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My husband Matt and I took a brief but wonderful trip back to the US last week, packing visits with family and friends in between meetings and my studious game of catch-up on lapsed gastronomical experiences:  decent hamburgers, Ben and Jerry’s, and about thirty Trader Joe’s essentials.  On a stop-over in Columbus, Ohio, I spent an hour strolling through a Macy’s, on an ill-fated search for shorts (in October) to accommodate my lately-expansive self.  At the dizzying intersection between name-brand petites and a mysterious collection of ladies suits entitled “sportswear,” I stopped short at a swath of plastic netting.  Punctuated by the occasional ladder, like so many cacti in a sand storm, the plastic set off a construction zone of sorts.  A perky sandwich-board sign announced,

“Pardon our appearance while we make exciting changes!”

It was just too much.  I chuckled heartily at the irony and gave up, on the spot, my doomed shorts-finding mission.  What could more perfectly encapsulate my corporeal efforts over the last twelve months than, “Pardon my appearance while I make exciting changes!”  It even struck the note of enthusiasm and hopefulness with which I tend to regard the matter. Continue Reading »

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Until his overthrow in 1911, the emperor in China carried “the mandate of heaven.”  He was believed to be a god descended to earth for the purpose of ruling China.

Even though religious practice was outlawed in the early decades of the Communist Party’s rule, and most people I meet in today’s China embrace a kind of agnostic-but-curious approach to faith, the threads of this dynastic heaven concept are still shot through modern culture.  For example, according to a very interesting 2012 article about “leftover women” (China’ official term for single ladies over 30), the party-sponsored All China Women’s Federation recently applied this “mandate of heaven” to urge marriage upon all women.  In a published party document on the subject, the Women’s Federation cautioned that even a very successful career woman “is flawed in thinking she is higher than the mandate of heaven,” which is understood to be marriage for all. Continue Reading »

A Chinglish gem if ever there was, as seen in the Solitary Beauty Peak Park of Guilin, China. (text typed out below):

Here is my humble transcription:

Chinese Citizen Domestic Travel Civilized Behavior Convention

To construct civilized and harmonious tourist environment, affect every traveler’s benefits, we have obligation to obey this convention.

  1.  Maintain the environmental health.  Don’t spit, litter in public, and no smoking in non-smoking area.
  2. Obey the public order.  No Pandemonium.  Queue in public, don’t walk parallel in the way, and talking loudly in public.
  3. Preserve the ecological environment.  Don’t trample on the green field, pick the flowers&fruits. Don’t chase, hit, and feed the animal at random.
  4. Protecting cultural relics and historic sites.  Don’t scribble and touch historic relics at random.  Photographing by rule.
  5. Take care of public property.  Don’t deface public property, gain petty advantages.  Save the hydroelectric power and don’t waste the food.
  6. Respect the individual’s right.  Don’t force foreigner to take a picture, sneeze to others, and impropriate public property. Respect the religionary custom.
  7. Treat people due respect.  Be modest in dress and behavior.  Ladies first and treat old and weak courtly.  Don’t talk billingsgate.
  8. Advocate engage in recreation.  Resist the superstition.  Refuse pornography, gamble, and drug. Continue Reading »

phototravels.net

There was a time, back in my heyday of idealism and social-work-induced rent options, when I lived with 8 girls in a 5-bedroom apartment in Harlem.  I had somehow finagled my own room, likely on gossamer claims of being a restless sleeper, but most of the girls shared a room.  One such heavier-sleeping friend was named Joann, and she shared a room with Amy.  The two of them enjoyed an alley about two feet wide between their twin beds, and were book-ended by a burgeoning, barely restrained closet on one end and their bedroom wall on the other end.  I loved that apartment.

The problem, of course, with Joann and Amy’s room, was the complete lack of floor space.  You couldn’t go in and loll against the wall or sit in a chair.  No, if you wanted to see what the giggling was all about, you had to plop yourself right down on one of their beds.  Amy’s side was plopping-safe, but every time I dropped myself on Joann’s side, it was like falling on hard-packed cement.  (Somehow, my brain was never able to retain this information, leading to identical and unfortunate experiences)  Her mattress, you see, wasn’t normal.  It was a “Chinese mattress.”  Constructed, it seemed, to confer pain rather than rest on its users.  (Or at least on its quick-sitting guests). Continue Reading »

Lately, Matt and I have been hunting for a doll.  Not just any doll—a doll that looks Chinese.  While this may seem an unusual errand for kid-less newlyweds like us, it wasn’t entirely random.  We were on a mission.

Around Christmas time, Matt’s brother and sister-in-law, Abby and Josh, sent us an email.  They have some friends who adopted their four-year old daughter from China a few years back.  At some point last winter, she was playing with her dolls, but after surveying a few more closely, she put them down, and said:

“Mommy, I want a doll that looks like me.”

Her mom thought this was a reasonable request, and she began to look around.  If you’ve scoured any Barbie aisles lately, you’ll know this is a tall order.  If anyone is actually selling an Asian Barbie, I would bet money that they just put different eyes on an other-wise Caucasian face and body (like all of the “black” Barbies I’ve ever seen).  Abby and Josh heard about the search, and naturally assumed that such a doll should be easy to find in China.  Matt and I we were duly dispatched. Continue Reading »

One thing I love about living in another country is that all the long weekends and vacation days are a complete surprise.  Even if you kind of know Qing Ming Weekend is coming up, it’s not burned into my brain like Thanksgiving or Christmas, and so it ends up feeling like free time, rather than a day to continue cherished traditions.

Last week, Matt got Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off (woot woot Chinese long weekends!), and we headed to Cambodia to visit our friends Mary and Christoph. Continue Reading »

Last weekend, I was in the mood to test drive my new African Chicken recipe, so Matt and I invited our friends Kyle and Jess over for dinner.  (We do also like them–this wasn’t a purely mercenary poultry endeavor)  (If you’re fuzzy on the AC reference, this was the Macanese dish I rambled on about last time, see recipe here).

Now, this was all well and good, except that in my fervor for culinary precision, I bought something I don’t think I’ve handled before:  a fresh coconut.   Not the peeled, white dreidel-ish sort, not the hairy brown kind, nor the big green type, but a blonde-brown, nearly hairless, hard-shelled varietal.  I don’t know if I’ve seen this one before–it looked like an extremely large, spherical, un-cracked pistachio nut.

This purchase led to a bit of a kitchen kerfuffle on Saturday morning. Continue Reading »