There are just . . . so many options here. It's overwhelming.
I went out for lunch with my colleagues the other day and couldn't resist snapping some photos of the menu for your viewing pleasure.
There are just . . . so many options here. It's overwhelming.
Six months since my last post.
I didn't know that a blog could have an existential crisis, but it turns out, it can. For five years, I crafted this website and funneled many of my adventures and experiences into it. But during all that time, I never actually considered how the person I am and the things that I do shape the way I write, or even what I choose to write here. I just... did it.
2014 is a big year for me. In March, I signed a three year (three year!) contract with a great company and moved to Beijing, and in just a few short weeks, I'm marrying my best friend and the man of my dreams. And then he's moving to Beijing. With our dog. Those are major things! But instead of writing through it all, which is my usual process, all this transition had me cowering in the corner, afraid to step back and look at the whole picture.
What is this blog?
Who is the writer--really?
Why do I write things here?
How will my site--a 20something's travel blog--grow with me, when I'm gettin' hitched and settling down?
What if... what if I don't have anything interesting left to say?
I've been thinking about these things in my head for months now, but I haven't come to any conclusions. That shouldn't be shocking, considering the fact that I generally need to write things down before I can make any conclusions. So I'm going to do it now, but be aware that even I don't know where this is going. Seriously I have no idea. I'm not even promising myself that this entry will make it on the blog. But it's a start, and that's more than I've managed for six months. Exhale.
Okay first question. What is this blog? Maybe that's obvious. I've tried to make it a lot of things in the past: a place to write about travel, cooking, photography, music . . . Gee, that sounds like a vaguely boring diary. That anyone in the whole wide world can see. Yikes. I've even avoided calling it a blog in the past, preferring the term "website." Blog just sounds so angsty. You know?
From the outside, I've always imagined my site (see, there I go again) as a way for my friends and family (and maybe the occasional like-minded stranger) to follow my somewhat exotic adventures around the world. And that is what this blog is for, partially. But for me personally, it has been a place for me to consistently stretch my writing legs, get the creative juices flowing, and just practice my words.
I love to write. There are some things I find more inspiring than others as topics--travel, for instance, or occasionally cooking. But that doesn't mean that in the future I will always find those things most inspiring, or that I won't want to write about something else here, too. But is Kaci and the World the place for that? Not sure. Moving on.
I won't get into an existential crisis myself right now (the poor blog has been through enough!) but the fact of the matter is, a few of my core identities are changing. Single --> Married. Still in college grad mode --> Real real life job. Travel any time at a moment's notice --> Dog at home who needs kisses (and food). And when bloggers (hate that word, cringing now) go through something like that, we have a tendency to question the relevance of our words to our "new state". For the record, I have absolutely no idea if other bloggers have gone through similar experiences. Comments welcome.) The bottom line is: Does what I say on this site still apply to who I am?
And why do I write on here anyway? Other than to let my friends and family back home know that I did actually eat cobra that one time (okay, three times) in rural China? Because I could easily do that via Skype, or emails, or just share the story at Christmas dinner. My whole spiel about 'needing to write' and 'practicing my words' is also fine and grand, but I could do that in a journal like the rest of humanity before the 21st century. Wouldn't that accomplish the same goal?
Because a blog provides interaction. (Sometimes. Even if it's just with your mom.) It talks back, in the form of comments, Facebook likes, even emails from strangers half a world away. But while understanding that simple fact has helped a bit, it has also made things worse. Like, okay it's cool that people might read this and comment on it, but who am I to think that anyone actually wants to hear what I have to say? Practically every other person has a blog these days, and I think a lot of them are silly! Do people think my blog is a waste of time? Am I being narcissistic by posting all these stories about myself and just assuming that people would want to read them?
Oh no! I just realized I've broken one of my cardinal laws about blog posts. Must include pictures often and at key intervals. Otherwise it's too boring and no one will read. (That is how I personally evaluate other blogs, so it's only fair that I expect the same of myself.)
Here's a picture of my dog. (Refer to narcissistic question in paragraph above.)
I know, he's adorable.
Right. So you see how I was spinning myself into that unending vortex of wanting people to care about my blog but not wanting to care if people care about my blog? That's the kind of thing that really hurts the number of posts I feel capable of writing over, say, six months or so.
