Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Mandarin Style?

Thanksgiving. What a day. It was so different, but at the same time very similar to back home. I never realized the stress that comes with cooking things so that they'll be ready on time and remain warm so that it can be eaten warm.

Lauren and I woke up pretty early to start setting up. We went down to the Kindergarten cafeteria and put some red tablecloths down. I made a table runner out of the checkered table cloth and then we put down the paper cup turkeys that Lauren made with her kids this week. We put up the rest of the arts and crafts that were made and it really came together. A Chinese cafeteria began to look a little bit American and more homey. The rest of the day was spent helping people prepare their dishes and clean up their messes.

Around 2 was when I started my potatoes. I went down to the Kindergarten kitchen to boil the potatoes in what seemed like an oversized wok. The potatoes turned out to be easier than I thought they'd be. As soon as they were done boiling I transferred them to the bowl, mixed in the butter and garlic and began to mash. They were super soft so it wasn't a problem that I had two pieces of squiggly wire to call a masher. Dad, they turned out to be really tasty! I didn't want to have high hopes for them, but I totally did and it worked. They were potatoes worthy of our American Thanksgiving. And the girls loved them! Mom sent me three packets of pearls to make, which were really good, but the girls liked the ones I made from scratch best. It was so nice!

My two favorite dishes besides my potatoes were the roast that Lauren made and the sweet potato pie that Jessica made. Oh my goodness! I was back home for a second. The roast tasted just like home and the sweet potato pie melted in my mouth. It was all so delicious. I was so full. I don't even get that full back home on Thanksgiving. It was a good night beside the fact that Bailey shook the bottle of vinaigrette all over me. Oh! And there was jello, chocolate cake and pumpkin pie! So yummy in the tummy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guilin and Yangshuo

What a trip! Dad, I just had one of the best times. Yangshuo and Guilin were so much fun and a definite must-see. Remember how I was originally assigned to Kunming? Well, that city is really close to Guilin and the cool mountains there, so I've wanted to see those mountains since I signed up to come to China. We left on Friday the 13th and actually caught some bad luck. We arrived in Guilin on a chilly morning when we were expecting it to be a warm vaca. The sleeper bus we took to get there was quite an adventure. At one stop we got off to stretch our legs and we got back on to see two beds put up between Bailey's, Barlow's, and Sarah's beds. Madi and I then moved to those beds so that the other three wouldn't have to spend the night cuddling with strange Chinese people. I was kept warmer because of the body heat, but comfort was not included in the trade. Tina said she looked over at one point during the 20 hour ride aboard the bus and saw Madi's long legs hanging over the edge, Bailey cuddling Madi, me hanging half way off the bed, and Barlow turned upside down.

It was 6 a.m. when we arrived in Guilin and when we discovered just how cold our weekend was going to be. I knew we could reach our hostel by walking, so we started- in the wrong direction of course. We stopped at another hostel and figured out how to get to the correct location. Once there and checked in, we climbed five sets of stairs with our numb limbs and pilled six girls on two beds. At the time, I didn't think I was tired, so I laid there squished against the wall listening to my iPod only to wake up three hours later- warm. But don't worry, Dad, we all got up and did more than regain normal body temperature and z's. We rode buses!! And lots of them! Our first destination was to the train station to get our tickets home. The hostel gave us correct directions. Our second destination was elephant trunk hill. The hostel did not give us correct directions. Our alternate second destination--McDonald's, for hot chocolate. Oh, did it taste and feel so good! We did some more bus riding without arriving anywhere at all, really. We took the hostel's directions to the commodities market to only find what looked like a massage parlor from the outside, but very well could've been featured in the movie Taken if the inside was a location. Creepy! We booked it out of there. But then we did find some sort of market where we all purchased items to help keep us warm, as we would be riding down a river the next day. I got a beanie, gloves, leggings, and a blanket and do not regret a single one of those purchases.
Even with all of the wrong buses that we had taken that day, we never did get lost. We always found our way back, thank goodness. As we got off our stop outside our hostel, Tina decided to smell something. She's very much into smells, Dad. It's quite funny, actually. A woman was holding pita/tortilla type things and Tina walked up to her, pointed to her nose and then the food item as she was speaking English that she was sure the woman didn't understand. To all of our surprise the woman said, "Try some." I literally took a step back I was so shocked. So Tina took a bite and decided that we all had to run across the street and buy these from the muslim men selling them on the corner. They were quite delicious. I ate a little bit of it there but wanted to save some for the tomato soup that the hostel offered for 12 yuan. With the soup it was delicious! It was then up to the room to attempt taking a shower in the cold air. I would've talked myself out of taking one because the shower was down the hall and the hall was not inclosed or indoors, but it was necessary. The shower was finicky and had moments of scalding hot and moments of icy cold, but the result was the same. I was clean. Our room had warmed up quite a bit because of the heater, so we were all able to sleep in our own beds that night.

