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.
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."
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!
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!"):
This title may be a bit of an exaggeration. Am I rich? By American standards, definitely not. I've got the equivalent of eighteen dollars in my wallet to last me more than two weeks, but I'm not even sweating. It should be plenty. Though I may have to give up my afternoon bubble tea towards the end . . . And as for the famous part, well, I'm getting to that. It's all relative, right?
This morning I took a bit of extra care during my primping routine. It went something like this . . .
8:15: My alarm wakes me from a dream in which I live in the attic of an old, colonial-looking house with a family of enormous spiders. I'm so tired I would almost prefer to sink back into my spider dream, but instead--
8:17: I enjoy a cold shower for the fourth or fifth day in a row. I've learned to judge the coldness on a special scale, which goes from This-Water-Is-From-The-Iceberg-That-Sank-The-Titanic-Cold to I-Can-Nearly-Convince-Myself-This-Is-Lukewarm-Cold. Most days the water is a tolerable Pool-Water-Cold; just like getting in the pool, it feels freezing at first, but once you're in long enough, it's actually colder to be out of the water than in it.
8:25: I shiver myself into my clothes, chosen with special care this morning. Instead of my usual capris, decent top, sweater, and worn-out Toms, I opt for a nice shirt/sweater combo, khaki suit-skirt, and (omg!) high heels.
8:30: In honor of the occasion, I put on make-up (a first since arriving in Libo) and brush my hair twice. I'm disturbed to notice that today of all days, after three merciful weeks of no bites, I've awoken with an enormous mosquito (or spider?) bite on my face, just below my left eye. It has the unfortunate effect of making me look like I have just been punched in the face. I hastily apply cover-up, which infuriates the bite and makes my eye water from the itching. But you know what the stars say--beauty is pain.
8:40: I consume my last protein bar. Sad face.
8:42: I clean my room, make my bed, and put all my clothes away. Today I imagine that I will be having visitors.
9:00: I collect my computer, cell phones, and notebook, pack my bag, and head down two flights of stairs to work.
Why all the fuss, you ask? Because--because!--today, I filmed a segment for a local TV station! "A Day in the Life of the Foreigner in Libo" will air as a short news story tomorrow evening, and as a longer spot later in the week. I completed a fairly long interview rather successfully in Chinese, talked about my work and my new life in Libo, and even let the cameraman into my room, where he filmed photos of my loved ones and shot Alexy and I playing a game of "American cards" (gin rummy). I received notice that this interview would take place today just yesterday afternoon; apparently two nights ago I agreed to do it during dinner with my boss and some of his friends. Clearly, my strategy of nodding, smiling, and cheers-ing people when I don't understand what they're saying has some room for improvement.
And of course today, for the first day in what seems like forever, I actually had work to do. The rest of the day was spent contemplating the merits of various life jackets, officially hiring my second staff member (a marketing assistant), and reviewing ticket designs, among other things. At 6:30, my coworker Sophie and I went upstairs to have dinner with Eric and (as usual) some members of the government. It was hot pot again, which means that all manner of raw animal parts were hanging out on the table for us to boil in individual hot and sour soup pots by our plates. As you might imagine, this is not my favorite dining experience, but I've learned to live with it. I almost feel like the fish and chicken heads are my friends, winking at me at various points during the three-hour dinner as they spin around and around on the mechanical lazy susan. The beverage of choice tonight was brandy, which was consumed in such large quantities that by the end of the night, the only possible option was to go sing karaoke.
And guess what?! Tonight, I sang my very first ever Chinese karaoke song! Check it out:
To me, this accomplishment felt every bit as exciting as the prospect of being on television is. It was a smashing success, and further solidified my place as coolest foreigner within a hundred-mile radius.
I'll try to video tape the interview tomorrow on my iPhone to share with you all. You will be extra impressed, because chances are, you won't understand what I'm saying, and it will therefore sound perfect. Everybody wins.
One final thing of import happened today: my Chinese name was changed. My Chinese name, Xiong Wenlu (shee-yong when-LOO), has thus far been met with mixed reviews. Some think it sounds beautiful and traditional, like a movie star name. Others think it sounds like a boy's name. I have no way of knowing; all I know is that the name belonged to a Chinese girl in one of my classes at Vanderbilt and happened to be the only name I knew how to write when I went to Beijing.
Today, a government official christened me Xiong Xiaoli (shee-yong shee-yow LEE), which means that my first name is now "Little Li" -- "Li" as in "Libo". Adorable!