I just decided that I'm going to put myself firmly in the not caring camp, but with a caveat that says that I hope people will care about it, relate to it, laugh at it (kindly!) and comment on it. That's what makes it fun. That is why I do it. But it's not the only reason I do it (remember the part about practicing words?). So those two things combined, plus the sense of feeling productive even when I'm playing on the internets (i.e. blogging), makes it all worthwhile.
I feel accomplished already!
How the blog is going to evolve as I grow as a woman, traveler, wife, mother (some day) and extremely successful businessperson (also some day) is a more complicated question that will take a lot of work on my end, and hopefully will result in something that gets better and better as it ages. Yes, like a fine wine or my fiancé (so he tells me). I love makeovers (What Not to Wear, anyone?), so we can expect the blog to go through quite a few of those. It already has, since those early days in 2009.
Now to my last question, which is probably what all of this boils down to and the real reason I haven't written anything in six months. What if I don't have anything interesting left to say? What if, since I'm not translating letters from World War II or gallivanting about with my face on billboards in rural China, I'm just not cool enough to write good stuff anymore? I honestly asked myself this question and could not come up with a decent answer. But I have one now!
If I have nothing interesting to say, I will say some uninteresting things instead. But I will do my best to write about them in a way that will fascinate and engage you, dear reader! Beware, there is trickery on this site. You may find yourself glued to the screen, only to discover you've spent the last four hours reading about . . . gasp! Bottled water vs. filter on the tap! (#Beijing #Chinaproblems)
I might even write a post about hashtags, except that I probably need to learn how to use Twitter before I do that. So give me a few more years. By then, Twitter may not even be a thing anymore and I can get back to the important stuff. Like Pinterest.
Boy do I feel great! I love my website! I love blogging! I hate that word! Thanks for reading!
What do you think? Are you glad to see Kaci and the World back up and running? Isn't my dog actually the cutest?
Below is the long-awaited, much sought-after, first-ever GUEST POST (!!!) from my friend Meredith, who came to visit me approximately one million months ago and has just now given me her spiel on the adventure. I am so excited to share this with you, and so is she! With only very minor edits (and the addition of pictures) and without further ado . . .
Hey, remember that rainy, lingering winter month way back when… you know, the one we all wish we could just remove from the calendar? February. Yes that one. Sorry if you wanted to forget that month, because I’m about to take us back there. But it’s going to be great. I promise.
Before transporting us back to February, I want to say: Hi! My name is Meredith Freeman. A trained eye may have noticed that the opening phrase was probably syntactically deviant from Kaci’s beautiful writing style. That’s because … it was. It was my personal crazy phrasing that Kaci has graciously allowed me to spew on her brilliant blog. So before I start spewing I want to say thank you, Kaci, for this gift. It is truly an honor to blog on behalf of one of my favorite writers and dearest friends. I can only hope and pray that my words do this honor justice.
And actually, let’s begin by discussing this blog. Kaci’s blog that is. The picture-filled adventure book full of witty remarks and brilliant descriptions of strange foods, new faces, fireworks, pig's blood, costumes, and all of the other shenanigans that illustrate life as the only foreigner in her corner of the world.
I read Kaci’s blog as anyone who has not actually experienced any of this chaos would: Amused, engaged, curious, impressed. But as I sit in my comfy real-people sized western chair and scroll through her photography while sipping some afternoon coffee in a warm office, I now know that my amusement is slightly detached. I’m reading about KACI, without really understanding her WORLD, because her world and her words are SO foreign that they feel as if they only exist on paper and in cool photography.
Well friends, I’m here to tell you that THIS SHIT IS REAL. All of it. Kaci is a real life bad ass and she not only ate the crazy food she was blogging about, she EATS that food. Present tense. In her real life. Every day. Without a break for pancakes or coffee or even toast! Ever.
She REALLY speaks Mandarin, and can read road signs which have NO phonetic or logical basis whatsoever. Her face is REALLY on posters all over her city. And she REALLY runs a business and manages people that are so culturally different that even the way they think and problem solve is FUNDAMENTALLY different than anything we have ever known. And she does it all without a warm shower. (Most of the time.)
So this is the title and the subject of my blog: KACI LIVES IN CHINA. THIS SHIT IS REAL. And I apologize in advance for some of the four letter words. It really is the only way to convey the depth of my amazement at all of it: Kaci’s life, the lack of safety regulations, the food, the people, the pollution, the cab drivers, the massages, the boiled water that had me sick for an entire month after returning … All of it.