The next morning, after bundling in our new purchases, we headed down to the lobby to rendezvous for our raft trip down the Li River. It was going to be us six and Bartos from Poland and Christine from Germany. Bartos had arrived in Guilin after being in Hong Kong, where it was quite warm. He got there in short sleeves and shorts. Now, he was wearing pants five inches too short for him, two zip up hoodies, and his sleeping bag wrapped around his middle. Quite comical if you ask me. It took us about an hour to get to the part of the river we would be entering at. Barlow, Bailey, Tina and I were on one raft and Madi, Sarah, Christine, and Bartos were on the other raft. It was one of the most bitter sweet rides I've ever been on. Remember when we were in Alaska and you wanted to go on the boat ride to see all the wild life and it was freezing? Yeah, this was pretty much that, but in China. And instead of seeing Alaskan wild life, we saw famous Chinese mountains, and instead of hot dogs on the river, we had fried rice. Staying warm didn't really happen. The only thing we could attempt to accomplish was not falling in the river, and at times that even seemed impossible. There was one instance where Barlow was out of her seat to get a picture and the driver left his post to persuade her to sit back down. In that short time, the raft was no longer going straight down the river, it was turning sideways and that's when water started coming up over the edge and he darted the two feet to get back to steering. I think every muscle in my body clenched. From then on I was always nervous of capsizing. At the end of the ride we took a Chinese version of an extended golf cart to the bus station where a bus proceeded to take us to Yangshuo. Walking in the rain from the station to our hostel was not the most pleasant thing, especially with our luggage, but it made it that much more sweet to actually arrive at our beloved hostel. And, oh, was it beloved. Free towels, internet, drinking water, breakfast, a heater, our very own bathroom and a great view. Best hostel so far. As great as it was, we couldn't miss out on West Street--the street our hostel was on that was loaded with all sorts of cute shops and cafes.
We wandered around looking at all the trinkets and items for sale. I tried several stores to get a North Face jacket down to the price I wanted it for. They were not budging. So we took a break and had dinner at Ryley's. I had lasagna, and it was every bit as good as home. With my belly now full, I headed out with a new determination to get that North Face jacket for the right price. Finally, a store offered me a jacket (not the version I was looking for, but still good) for a decent price and I got it. Then it was off to The Drifter's Cafe, where we had apple crumble, to show off my new purchase. That apple crumble was the topper to a wonderful day. You would've loved it, Dad! With the scoop of ice cream on top and the chilly air, it was like I was back at Girl's Camp and President brown had just dished me a good helping of his dutch oven apple cobbler. Yum! Needless to say, I slept well that night.
Tina, Barlow, Sarah and I woke up the next morning to go to the mudcaves. Yes, it was cold, but we weren't going to miss out on this, are you kidding me?! It was all a little sketchy getting there, but we got there just fine. To actually get into the cave we had to board a row boat. Kind of Harry Potter-esque. The sixth one, to be specific. It was a little chilly inside, but the further we went back to warmer it got. At the very end were some pools, so we changed into what we brought to get messy in. Barlow was the brave one and decided to jump in. The moment her head broke the surface of the water was the moment I realized I was okay not following her lead. Sarah wanted to get in as well, but she didn't want to jump, so she awkwardly slid/fell in. It was quite the sight. Love you, Sarah, but that was super funny. We then walked back to the mud to get all sorts of messy. We were unaware, however, that the mud bath was a foot deep. Probably a good thing. The mud felt so strange in between my toes. And who walks into the cave as we're playing in the mud but Bartos and Christine! It was nice to see them again. They were really cool. Before we could head to the hot springs, we had to wash all the mud off. Our guide made sure to point out any mud still on our bodies. The hot springs turned out to be more like bath water that was once hot and left standing for a half hour. Warmer than luke warm, but nothing special, other than the fact that it was very unclear where the water was originating.
Back to the hostel to shower! The real hot spring. My shower was pretty much a sauna. Glorious thing. The rest of the day was spent on West Street and eating at Ryley's, this time I got creamy spinach soup and garlic bread, and Drifter's for another apple crumble. We did not want our stay here to end. But the next morning we did have to get on a bus back to Guilin, where we barely made it to the train station on time. Or so we thought. We ran into the waiting room thinking we had missed it or would very soon miss it. Tina jumped over the rail and ran to find someone who spoke English to help figure out the situation. Turns out that everyone else in the waiting room was also on our train and that the train was late. And now we're back in Fuqing, safe and sound. How've you been, Dad? Hope you've had some adventures as cool as mine. Love you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dad, remember when I had my learners permit and we would drive everywhere? You wanted to see where the road by Tooele took you. It was a two lane highway. I distinctly remember getting stuck behind a car that was going slightly slower than our cruise control speed and you said I didn't have to pass the car if I didn't want to. Yeah, we stayed behind that car until it turned off. Passing on a two lane highway freaked me out. Yesterday, we were driving with our director, Mr. Li, and he was driving like a typical Chinese man. On a two lane road he tried to pass a dumptruck as a moped was heading his way. Of course, he went for it. Chinese driving is so crazy and so unlike the driving back home! Dad, almost right after that he pretty much drove on the opposite side of the road, weaving through cars until he could get to the correct side and he was never worried. Kind of funny. Aren't you glad I'm not driving here so that I don't pick up the habits? Or, better yet, so I don't die when I'm not used the Chinese driving?! Don't worry, Dad, I'm fine and will survive this last month. Love you and miss you. Your baby girl.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween In Fuqing

