The Hot Pot Blog

September 30, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 94 In Which I Shamelessly Borrow A Friend as Poster Child for Sichuan Snacks

I don’t take enough food photos here in Sichuan.  I don’t take enough people photos in Sichuan.  Here is an attempt to remedy both.  Food and friend, in one photograph.

Pictures from Malaysia coming soon…

September 29, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 93 In Which I Endorse Clouds and a Telephoto Lens

We don’t really do sunsets in Chengdu.  Our position in the bottom of a valley, under a near constant blanket of clouds and pollution, does not lend itself to the beautiful sorts of sunsets that one might find in, say, Malaysia, where I’ll be when this post goes up.

That being said, sometimes the clouds do part here, and often in very interesting ways.

As I sat this evening, frantically typing out posts scheduled to go up while we are on vacation, Chris wandered in and commented on the interesting clouds in the “sunset” going on just over my shoulder.

One look and I dived for my telephoto lens.  To this day, it’s the only accessory I’ve ever bought for my camera.  The one I bought because it was cheap, even though I knew it didn’t have image-stabilization or any of the other features I wanted.  You know, the lens I can only ever use in the brightest of daylight or with a borrowed tripod since I don’t own one myself.

In short, this lens represents an important camera equipment lesson: buy what you need and don’t settle for something that doesn’t meet those needs just because it’s so much cheaper.  It ends of being a waste of money in the long run.  To wit, I have yet to buy another item for my camera because I don’t want to be wayy better educated for my next purchase.

That being said though, tonight was one of those rare moments when I was able to actually use this lens to its full potential, i.e. with full light behind me and a window railing to steady it upon.

And so, I give you clouds:

I’m convinced, clouds are an excellent reason to have a telephoto lens, just make sure you get some image stabilization and a tripod while you’re at it.

September 28, 2010

China in Photos: Day No 92. In Which I Share Chinese Numbers

Yes, I am (hopefully!) in Malaysia.  No, I am no where near a computer.  I give you the magic of wordpress: posts that you can “schedule” to pop up even when you are no where near your computer.  Handy for vacations.

On our beautiful Sunday walk, Chris and I past by a wall of wooden paneling.  Each panel was inscribed with a number.  The effect was striking.

We couldn’t figure out the meaning behind the numbers, other than the fact that they decrease from left to right, but we liked the look of it just the same.

In addition, these numbers represent about a quarter of my Chinese literacy.  And I’m always happy when i see something on the street that I can actually read.

September 27, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 91 In Which We Embark on Operation Honeymoon: Malaysia

By the time this post goes up, we will be at the airport, on our way to Langkawi, Malaysia.  This journey marks our first time out of Sichuan since we arrived, our first vacation in over 2 years and our very first honeymoon since we got married over a year ago.

I don’t think there is a literary device in the world capable of describing how much Chris and I have been looking forward to this honeymoon/vacation/week of sunshine.

The best I’ve got is: We are thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis excited.

Into my overstuffed backpack I’ve packed: 5 new e-books to read on my Nook, on our “rainforest balcony,” a swimsuit to enjoy the clear water in, a camera to capture the (hopefully) blue skies, running clothes with which I plan to take full advantage of the clean air, and an irresistibly good-looking husband with whom I will enjoy lots of sleeping in, snuggling, delicious seafood dinners, and hammock-habitation.

We blew all of our Starwood points to stay for nearly free in the lap of luxury but even so, I’m not sure if I’ll feel like shelling out for internet while we are there.  I think I’d rather spend that money on seafood consumption or a massage on the beach.

Yes, this means I’ll be breaking my streak of posting everyday, but I promise lots and lots of envy-inducing photos when we get back.  I’ve also got a post or two scheduled to go up during the week while I’m gone.  You know, just in case you miss me! 🙂

To everyone in China, have a lovely National Day holiday.  To everyone else, have a great week and weekend!

September 26, 2010

China in Photos: Day No 90 In Which We Take a Beautiful City Stroll

On a tip from Z., the totally awe-inspiring proprietor of Chengdu’s most amazing (and only) little French cafe, Chris and I went strolling today down some streets that we would have otherwise not have found.

We were chatting with Z. at her cafe when she said that today felt like Europe to her, with the sunshine and the mid 70’s temperatures and the clear air.  She and her husband, a Frenchman, lived in France for several years before coming back to Chengdu to open their cafe (and share their infant son with his grandparents :)), so Z. knows.

(Z. also speaks fluent French, English, Mandarin, and Sichuanhua and it amazes me every time to watch her switch between all four as she simultaneously accepts a local flour delivery, explains a goat cheese salad to an upper-class Chinese, greets a French Consulate family, and then returns to her and I’s oh-so-important conversation about proper croissant-making equipment.  Z. doesn’t so much serve her patrons as much as she floats gracefully from conversation to conversation in such a way that, only when she makes her exit, do you realize that she has managed to clear your plate, refill your water glass and promise a dessert on its way to your table, without you scarcely noticing a thing.)

Like my friend A., Z. is one of those rare people here who is wholly Chengdu-ren but also wholly her own person with taste and an eye for beauty that would be a pleasure to find anywhere, but especially here in little ol’ Chengdu.  So when she recommended we take advantage of the beautiful day to check out a teahouse around the corner, we couldn’t help but stroll that way.

And what we found was not just a beautiful little teahouse, but also one of the more pleasant neighborhoods we’ve seen yet in Chengdu.

The streets were clean but not gentrified-looking.  There were hardly any cars.  There was a sense of peace and quiet that you rarely find here in Chengdu.  The way the palm trees shaded the streets made it feel like we were in some semi-exotic semi-tropical destination rather than Chengdu.