So grab yourself a nice Western snack and settle in, because you’re in for a wild blog ride.
Confucius Say: You can sleep when you’re dead (and other sacrifices we make for progress).
While this mini-chapter title might imply some wild story about our arrival adventures and the planes/trains/ automobiles required to get us to Libo on our first night (and trust me, there was much in those first 24 travel hours that was blog-worthy)…that is not actually what this chapter is about. This chapter category is really called “What we sacrifice for the sake of progress”. Subtitle: “comfort schmomfort,” “warmth is for wusses”, or “the toilet is out back, and this floor is cement, but smile! Let me take a picture of you with my iPad and then my extremely expensive Canon camera … and don’t mind the rooster walking in the hallway as you walk out”.
We as Americans make sacrifices for the things we care about--Sleep for fun, sleep for progress, almost anything (sleep, quality, quantity) for convenience—and we don’t think twice about it. Our highest values are can I get what I want, when I want it? And we want a lot of things. I want a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I want food right now. Not just food—I want ice cream. No, Thai Food. Ehhhh.. Maybe pizza. Doesn’t matter—we can get it. Even if it’s midnight. Where there is a will there is always a way.
Some might call this the pinnacle of progress. We have secured all things that are necessary—life, liberty, housing, cars, —and we can now focus on the pursuit of happiness. We have become SO efficient in our pursuit of progress that we can focus not only on production, but quality and worker safety, and convenience, and things like…building tree houses in work places to promote creativity. Like I said…Pinnacles of progress.
But our journey to get here was a long and dirty and polluted one. To illustrate this point, let’s play a game. Close your eyes, and imagine a scene out of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. If you haven’t read it (or haven’t read it since you didn’t actually read it in 7th grade American History), here is an excerpt:
"Jurgis heard of these things little by little, in the gossip of those who were obliged to perpetrate them. It seemed as if every time you met a person from a new department, you heard of new swindles and new crimes. There was, for instance, a Lithuanian who was a cattle-butcher for the plant where Marija had worked, which killed meat for canning only; and to hear this man describe the animals which came to his place would have been worth while for a Dante or a Zola. It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned. There were cattle which had been fed on “whiskey-malt,” the refuse of the breweries, and had become what the men called “steerly”—which means covered with boils. It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged your knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff into your face; and when a man’s sleeves were smeared with blood, and his hands steeped in it, how was he ever to wipe his face, or to clear his eyes so that he could see? It was stuff such as this that made the “embalmed beef” that had killed several times as many United States soldiers as all the bullets of the Spaniards; only the army beef, besides, was not fresh canned, it was old stuff that had been lying for years in the cellars."
Yup. That filth was America. Oh how far we’ve come.
So somehow you were able to read that last paragraph with your eyes closed (see instruction #1) … so I know you are all cheating and have your eyes open now. SO NOW … close your eyes again and imagine living in filthy, stinky, industrializing New York City during the time of Gangs of New York. Where things like plumbing and heat and private space were luxuries. Where out-houses were common place and all of these foreign people who just arrived in this strange land from their home countries were cooking all of their crazy nonsense in their small crowded kitchens, and the smell of their Old Country cuisine permeates through their crowded, shantily built quarters in one very consolidated industrializing area with pollution rising from the factories where they all work across the river. Comfortable, right? But hey—it’s progress!
Okay, so is this image burned into your brain? Okay…good. Now place Kaci in that image. In the rainy cloudiness of February. In a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, with foreign people, eating chicken feet. Image burned into your brain? Good.
And like all good stories I begin and end with a phrase. KACI REALLY LIVES IN CHINA. THIS SHIT IS REAL. But now I hope that that sentence gives you as jaw dropping a sense of awe as it does me. Kaci, dearest, I applaud you. You have managed to become a real life rock star—complete with posters and billboards all over town with your face on them—and you are RUNNING A BUSINESS in an extremely foreign, and extremely dirty country. All without warm water. Dang girl, dang. I am so proud of you. And I hope you, dear readers, are proud too.
To Kaci! Gan'bei!!
Below are some more pictures of Meredith's adventure in China. Thanks for the awesome (and very flattering!) blog post, Mere! You're welcome back in China any time ... if you dare ...