Sigh. It's almost 1 in the morning, and the spider dreams are beckoning. I will keep you updated on my "rich" and "famous" lifestyle as it unfolds, but for now, I must bid you wan'an--good night.
Last night, Sarah, Gary, Candy and I joined two of the hotel's investment managers for a private Chinese-style banquet dinner. The meal was nine courses; never in my life have I been presented with so many foods I had never tasted before in one sitting. My apologies for not taking pictures--I didn't want to make myself even more conspicuous at a business dinner by acting like a tourist as well as looking like one. Now, I will sound like a tourist as I try to describe to you the bizarre and occasionally tasty dishes I sampled.
The dinner started with some kind of a salty, cinnamon-y meat-broth with questionable floaty black things. Course two was a plate of cold appetizers, including some delicious pickled radishes with sweet sauce, some extremely spicy cucumbers (I nearly caused a scene), and a meat that redefines the term "cold cuts." I tried my best to at least taste everything that was set down in front of me, but I left the cold meat chunks alone. I know from my last trip here that those are on the "No thank you" list.
The third course was a very nice steak. Steak in China is slightly different, being that it is typically about equal parts meat and fat, and covered with a sweet and spicy Asian sauce that I really enjoy. Keeping with the meat trend, the fourth course was some animal's (I'm guessing a pig's) part (I'm guessing an organ of some sort). It didn't taste bad per se, but the texture was a bit alarming. Two bites in, I decided it was too much for me.
I was thrilled by the fifth course, which was a little bowl of fish in salty soy broth. It had the skin and fins still attached, but my chopstick skills were good enough to detach said skin and fins and consume the flaky bites just fine. The waitress brought out the head on a plate and tried to offer it to me. I politely declined. I tried fish gills in Kenya, and I am 110% sure I do not like them or any part of the fish's head.
Post fish-head, we were served two vegetable courses. The first was a combination of potatoes (white and purple), carrots, and cucumbers in a gelatinous white sauce. The second was a green vegetable I had never seen before (like a cross between bok choy and broccolini) in broth.
Course #8 was hands-down my favorite. Side by side on the plate were a dumpling and a strange looking orange ball shaped like a pumpkin. The dumpling was half steamed, half fried (those are the best kind!) and filled with pork, water chestnuts, and herbs. The orange 'thing' remains somewhat of a mystery. I know it was made from glutinous rice flour, which I think lends one of the most interesting textures to dessert that I've ever come across. It was flavored with peach, and on the inside was some sort of a nut (a walnut perhaps?). It was fun to try to eat it with chopsticks because it was extremely sticky (it stuck to the plate, the chopsticks, and our mouths), but the rest of the group had trouble too so I didn't feel awkward.
The last course was a martini glass filled with slices of orange, apple, and dragon fruit. Needless to say I liked this course as well. After dinner, we were served a delicate tea that tasted of pine and lemon--in a good way.
Today's excitement began with me finding a bug the size of my hand on the wall outside my balcony. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was HUGE! And it was making the loudest sound I have ever heard a bug make. I thought it was a bird at first.
I had a nice morning to myself, including a leisurely breakfast, a Jillian Michaels yoga DVD in the room, a long shower, and a few skype dates. This afternoon, I had lunch with Candy and Gary before our meeting about the American boathouse they want to design for the resort.
Candy and me at lunch:
After the business meeting, Gary drove me up to the top of the mountain so that I could see the hotel's namesake, Nine Dragon Lake. What I saw was stunning. Apparently, the lake is the lowest it has ever been, but it will fill back up again by the end of the rainy season. As is typical in China, there was an almost incomprehensible amount of construction happening in the area. Several other resort developers in the area are building hotels, villas, and other structures to attract tourists. I can't help but imagine that they will ultimately be successful; this place is truly gorgeous.
Nine Dragon Lake:
A view of the Princess Hotel and surrounding area:
It is 6:15 pm, and I am forcing myself to write this post right now so that I do not go to sleep instead. Power through the jet lag, my mind is telling me. The rest of me is looking longingly at the king-sized bed across the room.
How fancy is that?! This room is about six times larger than the one in Hong Kong, and with our special discount it's about a $20 upgrade per night. Yes, please.
After we checked in, Sarah, Gary, Gary's wife 'Candy' and I had lunch at the hotel. We started off with some bone marrow soup. Before you get all grossed out, let me just tell you that it was delicious! I would definitely eat it again. I'm serious.
