Eating Chinese food

I was eating lunch with my Chinese host family today and I suddenly realized how different eating is in China. I began to analyze all of the differences and found that there are many things that could be considered quite strange in America.

Chinese food is almost always served 'family style.' At larger tables a lazy Susan will slowly revolve and anyone can take what they want. At my host family's table, however, this is not needed. People will reach across the table with their own chopsticks and take a little of what they want.

The utensils are typically chopsticks and a bowl. Bones or other inedible parts of the food can either be thrown on the ground (outside restaurants), put directly on the table (as in my home), or placed on the extra small plate next to your bowl (as inside restaurants). The bowl has three basic positions: on the table, in your hand, and against your lips. Eating with a bowl to your lips is done for soup and the last bit of rice in the bowl. In addition to having the bowl at your mouth, chopsticks sweep into the bowl and pull out the last grains of rice.

If the rice comes at the beginning of the meal it becomes saturated with the flavors and oils of the foods eaten throughout the meal. This allows it to take on other flavors. When eating so much rice, this is preferable because I will typically eat rice with chopped pickled green beans to give it more flavor (one can only eat so many pickled green beans).



In bookish Chinese, 'anmo' is massage. The two parts 'an' and 'mo' are distinct characters related to massage. In colloquial Chinese, however, sounds are taken from English to produce something similar in Chinese: 'mashaji' or, literally, horse kill chicken. After learning some vocabulary for haircuts and massages today, we persuaded our teacher to take us for our last class. In the morning we walked to a haircutting place and a few people got haircuts. During the afternoon we took a bus to get massages. These were amazing. They lasted one hour and were very deep massages. By the end I was very relaxed. Actually, I felt a little like an old rug after being dusted with a swinging broom. Overall the massage was very nice, but the best part was the price: $3.


More Market Pictures

Vegetable/Fruit Market

There is a vegetable, fruit and meat market near my house. Sometimes I will walk through and talk to people which is quite difficult and often impossible (because they speak Sichuanhua not Mandarin). The people are friendly and patient and usually happy to see Americans ("hello" is a word I hear a lot). Here are a few pictures from this evening. I took more but they are on another camera. They will be added soon.



I spent the last week in Anshun. When we arrived, officials from the college brought us to see our apartments. I live on the 5th floor of one building and Bethany lives on the 2nd floor of another building. We were then collected for a meeting with the vice president, foreign affairs people, teachers and, of course, a translator. Our translator, Charley, spent the week helping us get accustomed to life in Anshun. It is a small town by Chinese standards (we found out there are about 1/2 million people) and the college is set about 30 minutes away in the country. Charley helped us with everything. We ambled along and quietly mentioned things: "Bank account?" Done. "Good place to eat?" Let me introduce you to the owner. "Bus lines, maps, sites, attractions, how-tos, why is thats, etc..."

Early in the week I began to feel dizzy and I had trouble walking without feeling a little ill. My symptoms got worse and I collected more throughout the week (sore throat, chest pain, coughing, runny nose, sore muscles, nausea) and I called the medical office in Chengdu during my visit. The second half of the week I was in my apartment, drinking liter after liter of water and studying Chinese. I am better now! Unfortunately, I believe Bethany may now be sick...

We found a batik shop that does batiks by hand. Some of them take weeks to make and they are huge. The shop was dedicated more to the 'art' of creating the batiks than to making money because they take the time to make the batiks by hand rather than running cloth through a printer. I imagined a shop like this existing in America and I could only see dollar signs. I can't imagine a city without a traditional Chinese batik shop.

Anshun's outskirts are defined by green, hilly farms and small villages. We walked up through a very poor village and around a reservoir. The people are very friendly and warmly welcome a smile accompanied by a "Ni hao!" On and around campus I am reminded, perhaps, of the foothills around the Cascades or the small drive from Forest Grove to Gales Creek. From the window in the back of my apartment I can see two large dormitory buildings, a track and soccer field, and basketball courts, all signs that this will be transformed into a college campus once the students arrive. In the middle of my reverie something catches my eye: a man with a straw hat drives a family of water buffalo across the basketball courts and they move slowly, swinging their tails as they go.

The train on the return trip was painful. We left Anshun at 7 p.m. and arrived in Chengdu at 5 p.m. the next day. The trip was long, hot, sweaty, and cramped. The only thing that saved me from insanity was the clickedy-clack of track ties which repeatedly put me to sleep. The green hills disappeared overnight and then farms made way for buildings. We were back "home." Enjoy the photos.

Water buffaloes

Batik Shop

Rural Anshun









Hello Everyone,

Tomorrow I will go to see the place I will work. I will meet many people.

Next week I will tell you all about it.