Monkeying around in the park:
Exploring the Forest on Water:
Learning to play mah jong:
Ringing in the new year with China's favorite invention:
Enjoying a relaxing evening at the spa, complete with silly pajamas:
Hitching a ride from the friendly Libo cops:
Getting ready for yet another breakfast of champions:
It was great to have you here, Meredith! You should come back now that it's 90 degrees and 100% humidity--you won't have to complain of the cold at least! And we have hot water almost all the time!
On Monday I packed up a backpack and once again headed deeper into rural Guizhou, this time to attend a festival held by the Miao people of Leishan once every thirteen years to honor their ancestors. I went with Big Mountain and a family of Australians who have been RV-ing around China for nearly six months. (Please read Fiona's blog, Life on Nanchang Lu. It is absolutely fantastic, and I can guarantee that she will make you laugh out loud.) Big Mountain has friends from a remote village outside of Leishan called Paiweng, and this is where we went to observe the "festival."
I say "festival" because what I experienced over the past few days lacked many of the attributes that we, as foreigners, might imagine a festival from this region would have; for example, singing, dancing, bull fights, traditional rites or ceremonies. That's not to say that what I observed wasn't fascinating, but it most certainly was not what I expected. (After this much time in China, you would think I'd have realized by now that it's best not to have expectations of any kind; this country is basically just one surprise after the other.)
The Guzang Festival in the village of Paiweng has several major, easily observable components:
The cardboard carnage featured in the photo above is the byproduct of one family's pyrotechnic display. In a village with dozens of homes (all made of wood, to the concern of apparently no one), the effect is quite overwhelming.
I'm sorry. I know that was gruesome. But I have far more gruesome pictures that I have chosen not to share for fear that you will run away and never read my blog again, so consider yourself spared. When we returned to the village Tuesday morning to observe the "festivities," the air was rife with the sound of shrieking animals. It was a horrific display, but necessary for the villagers. The pigs were slaughtered and then divided among the grown children in each household; relatives from near and far traveled to the village to celebrate, yes, but also to claim their share.
As a Westerner, I found this bit particularly tough to endure. But the reality of the matter is that if I cringe to see an animal killed, even an animal who has led a good life, cared for by villagers who truly depend on it for sustenance, then I am not fit to consume meat. I should find it easier to eat an animal whose origins I am familiar with than to eat the meat I'm used to buying pre-packaged on a white styrofoam plate in a grocery store. So instead of letting this experience turn me into a vegetarian (a lifestyle that, even if I wished to practice, I would find nearly impossible to sustain in rural China), I will let it influence the way I view eating meat at home. I will eat less of it. I will be more careful about where it comes from. I will investigate the actual meaning of "organic," "free range," pastured," and other labels, and make my purchases accordingly.
Anyway, back to the festivities.
3. Consumption of slaughtered pigs.
On this trip, I came much closer to eating those animal parts I try my hardest to avoid. I even sampled intestine (though I did not succeed in actually swallowing it). It was a lot like a spicy, pig-flavored rubber band. I kept chewing and chewing and it just wouldn't leave my mouth unless I spit it out. The villagers ate heartily, though, and watching them enjoy this special, rare treat was satisfying enough.
4. Drinking lots and lots of moonshine.
Those are not rice bowls.
Those are rice wine bowls. But if "rice wine" connotes a nice, sweet-tasting wine to you, then you, my friend, are sadly mistaken. I cannot describe the taste, but I can promise that I may have fewer taste buds left now. The large container in the back of that photo that looks like it should be holding bleach or gasoline? Yeah. It was full before the festival started. The only major advantage is that it probably succeeded in killing any bacteria hanging out in the food or tableware--my stomach is no worse for the wear after a few days in the countryside.
Here are some excerpts from my journal about the experience:
26 November 2012
We are sitting in what I can only describe as a living room--a wooden room open at one end with a moveable brazier in the center and tiny benches around it. We've been munching on sunflower seeds and chatting with the locals for the past hour. Every few minutes, another deafening round of fireworks goes off outside the door and the whole house shakes.
Women in various degrees of ethnic dress are seated around us--some in full attire (black velvet blouses, embroidered with brightly colored flowers, silver medallions hanging about their necks, and hair done up in a multi-layered bun studded with ornaments).
An old woman cleans fish in a large bucket in one corner.
