it, you may never look at your food the same way again.

Lately, I’ve been buying all of my food on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. The old gentleman who sells me spinach, bok choy, mushrooms, onions, peppers and carrots either buys the veggies from a local farmer or harvests them himself, I’m unsure. Let’s just say that there is no shiny wax coating on anything. A few days ago, I bought a kilo (2.2lbs) of spinach for 12 cents. How much does it cost you?

We also have a neighborhood chicken butcher, but I don’t go there. I’m becoming more vegetarian every day. Except for this past Sunday, when we went to a restaurant close by and ate half a roasted baby lamb. YUMMY. One of the biggest differences between the developed and developing worlds is the proximity one has to food production. At least here in kind of rural China, you almost always know where your food comes from, whether you saw it pecking around in someone’s yard yesterday or growing in a nearby field.

Free Books & Podcasts on the Internet

13 March 07

Living in a country where few people speak and read English fluently, it can be difficult to find books, radio & TV programs in English for entertainment. (DVDs in English are found on every street corner.)

I’m always looking for sources on the Internet. (The Internet really is a lifesaver.) E-books are great, but can be expensive and difficult to read. I’ve amassed a nice collection of them, however, and was very pleased to find an interesting collection of books available at Creative Commons for download. These are books that are available for purchase in print form, but for reasons particular to each book & author, PDF formats are also available for free. The books are mostly non-fiction and are mainly about information science, copyright issues and computers, so they may not have a wide appeal, but for me, as a library & information science major, they are fascinating. There are also a few science fiction books available. The important thing for me is that they are available for free and are legal. One sci-fi author, Cory Doctorow has even allowed the printing and sale of his books in countries recognized by the World Bank as low-income countries. (With no royalties required for himself.)

There are other places on the Internet where e-books are available for free, like Project Gutenberg. Just search google for ebooks and you will find a huge selection, classics for free, and more modern texts for charges.

If you enjoy radio programs or listening to spoken word programs, there is also a wealth of podcasts available on the Internet, in a huge variety of topics and subjects. Open Culture is a website that sorts through all kinds of media available on the Internet to find high quality sources. They have lists of podcasts from major radio and news networks, smaller companies and even university courses. (A podcast is an audio file and may consist of interviews, music, speeches, spoken word, etc.) I highly recommend their list of Arts & Culture and University podcasts. I use itunes to download and listen to the files, but they can also be downloaded via conventional means and opened with any mp3 player.

If you enjoy audiobooks, LibriVox has collections of audio versions of books in the public domain (meaning you can download them for free). Open Culture also has links to other similar sites.

And lastly, I’d like to recommend a website that features translations of short stories and works by international authors that may otherwise be inaccessible to English speaking readers. Words Without Borders seeks to enrich inter-cultural relations and enhance tolerance through literature and story-telling. They offer full text stories without charge.

For expats who are limited on weight and cannot tote around large volumes of reading material, the Internet truly is a rich resource.

Yay! It’s Friday!

9 March 07

As you can imagine, vacationing in a place like Tibet – a place of arid beauty, incredibly blue skies and something rare for Asia – a sense of being the only human on the planet – can lead “home” to feel, well, a bit underwhelming. Combine that with the fact you actually have to do work, and you end up with very few blog posts!

Yes, I am indeed suffering from blog-o-lazitis. How can I make “worked all day, bought an ironing board, went to sleep” interesting? I’m working on it, I promise.

At work, we are in the final days of our preparation crunch for an important meeting with the CAAC (FAA of China). If all goes well, in a few weeks our school should be certified. We’re all working hard to ensure everything gets done, and since I don’t have internet at home yet, I haven’t had time to blog at work.

So this weekend looks like a good time to get some thoughts on paper and refresh the blog!

Have a great weekend!

Rock Stacking

9 March 07

When I lived in Canada, I was introduced to a phenomenon common to the Canadian Inuits . One of their cultural practices is to stack rocks atop one another to create “Inukshuks” which are sort of like messages to others, usually giving information like travel directions or marking an important site. Little did I know that rock stacking is a much wider cultural habit.

In Tibet, stacks of rocks are commonly seen all over the place: at monasteries, roadsides, on monuments. The DH took a photo of one and I uploaded it to Flickr along with all the other Tibet photos.

A man called Bill Dan came along, found the photo and added it to his blog, The Rocker which is dedicated to the subject. A very talented rock stacker in his own right, he features photos of cairns (as rock stacks are called) from all across the world. I’ve noticed a ton of very beautiful photos of Tibet there.

You learn something new everyday. Check it out for some artistic inspiration. Who knows, sometime you may find yourself on a rocky hillside with nothing to do. Give rock stacking a try!

The End of the Spring Festival

6 March 07

This past Sunday was the Lantern Festival. This festival marks the end of the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year celebrations. It always takes place on the first full moon following New Year’s Day (which is held on the new moon).

According to tradition, Chinese people head into the streets under the full moon to look at lanterns, play games, watch dragon dancing. It sounded like a charming holiday, so the DH and I headed to Linyi’s People’s Square (the plaza in the city center) to watch some lanterns, or see some dancing.

I was expecting to see some lanterns, but all I saw was a BUNCH of fireworks, going off loudly and colorfully in every direction in the city. Literally, you could hear booms and see color or shadows of color everywhere one looked. The square was packed full of people, but there were no lanterns. Not one! I guess tradition has gone out the window in favor of fireworks. The DH was in heaven with all the color and noise. Personally, I felt like I was in the midst of the London Blitzkrieg with the booms and bams and the lit up sky and all the burning embers.

Back in the states, fireworks are generally banned in most cities. On major holidays like Independence Day, the city will usually arrange a spectacular fireworks show. In China, many major cities have also banned fireworks, but Linyi has not. The city government here also arranged a fireworks show, but it was one (albeit bigger) display among hundreds. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it.

After checking out the square, we returned to our neighborhood, across the river that divides Linyi into several districts. From our side of the river bank, we had a panoramic view of rockets and lights and embers all across the city. It would have been more beautiful had it not also been -5 C and demoniacally windy. We are now living in a 5th floor apartment inside a small apartment complex. (I almost wrote “flat” there – I am being brainwashed by all the Brits!) Some of our neighbors were shooting off fireworks inside the complex. The “treat” for us was that they would explode more or less in front of our living room windows. Nothing like being inside a fireworks display!

So, with the end of Spring Festival, we can expect to hear much less fireworks. The fireworks street vendors have moved on, along with all the red paper decoration vendors. A few weeks ago, the roads were lined with temporary stands selling all the necessities for the New Year. Now everything is getting back to normal.

I had hoped that Spring weather would actually arrive with the festival, but no, we are experiencing a frigid cold front, with temperatures once again below zero. Lhasa is looking warm right about now!

Flickr Photo Sets

2 March 07

I now have all of our recent vacation photos, good and bad, uploaded to Flickr.

To see photos of Lhasa & Tibet click here.

To see photos of the train ride from Chengdu to Lhasa click here.

To see photos of Chengdu click here. (This set does not include photos of Sim’s Guesthouse, which I will be uploading later.)

Remember – I am not very skilled with a camera! Also, many of the photos have titles and descriptions, but others do not. I hope to update them all with descriptions, but I was a bit lazy. (Especially the Chengdu photos.)

Enjoy! Have a great weekend!