Ou Lei


Site Visits

We are going to leave for site visits tomorrow. Since I will be in a "rural" location for a week, I may not be doing much communicating. We all have hard sleepers because it takes so long to get there; my train will take about 18 hours to get there (according to my ticket, so maybe longer). This led me to thinking: "What takes 18 hours to complete?" I figured 8 hours of sleeping and 10 hours of preparing for my Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) through rote memorization of dialogues. Yippee.

We were given a packet of information that will keep us very busy over the next week at site. That's because most of the packet is an array of empty fields to be filled in as we learn the information. It is like a great big scavenger hunt to help us better understand the place we will spend the next two years of our lives. Questions such as, "What are two popular local Chinese dishes?" did not escape the person who generated the packet. All of the questions are designed to help us begin thinking about integration, community, responsibilities, relaxation, etc.

Now I will go to bed. Goodnight.


Our Site

Today our site placements were announced. I will be going with one other volunteer (Bethany) to Anshun (pronounced 'on shwun'). It is one of the most rural locations in Guizhou. In fact, it is one of the most rural locations Peace Corps currently serves in China. There are over 200,000 people in the area. I think it is big enough to be on google maps, so you can check it out there. Nine people in our group are headed to Guiyang, which has a population of about 4 million people.

The two girls who were former volunteers in Anshun (we are taking their places) came to talk with our group about secondary projects before they left for the states (They were China 11s, we are China 13s). They began this enormous effort to clean up their campus and spread awareness about putting garbage in cans. They left a packet of information to guide us. I will include some of that here:

Items for future volunteers (us):
dishes, sheets, towels, mop, broom, dvd player, sheets, pillows.

Unique features:
Sometimes the water will go out, but keep a bucket of water to flush the toilet.

Oral English, Listening, Literature, Reading, Writing, Culture.

What is a place to 'get away'?
It is very easy to get away. Just go to the mountains!



My photos from the lake on sunday will not upload. Duibuqi.




My Chinese family is taking me to a lake tomorrow. I will try to remember the camera...

Tuesday we find out site placements, as I've probably mentioned before. Everyone wants to know where they will be for the next two years.

There are only 2 more weeks of intensive language training and we take our test. The goal is for everyone to reach the "Intermediate Low" speaking level, which bascially means survival Chinese (can talk about hobbies, weather, family, friends, ask for directions, buy all kinds of things, make comparisons, etc.). Recently I have been more likely to use Chinese with my Chinese friends and family. This has been met with mixed reviews, but mostly it has been good.

I have begun to learn reading and writing on my own. 好不好?

We went to dinner with our students yesterday. It was really great. They wanted to meet up with us again to practice their English and hang out. Maybe we will go find winter clothes next weekend.



Field Trip!

At 3:45 today we were given a task. We needed to go to the train station in downtown Chengdu, ask a series of questions, and return in time for dinner at 6:00. Unfortunately, my host family had no idea about this challenge and we ran into some problems.

On the way downtown we got off at the wrong stop and had to ask for directions to the train station. We were helped by some people and we got on the 27 bus. This bus was interesting. For some reason (Aron, this is your area of expertise) the bus would die whenever it stopped at a traffic light. He was, however, able to get it started again and again. Until the time that he didn't. We watched as half of the people on the bus poured out and the other half stayed. We were confused. The natives were leaving...or were they? Suddenly, just as we were realizing that there were no men on the bus, the bus slowly started to move. It was as if billions of ants were lifting the bus and moving it along. They were pushing. And so I got out and pushed too and we started that bus! Crisis averted.

Shortly after we arrived at the train station (finally!). We entered and saw about 25 LONG lines of people at ticket windows. Our homework was not to buy a ticket (becase we don't have our site placements yet), but to ask several questions, such as:

How much is a ticket to Sanzhihua (or Guiyang)?
How much is a hard sleeper top (middle or bottom) bunk?
How long does it take to get there?
How many trains leave each day?

We accomplished this, much to the frustration of the information attendant, who fielded question after question which was THE SAME. She must have been thinking, "If these idiots just talked to each other they would get their information in a fraction of the time!" But, of course, the idea was not to talk with one another, but to practice speaking.

After this we began the trek home. We waited for bus 27 and rode this for about an hour. When we got off the bus there was frantic questioning of locals about how to get back to the university. These little discussions lasted about 15 minutes and we finally found the 336 back to the university. I arrived at my house around 8:15. It took a mere 4 1/2 hours for this field trip, which provided some valuable experience.



Please feel free to make comments about postings. I changed my settings, so anyone should be able to click on the comments link on the bottom of each post.


A couple of photos

This is another photo from the 山 (before we left the university)...