The fireworks that have been going off for the past six or seven minutes straight come to a temporary halt and the room heaves a collective sigh of relief. Now the room has filled with chatter and--miraculously--with the sound of a television blaring from a back room. The home is perched on a mountain and appears to have been recently wired for electricity; whether the hut has plumbing remains to be seen. [Note: It did not.]
After four years of college Chinese, a semester in Beijing, two subsequent trips to the mainland, and three months in a small Chinese town, I am still remarkably inept at understanding what is said to me by these women. Their language only remotely resembles the Mandarin I learned in school; I can pick out words but lack the ability to decipher full sentences.
27 November 2012
We are at our second feast of the day, and our host is passing around a bowl of raw congealed pig's blood.
[Side note: Check out those pants! In Vogue: Rural China Edition?]
As the meal progresses, I look around the room and realize that I appear to be dining with a band of slightly impoverished Chinese vampires--their mouths are stained with fresh blood and their hands are rust-colored from the pig slaughtering earlier this morning. A quadruplet of octogenarians are huddled together in the far corner, feeding each other moonshine out of small shallow bowls. Every time one of them drains his or her bowl, the entire room erupts in a chorus of, "Ohhh!"
They don't look too rowdy in the picture above, but looks can be deceiving!
Earlier this morning I had the opportunity to wear a traditional Miao costume. It was all velvet and silver and bright shades of blue and pink.
The bells hanging down our backs tinkled with even the slightest movement, and our heads were weighed down by a crown of jingling silver.
The steep paths up and down the mountains are red with the remnants of fire crackers and pig's blood. In the corner of the room, a dog licks some blood off the floor. A toddler sits on a bench, listlessly chewing and swallowing stick after stick of double mint gum.
"It is in all of us to defy expectations, to go into the world and to be brave and to want, to need, to hunger for adventures, to embrace change and chance and risk so that we may breathe and know what it is to be free."
No, of course the title is not a drug reference. Please. I just don't know what else to call the feeling I have when I'm there. Shanghai is electric, insistent; it is throbbing with reckless energy and made of windows upon shiny windows reaching up to the sky. The air smells like opportunity and tastes like success. In Shanghai, the East and West dance a constant tango that sweeps me off my feet and has me dizzy with excitement, adrenaline, and awesome potential. It is an intoxicating, life-changing place that I find both thrilling and terrifying.
But if you know me, you know I am not a city person. I prefer out-of-the-way places like Saint Louis or Tübingen or Libo to their Chicago or Stuttgart or Guangzhou counterparts. Cities overwhelm me with their exhaust-filled air and noise pollution and crowded intersections--after a long weekend in New York or Berlin, I am always ready to head for the hills (literally) and leave the inhabitants to their commotion. The hills, after all, have much to offer: fresh air, enough room to spread your arms wide open and run around in, and quirky locals with stories to tell and the time to tell them.
But Shanghai has the ability to take the assumptions I have about myself and turn them upside down. I find that I am able to slip seamlessly into the jostling fray of elbows and high heels and caffeine. After just a few hours there, I already look at myself differently in the mirror. Maybe this sounds dramatic to you, and it might very well be. If I actually lived in Shanghai, perhaps the high would wear off and within weeks, I would be reduced to my normal, no make-up, Toms-wearing, country-loving, sensible self. But I am not so sure that's the case. I've visited dozens of cities on four different continents, and not a single one has ever made me feel the way that Shanghai does every time I'm there.
I honestly don't know what to make of it. I am back in Libo, but my heart is beating faster now than it was when I left. The city is magnetic; I can feel its pull sharply now. I've got work in the morning and I feel like I'll need a cold shower to wake me up out of this Shanghai-induced haze.
Luckily for me, a cold shower is easy to come by here . . .
Big Mountain's daughter turned six on Thursday, and Little Miss Personality *loved* the attention showered on her--even more attention than usual! She got to have two birthdays: one on Thursday, with just her immediate family (and me) and a Chinese birthday cake, and one on Friday with extended family, friends, and an American birthday cake made by yours truly.
Excitement over her Chinese cake, with Grandma looking on:
The Chinese cake did not do it for me. The texture of the cake was angel food (never been a favorite of mine), it was barely sweet, and the frosting tasted like canned whipped cream that hadn't been refrigerated. In between the layers there were pieces of fruit, which was good, but otherwise I thought it would be no competition.