I never know what I'm doing with Chinese menus, so I usually just let whomever I'm with take the lead or copy whatever they order. Today, that was a good choice:
Sarah ordered braised pork over rice with pickled radish, a Chinese tea egg, and steamed bok choy. So did I.
After lunch, Candy and I took a walk around the grounds. The resort is bizarrely European, complete with a bar that brews its own German beer and even a church.
Here are some pictures I took on my tour:
The outdoor pool:
Villas along the river:
I'm definitely hoping there will be time for a unique Chinese spa treatment . . .
Ear picking?! I think I'll stick with a foot massage, thank you.
In keeping with my recent habit of not staying in the same location for more than 3.2 seconds, I flew to London last Thursday morning to visit my brother. Conveniently, my roommate from college and one of my best friends in the whole world, Liberty, also lives in London, as does one of my oldest friends, Kaelan, whom I've known since the sixth grade. It was a weekend full of some of the best company I can imagine!
Will had to study for finals most of the weekend, but he managed to find time to show us around Borough Market. Borough is the most incredible food market I've ever seen. And I have seen a lot of food markets in my day. There's no way to try everything (though Liberty and I made a good effort!) so luckily Will could point out the best that the local vendors had to offer. And the winner (in all of our opinions) was the chorizo burger.
I've been to London before, so I was able to use the few days I had there to spend time with friends, instead of feeling rushed to see everything. I did go back to the British Museum, which has an amazing exhibit right now on "Living and Dying Around the World." It sounds a little morbid, but it was fascinating! I learned about so many things I had never even considered, like the types of complicated burial rituals in Ghana and the traditional method of trading on the Solomon Islands. I could spend months wandering around the British Museum and never get bored.
A few other highlights of the weekend were having dinner on Brick Lane (known for Indian food . . . score) and taking a trip to Queen Mary's Forest with Liberty for a little fresh air and exercise on Sunday morning. It was a great trip, and I'm so glad to have friends like Kaelan and Liberty, not to mention an awesome brother who brings antibiotics for his sister all the way from the States and takes time out from studying to have high tea with her!
I jumped right back into life in Germany, which was confusing after having reacquainted myself with the English language for a few days. I am also still suffering from mild panic attacks when I have to figure out which way to look when I cross the street.
My re-immersion into Germany was made easier by the fact that right now is the spring (and Swabian) version of Oktoberfest in Stuttgart. So I did what any girl looking for an authentic German experience would do . . . I suited up and headed to the Wasen! My German friends (in Lederhosen, pictured below) plus a new Chinese friend were pretty impressed by my pseudo-German look.
Also, beer tents are indeed real.
Now, onto my next subject. Mother's Day. I blame my excursion to London for this shout-out post being three days late, but better late than never, right? Maybe my mom thought she was getting off easy after I embarrassed my dad on his birthday in the last post, or maybe she felt left out. I don't know. Either way, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about my mom.
Shwew! Can you believe how beautiful she is?! As I was going through my iPhoto library, trying to choose which pictures to include in this post, I kept thinking that over and over again.
This beautiful woman has taught me pretty much every important thing I will ever need to know about life, love, and family. We've been best friends since I was old enough to realize how ridiculously cool she is (at approximately age two). Also, she is a culinary goddess. Seriously. There's nowhere in the world I would rather eat than at her table. You think I'm kidding.
She challenges me to be my best every day, and encourages me to try new things. Here's me after trying one of those new things that I really didn't want to do, hot yoga. Turns out that I love it!
She even loves me when my hair looks like "seaweed" (her words, not mine). As we've grown up, she's been strict when she needed to be, but also knew when it was okay to just look away when we weren't being too bad.
A prime example of this would be the McAllister children playing late-night poker in our hotel room in Wyoming last summer. We were betting with rock candy, and only Will drank the beer. Mom's in the background with the covers over her face.
My mom and I have also done some cool things together, like digging for dinosaur bones in Montana . . .
. . . and exploring Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
I'd also like to wish a (slightly belated) Happy Mother's Day to my grandmothers, Nana and Oma. They are amazing women that I look up to, and I'm looking forward to seeing both of them soon! Oma will be coming to Germany in a few weeks and helping me with my project here in Tübingen. And the first thing I do when I get home in July will be to unpack, repack, and jet off to Alaska with Nana and the rest of the Joplin crew for a family vacation!
Life is good.
Hello, my name is Kaci. My parents have a hard time keeping me at home.