TRICK-OR-TREAT! Dad, Halloween was so fun! Tina, Lauren and I went out to get some things for their costumes and candy for the kids, then we grabbed some lunch. Lately, the guards have made it hard to let us out. Apparently, there has been some swine flu scare so they don't let anyone out, except us. Explain that. And on our return they have a laser gun that takes our temperature from our foreheads. They're really quite paranoid here with their masks and caution tape on their gate.

As soon as we got back we started assembling our costumes. Lauren and I were fairies. I was good and she was bad. Tina was a new age American-Indian. For wings, Lauren and I used cardboard and covered them with color appropriate paper. Tina made a really cute head dress and earrings. Lauren Bailey, Madi and Sarah put on their colorful wigs and headbands with cat ears. Jessica was also a cat minus the wig. Emily was an emo/punk, which is the completely opposite of what she really is making it that much funnier. Katrina was a Mormon hick with a tattoo. Nicki was some sort of Pixie. And Jeshua was a cowboy. We made do with what we had and it worked out well. Emily was the make-up artist for the day. She did Lauren's, Della's and her own make up. They looked really good!

Pressed for time, we rushed down to our classrooms and arrived there at the same time as our kids. After teaching them to say 'trick-or-treat' we went to our individual classrooms and waited for them to knock on our door. It was a little backwards. Instead of the trick-or-treaters dressing up it was the candy hander-outers that did the dressing up. Once the kids knocked on my door I got a little bombarded. I don't think they understood the purpose of their bags because the kids that had them still held out their hands instead of their bags. Also, I don't think they understood that they only get one candy from each door instead of the whole bowl. That made it hard to know who had gotten candy because I was just putting candy in hands because there were so many kids around me there was no way to really tell what hand went with what face. After an hour of trick or treating it was back up to our rooms to watch some Office. Tina, Lauren and I watch The Office a lot.

It was then out for the night. There's a street in downtown Fuqing that we know as Garden Street. Lauren found a nut shop there the other week that sells almonds for cheaper than Trustmart. She also got some awesome sesame-covered cashews and walnuts. I got some really good raisins there that one of the Kung Fu teachers had me try. After a little dinner we went to Pig City Games. I'm thinking the translation is off, it's too funny to not be. There we did this funky ride that twirled us round and round. Nearly got sick. But the whole point of going there was because they had a haunted house. It was really small and rather pathetic, but quite pleasurable. The girls were rather skittish so I just smiled and rolled my eyes at them. It was quite dark, but the mechanical dummies were never really hidden and sometimes a guy would reach through holes and try and grab them. Just hearing their screams was funny. You know me, Dad, I don't really do haunted houses back home because they just don't scare me, and they're pricey. But it was entertaining to hear the girls freaking out as they were hesitant to push onward through the maze after feeling an arm on their shoulder. We asked if we could go again for free, and, of course, they let us. I think they let us because they were with me in thinking it was rather hilarious how much the girls were screaming. I think they did it for their own entertainment. The Chinese people must not react like that.

All in all, it was a pretty good Halloween. Tell Bart Happy Birthday. Love you, Dad.