My mom sent a bunch of things over for Qiuyu, mostly involving helping her learn English. She absolutely loves to practice writing English (speaking not so much, but we're working on it) so the gifts my mom sent were a huge hit.
And now, of course, onto the cake. My cake. Baking this cake was an affair--I took my two hour mid-day siesta, which I guard jealously--to make the first layer, and made the second one before dinner (meaning I left work an hour early). The cake had nothing on what I'd be able to make in the States, since I used olive oil instead of butter and store-bought Betty Crocker frosting (from Guiyang) instead of making my own (no powdered sugar), but I was pleased with the result. Qiuyu loves white chocolate, so I chopped up a bar of Ghirardelli that Matt sent and threw it in the batter. Americans, who are trained in the art of cake-eating, would notice that something was a little different because of the olive oil, but I don't think anyone would necessarily think it was a bad thing. Overall, I was really quite proud of myself for this creation:
Click here for a link to the recipe!
Qiuyu's dinner party was huge--there were at least twenty people there. She was beside herself with excitement the whole night because we were all going to sing karaoke afterwards and she was allowed to stay up really late. Dinner concluded around 9:30, and we headed to karaoke, where it was determined that we would eat the cake. But apparently, karaoke was (for once) not what everyone else wanted to do. Big Mountain, his wife, his brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law's eight year old son were the only people who showed up to our karaoke room.
And when it came time to have cake, Qiuyu's excitement ended with blowing out the candles. She did not eat a single bite of the cake.
It broke my heart.
Big Mountain and his wife made a show of eating a few bites (they both despise sweets), but everyone else seemed to really like it. And since I had made a rather large cake in anticipation of lots of guests, I took the remainder home with me to share with the people in my office. It was a much bigger success today after lunch than it was last night, and now, the only thing that's left is a few crumbs and a smudge of icing in the box.
On a completely unrelated note, I just wanted to share with you a text message I received recently from a friend here that made me laugh. I hope it has the same effect on you!
Being friends with the head of the police force in Libo has its benefits. I met him at Nainai's funeral, and he immediately insisted that I call him "Liu Ge" (Big Brother Liu); at the time, I had no idea that he happens to be "kind of a big deal" in Libo. Like a lot of people here, upon meeting me, he insisted we take a photo together:
This past weekend, Liu Ge invited me to go on a hike with the local SWAT team. Let me be the first to tell you these guys were not messing around. The hike was conducted in full uniform as a training exercise. In other words, it was really, really hard! We hiked for five hours up (and down) four mountains averaging about 2000 feet each--a total of eight miles. The mountains were densely forested, but instead of being shady and cool, the forest acted as a humidity trap, ensuring that all of us were absolutely drenched with sweat within the first twenty minutes.
For the record, the mountains you see in front of us in the picture above are not what we were climbing.
This photo is of the last mountain we hiked over, taken from the village where we rested and had a late lunch before heading back to Libo:
Although the hike was a training exercise, the men acted more like boys on a field trip, singing traditional Chinese songs, whooping and hollering, and generally making mischief. Some of the more serious hikers engaged in a race, but most of us concentrated on not slipping on the rocks as we climbed (sometimes using our hands).
The Maolan forest is famous for "python trees"--trees whose branches have twisted around each other for a snake-like effect. Apparently, the forest is home to black bears and monkeys, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, in the case of black bears) we didn't see any animals (just insects . . . lots and lots of insects).
I once mentioned to Liu Ge that I am interested in learning kung fu; I figured since he's Mr. Badass Head of the Local Police he would probably know who could teach me. Little did I know that on the hike, I would be introduced to Zeng Shifu, my kung fu master.
He may not look like a crouching tiger . . .
but he is most definitely a Hidden Dragon.
My first lesson:
Another new friend, Deng Ge, proudly presented me with a tiny crab he caught in the river. He was so pleased with his gift to me that he insisted we document the exchange. Even more incredible than the fact that I'm holding a crab is the fact that Deng Ge is taller than me! I can count on one hand the number of people I've met here that fall into that category.
As we drove back into Libo, Big Mountain's daughter called me to invite me over for dinner. Even though I was exhausted, I find it nearly impossible to refuse her anything, so I took a quick (and mercifully hot) shower and headed to their house. By 9 pm, my muscles were yelling at me for having condensed an entire month's worth of exercise into five hours, and Big Mountain suggested we go get Thai massages.
