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China stories

Just one of those days

Sometimes you just get those days weeks when everything goes wrong. Two weeks ago I was on my way home from work and as I was waiting in line at the train station taxi stand I received a call. There had been some trouble in our bedroom (not the kind you’re thinking of). Part of the ceiling had fallen down onto our bed. I was told not to worry and some pictures were on its way. Luckily my phone died before I got into the taxi as it would have been a stressful ride otherwise.

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Kites & tyrants

When you walk around Jinji lake in Suzhou it’s not hard to figure out that people in China love flying kites (they invented them too). The many kite sellers and their customers are a dead give away, although they all seem to be hiding from the heat these days. Of course the Chinese would not be the Chinese if their kites did not have bells and whistles, usually in the form of lights, some so strong that we wondered what in god’s name was flying so high up in the sky on a recent summer evening. Apparently Chinese people like to fly their kites as high as possible and then let go of the string. In an article by CRI English on kite-flying in China Cui Puquan explains why:

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Back in the PRC

Back in China and normal life has resumed. The dragon flies have turned up in full force and they are clearly loving the city’s humid heat. Again coming from the desert in the middle of summer (it has been a year!), I needed some adjusting. Luckily once you start sweating, the heat becomes bearable and in fairness that does not take too long (if you haven’t fainted in the meantime).

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Pulling paper

The Chinese invented a lot of stuff. Umbrellas, chopsticks, kites, and of course firecrackers. They also invented paper, one of my weird obsessions. Being back in California means I get to go to stores like Paper Source. Strange to some but quite clear to me, although don’t ask me to explain it.

San Francisco most likely has the highest concentration of small shops selling letterpress cards (I have not yet been to Portland). Just before moving to China I did a few letterpress printing workshops at the San Francisco Center for the Book and there is nothing more enjoyable than pulling your own prints off a press (except for eating oysters of course).

letterpress

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Through my dad’s lens

This year my parents both turned 65. I’m not sure what my dad got for his birthday this year but my mum hit the jackpot and got a trip to China. For once it made it easy for me to be at her birthday party. It has been way overdue. Being far away means I really only get to fulfill my daughterly duties at Christmas time and even then sometimes it has to be Christmas a few days early or a few days late. Luckily I have a very flexible family (including a chef) and hopefully one day we’ll all be at the same dinner table again, however since my cousin is now shacked up with an American (a lovely one), logistically it is getting more complicated. But I am hopeful.

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All the way along the wind

Did I mention that I love learning Chinese?

Even though I have been at it for almost a year now and still feel like I don’t speak much, I do enjoy it most of the time. From the start I have been collecting words or sayings that I really like or find interesting and I thought it was time to share some of my favorites!

Here they are:

  • yǒu qián -> lit. have money = wealthy
  • mǎi dōng xi -> lit. buy east west = shopping
  • tíng chē -> lit. stop car = to park
  • – add chǎng (meaning a large space) to make tíngchēchǎng = car park
  • cháng dèng -> lit. long stool = bench
  • kǎo xiāng -> lit. roast box = oven
  • wèn dá jìngsài -> lit. ask answer competition = quiz
  • guò mǎ lù -> lit. cross horse road = to cross
  • bù kěnéng -> lit. not maybe = impossible
  • huǒ huā -> lit. fire flower = spark
  • xiào huà -> laugh words = joke
  • jiǔ ròu péngyou -> lit. alcohol meat friend = fair weather friend
  • xǐ wǎn jī -> lit. wash bowl machine = dishwasher
  • shǒu jī -> lit. hand machine = mobile phone
  • diàn chuī fēng -> lit. electric(ity) blow wind = hair dryer

And lastly yīlù shùnfēng -> lit. all the way along the wind = have a pleasant journey!

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Shanghai

I recently spent a week in Shanghai and did not yet get a chance to write about my little adventure. As I was on my own in China for two weeks, I decided to spent some time in Shanghai without the constant commute or at least I traded the train ride for a nice morning stroll. Once settled, I quickly picked up a daily routine that would include a small wander, some nice food and finding a cool new shop. I did have to work some days too…

shanghai

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To fu, or not to fu, that is the question.

Today I cooked my first tofu (or in Chinese dòufu) dish. I added beef, let there be no confusion.

On a recent obsessive book buying trip I was delighted to come across the book ‘Chinese food made easy’ by Ching He Huang. I watched the show when it was on the BBC a few years ago and used to print and cook recipes from the BBC food website. The egg fried rice was by far the messiest.

I came across a Ma-po dofu beef recipe in the book and got a little intrigued. Mápó dòufu (麻婆豆腐) is tofu in chilli bean sauce, a popular dish from Sichuan province (so quite spicy). The first time I ate it in China I was positively surprised. I’ve had it a few times since, but had not yet seen it with beef (hence the intrigue).

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