Last Friday we did skits in language class. Ours took place in a restaurant. We were talking about our days using the structure 'First, then, and then, and then, finally...' We were also added some restaurant vocabulary: I stopped Melanie's story at each 'then' and called the waiter over to bring us something (Chopsticks, Milk, Coffee). Since the 'waiter' was one of my English students, he speaks Chinese. He made 'mistakes' such as providing chopsticks which were too small, or bringing the wrong drinks. The skits allow us to practice sentence structures and vocabulary we have learned.

Qing Cheng Shan

Today we took a field trip to a mountain called Qing Cheng Shan (Green City Mountain). With my limited writing skills I will use the Hanzi to express what I did in Chinese. I hope you will be able to follow. Here goes...

Today we got on a bus. One of our LCFs found a microphone...

Our teacher then called people to the front of the bus. Jonny and Keri sang a lovely duet...

After which Jonny sang a single, solo verse of a song that went... "I'm proud to be an American...and I'd gladly stand up...God bless the USA."

Our destination was Qing Cheng 山 (there's the Hanzi!). The 山 was about 1260 meters and it was paved the entire way (many, many steps). There were a lot of people and I experienced, for the first time ever, a traffic jam of people on a nature trail. Here are two pictures of people working at one of the ubiquitious temples...

There were also hundreds of candles with incredibly thick, strong wicks which burned with fury as the wind blew through the temple...

I tamed a wild, fanged turtle while these people looked on with approval.

And, farther up the 山, Kehl found a stick-like insect. They were so many of these creatures that I cannot begin to describe the high number of casualties along the steps (trail).

We encountered innumerable signs with warnings and advice, such as...


Which, according to the Random House Dictionary, is a noun...

slung shot
a weight, as a stone or a piece of metal, fastened to a short strap, chain, or the like, and used as a weapon.

Needless to say, we were scanning the treelines for suspicious activities. Later we realized that this referred to the overhanging rocks. In fact, the trail became narrow in this area, a girl stopped in front of us to take a picture with her telephone, and I yelled, "Do not linger under the slung!" She seemed to know what I meant and we hurried to safety. One nice thing about the overhanging rock was the cover it provided (it was raining).

We found these many locks, which Kehl said was featured on "The Amazing Race." I forgot what they mean exactly...

And, finally, we reached the top of the 山...

Because it was raining, we decided to take the cable car down...

And the Ferry across the lake (which was also pulled by a cable).

And that was our wonderful day at the 山. I guess this has been less an opportunity to write in Hanzi, and more of a cloze activity for you: What exactly does 山 mean?


Sichuan Cai

Someone asked me about the food here, so here goes.

Sichuan food is very spicy and oily. Almost every dish has some kind of ground, spicy pepper included in the sauce or sprinkled on the top. Some of my favorites have been the following:

Egg and Tomato dish; Fanqie Chao Dan
Egg, Tomato and noodle dish; Fanqie Ji Dan Mian
you can see a trend here...
Egg Fried Rice; Ji Dan Chao Fan
Eggplant something or other... very spicy and delicious; Yuxiang Qiezi
Tofu covered with tomato sauce; Cuipi Dofu
Fried Potato Slices; Tu Dou Si

There are about 30 relatively common dishes that I see frequently. Some of them include meat and I invariably forget the names. The thing to remember is that they are generally all delicious and very spicy.

When we were learning about how to discuss food in class we learned the big four: Sweet, Spicy, Bitter and Numbing. "Numbing?!" you might ask. I know I did. Maybe you didn't: maybe you know all about food which is numbing but I must confess that I had no idea. There is a spice that looks remarkable like a peppercorn which is used in the food. It actually makes your mouth mildly numb. If the dentist rubbed a little benzocaine on your hamburger you would understand what this is like (but it is more delicious). The food is typically referred to as "Ma La De" or "Numbing and Hot," although I have not eaten many numbing dishes.

The restaurants vary in quality and cuisine, but we prefer the cheaper restaurants along the street outside the University. Generally four of us can eat for under a dollar and be quite full. Nicer restaurants in the city charge about 5 dollars for a meal, which is outrageously expensive for us and a rare treat. We venture in when we want to eat bread. REAL bread. WARM, delicious bread dipped in hummus... YUM!

The GuiZhou group at a restaurant in the city:

Outside language class with Jonny:


Some things

This week has disappeared. Andrew, my teaching partner, and I began to teach 1.5 hour blocks every other day rather than split class between two 45 minute sessions. This has been worthwhile because it is more like what we will be doing when we get to our site. This is a picture from last friday when we sang Puff the Magic Dragon together. I will try to find more pictures of teaching to add soon; Andrew's camera is filled with them.

Many of our group finished the final Harry Potter book last week; a worthwhile adventure despite how busy we have been.

Outside of a convenience store this woman was taking a nap. We have heard that GuiZhou has a 'nap-time/siesta' which is universal throughout the region. I'm looking forward to it.