Music to my ears! Had I ever had a Thai massage? No. Did I know what that entailed? No. But I was game--anything to ease the pain.
If you are a knuckle/neck/back cracker, then this massage is for you. Every limb was yanked, twisted, pulled and pushed into what I would have thought to be impossible positions. There was the usual kneading and massaging as well, although at one point the woman was doing chopsticks (with her hands, not actual chopsticks . . . funny that I need to specify) on my forehead. She used her knees, toes, elbows, and entire body weight during the massage; at times, I had a hard time keeping a straight face, especially if I looked over at Big Mountain having the same procedures done to him across the room. (By the way, in China, going to get a massage is like going to get drinks--you go in groups. Everyone in your party is in the same room, and you all change into silly looking pajamas and drink chrysanthemum tea and eat tangerines. It is as great as it sounds.)
Here are some images from the internet of Thai massages, to give you an idea:
Just kidding about that last one. But the second to last one? Yeah that happened.
After my massage, I felt like I had been hit by a magical bus that turns muscles into jello but also kind of hurts at the same time. But the next day, I thanked my lucky stars that I went. I expected to be immobile the day after, but aside from mild discomfort at the thought of going up or down a staircase, I was a-okay.
I know you were curious, so here's a picture of me in the silly pajamas.
Wee-ew-wee-ew-wee-ew! The fashion police are on their way.
It's time for another round of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Chinese Food Edition" . . .
Alexy and I went exploring one Saturday afternoon for a good spot for lunch that isn't the seventh floor of our office building. We found this gem around the corner, which is always packed and famous for their scallion pancakes (in the background). My go-to dish is a spicy beef and cabbage stir fry over rice.
This next one was a bit scary, but ended up being quite delicious. On our way back to the office from a meeting one day, the weather was hot and Alexy recommended we try a traditional Guizhou treat for sunny weather. I was of course willing to check it out, but when I saw the street vendor ladling clear, wiggling jello out of a bucket and into a bowl for me, I got nervous. In my head, I was thinking, "Kaci, this is exactly what you are not supposed to be doing. Eating food on the street that comes out of a bucket. If you get sick, you deserve it." But I didn't want to chicken out, so I went ahead and let Alexy choose my toppings: thick molasses, sesame seeds, peanuts, raisins, and some sugary candy. The result was certainly a unique blend of flavors, but overall quite delicious. And I didn't get so much as a stomachache! Win.
Last weekend, a friend of Big Mountain's invited me over to his home for dinner. His daughter is twenty-one and a student at a university in Guiyang. She's studying philosophy, English and Japanese, and loves to sing and play the guitar. She was too shy to speak much English, but we had a great time talking about music (she loves Green Day and Avril Lavigne--angsty or what?!) and travel. The family served the dreaded hot pot, but this time it was full of only things I like! Mushrooms, normal cuts of beef, stewed pumpkin, and cabbage were some of the hot pot ingredients. We drank wine that Mrs. Mo made herself from grapes in the family vineyard. After dinner, we headed out on the town for some good old-fashioned karaoke, where I once again confirmed the fact that I will never be able to sing Beyonce's songs. Ever.
To celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival, I went to Big Mountain's house for a special dinner. As usual, it was delicious--spicy chicken with bamboo (center), beef and celery, bitter melon, edamame with ground pork, and homemade sausages . . . The list goes on and on. After dinner, we looked at the moon and gave thanks, and of course enjoyed a traditional Libo moon cake filled with sweetened red bean paste.
The night of the Chinese tea party, Eric and I found ourselves hungry on the way back to the office. We stopped to sample some street food, and Eric recommended I try the infamous "stinky tofu."
Chinese escargot. The only way I am eating snails is if they are served in a French restaurant and smothered in butter and garlic thankyouverymuch.
Nothing like some good ol' raw fish heads to whet your appetite. Am I right?!
Mmm . . . Pig brain.
And now, I present to you: fried grasshoppers.
These are under the "Ugly" category because they don't look too good, but let me be the first to tell you that they were actually quite delicious! I ate two.
Here's a fun game for all you non-Chinese speakers out there! It's called, "Find the Dog on the Menu." (Hint: It's somewhere in the right-hand column.)
This game is also known by another name, which is, "Make sure you go out to eat with someone who can read Chinese."
The phrase "tea party" brings to mind several distinct images for me. The first is of playing 'tea party' as a child with my cousin and grandmother, using a beautiful old tea set and equal parts cream, sugar, and English breakfast tea. The second is of taking high tea in London with friends last year. And the third (for whatever reason) is of a page from a middle school history book about the Boston Tea Party.
My guess is that upon hearing that you have been invited to a tea party, at no point does your mind associate that with, "belly dancers," "braised pork ribs," or "grain alcohol." You can imagine my momentary confusion, then, when I attended my first Chinese tea party last Friday. The party was hosted at the "fancy" hotel in Libo following a conference between government officials and commercial investors. To the amazement of everyone who didn't know me, I gave a speech in Chinese about how thankful my company is for the government's support, etc etc. Then I sat back, relaxed, partook of the complimentary fruit plate, and understood very little of the rest of the meeting's proceedings.
After the conference, all 75 or so attendees filed out of the conference room and downstairs to the ballroom, where tea was in fact being served. The air quickly filled with cigarette smoke and the sound of fifty people speaking loudly on their cell phones at the same time, as is typical at Chinese functions such as this. After about 30 minutes of settling-in time, where the attendees found their assigned seats, enjoyed a moon cake or two in honor of the Mid Autumn Festival, and caught up on nicotine and voicemails, the party really got started. Performances by ethnic minority groups (mainly women in traditional costumes dancing and singing) were the main event, and to be honest, I was quite transfixed. I had never seen traditional Chinese dances like these or heard music like what was sung and played that afternoon.
Having participated myself in many concert choirs, I found the differences between American and Chinese choral performances striking. To have a nasal tone in the States is anathema; in China, it is required. Still, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the performance, especially the movements they incorporated.
The final performance startled me, as it was more reminiscent of Indian dancing than anything I've ever seen in China. It's fascinating to see how various Eastern cultures must have influenced each other over thousands of years.
After the performances, dinner was served and the toasting began. I was asked to give a karaoke performance, so in front of a large audience of Chinese businessmen and government officials, I sang Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," the subject of which may not have been the most appropriate given the venue. I banked on the fact that no one would understand the words, and to my knowledge, no one did. Unfortunately, giving that performance meant that almost every single person in the room came over to toast me personally afterwards, which was becoming a problem until I managed to fill my grain alcohol pitcher with water instead of "baijiu". This also meant that I didn't eat dinner. Womp womp.
Gan bei! ("Bottom's up!"):
Libo is located in Guizhou province, which is heavily populated by several of China's ethnic minorities. One of my bosses, Big Mountain, is a member of the Yao ethnic minority. Above, I am pictured wearing traditional Yao clothing. The Yao people are generally quite short, which explains the skirt length on me.
The clothes I am wearing, which Big Mountain presented to me as a gift, took six months to make. The embroidery is all done by hand, and it is a dying art: Only the old women of the villages know how to do it any more, because most of the younger women have moved to big cities in search of work, and young people in general have lost interest in these types of traditional handicrafts.
The people in Libo are very friendly, although they often seem at a loss for words when they catch a glimpse of me through the car window or out surveying the property. I am the first foreigner many of them have ever seen, or at least the first tall blonde American woman they've come across. As the property we are working on develops further, I suspect the locals will become much more accustomed to seeing Westerners than they are right now. But for the time being, I am trying to take the gawking and pointing as a compliment (and trying not to feel like I'm on the wrong side of a cage at the zoo).
Above is Big Mountain, bargaining for the Yao costume I'm wearing. It wasn't for sale, because (as I mentioned earlier) it took someone six months to make. They sell cheaper versions without the detailed embroidery and hand-drawn ink patterns, but he wasn't having any of that nonsense. Mine is the real deal.
If the strangers I meet on a daily basis are friendly, then the people I am coming to know, and with whom I will work closely in the coming year, are practically treating me like family. In fact, in China, the workplace is meant to be a community, and the lines between personal and professional life are often unclear. Lunch and even dinner are spent at the office with coworkers, and a Friday night off probably includes karaoke with the bosses. Maybe my company is a bit extreme because of its rural location, but I've heard from other people that they have had similar experiences.
Here's a shot of the whole gang having dinner at the office:
Not a bad crew, right?
Hello, my name is Kaci. My parents have a hard time keeping me at home.