After a morning filled with burnt electrical wires and revelations about poor electrical work and watery walls, that walk was just the thing we needed.

Perhaps the beautiful weather today and the beautiful stroll was a bit wasted on us-we do leave for Malaysia tomorrow after all-but we still enjoyed it tremendously.

Now its off to pack for our honeymoon before dinner!  Hope you are having as beautiful a weekend as we are.

September 25, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 89 In Which We See More People On the Streets

Whenever Chris and I are sitting in traffic, we usually buy one of these little 1 kuai air fresheners.  The flowers smell amazing and they hopefully serve to slightly enrich the women bravely darting in and out of traffic to sell them.

After living in India, where it’s impossible to walk down the street or take a cab ride without interacting with dozens of beggars-often children, China often seems blissfully free of the same sort of soul-crushing and life-ending poverty.

In the same way that people with disabilities rarely make public appearances here, nor do the desperately poor.

In fact, the only person with disability that I’ve ever seen here is also one of the few pan-handlers I’ve seen as well.  Nice guy too.

Today though, for some reason, the desperately poor seemed to be everywhere and in ways I had never before seen in Chengdu.  Kids who should have been in school were shoving flyers on our car in traffic (kids have school on Saturdays here when they have holidays during the week).  We saw a grandmother and her malnourished grandchild dusting off cars in return for a few kuai.  A few people were sleeping under highway overpasses.

I don’t usually see that here in Chengdu so I don’t know why there was so much of it today.  Perhaps it was just a coincidence that we ran into all of these people in one day.

I know this is probably not the sort of thing I should put on my blog, but I’m just bewildered and perplexed.  I just wish I knew more about the situation of poverty in this city.  I wish there were at least organizations to give to in order to help those in need.

We have so much compared to so many people here and it would be nice to be able to help out more, even if it was just by giving some cash to some government organization (the only kind of “non-profit” here) that used it well.

Nothing more to say today.  Tomorrow morning electricians are coming (again) to diagnose the electrical problem (again).  Really hoping that they don’t have to rip open our walls…

September 24, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 89 In Which I Visit a Tailor & Eat the Best Dumplings in Chengdu

Last photo from Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  I don’t know why but I really like this one.  The people in focus in the corner, the hazy scene.  Probably technically not a very good shot but it reminds me a lot of how the night felt.

Anyways, so last night I went to see a tailor, about a qipao, for a ball.

I didn’t take any pictures, mostly because I was too busy picking measured and pinched and picking out fabric.  And being bitten by mosquitoes.

Oh and when I was massively overwhelmed by mosquitos swarming at my knees (and just my knees, go figure) the kind and capable tailor, totally unphased, took a break from measuring the distance between my massive Meiguo shoulders to rub some repellent on my knees.

This lady knew her stuff.  What I was hoping for was a slightly less traditional qipao; and, between my gestures and my friend A. translating, she had sketched in 30 seconds the dress I had been struggling to draw for the past 3 hours.

While I fussed over at least 10 different fabrics, she picked up a strange blue and brown feathery pattern and wrapped it around me in a very kind but no-nonsense, “I know what’s best for you even if you don’t,” kind of way.  And you know what?  That blue and brown peacock pattern was my absolute favorite in the end.

Monday we go back to try on a plain cheap cotton version of the dress before the tailor starts cutting into the real fabric.  With qipaos, its all about getting every measurement right.  One mistake or miscalculation can be the difference between something that fits as smooth as the silk its made of, and something  that looks lumpy and mishappen and awkward.

Of couse, none of this would have even been remotely feasible without my increasingly good friend, A. who, after a simple lunchtime email from me, promised enthusiastically to bring me to her favorite tailor in the city as many times as needed to make the dress.

A. is one of those people that you are always lucky to meet abroad but even luckier to have as a friend.  A. was born and raised here, left only for a few years to study in Germany, then returned to her hometown where she lives with her husband, a Canadian, who moved across the world to be with her.

And I totally understand why.  A. is so kind, funny, sarcastic, yet diplomatic all at the same time.  Chengdu is her home  and therefore she knows everything about the best places for everything, from Korean food to hair cuts to furniture to tailors.

But even more than that, she’s a great girlfriend with great stories, good advice, and a sense of humor.  Tailor recommendations and translations all aside, its amazingly lucky to have met a friend like A. with whom to sit with on the couch and trade husband gossip.  Or call up on the phone for a quick question and spend a half hour chatting.

After a few months sans-girlfriends here, I had kind of given up on finding the girl posse that I had in DC and had in India before that and Madison before that.

Now, I’m realizing that I just had to be patient and a little lucky.  All of sudden there are new friends to be had all around, to call up for baking binges or spontaneous dumping dinners.  It’s hard to describe how much good friends really make a place feel more like a home.

And speaking of friends, if I keep posting any longer, I’m going to be late for a dim sum date with a few of them.  Until tomorrow, happy weekend!

September 23, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 88 In Which I Share Some Random Facts

A few random thoughts from the day:

1. I like the photo above but it didn’t really fit in with the other Autumn Moon Festival photos so I thought I’d share it today because it’s sort of a fun shot

2. My camera has started acting up in low-light situations.  Normal, apparently, for my camera model but frustrating.  Is it finally time to buy an external flash?

3. I’m already planning my holiday party open house, from what recipes to try to what eco- friendly disposable plates might fit into my budget.  Too soon?

4. I’m in the market for a long-distance Master’s degree-but here’s the catch: I want it to be from a school I would still want to attend if I lived in the United States.  Any thoughts? Or am I just dreaming?

5. Next week we go on our honeymoon and first vacation in over 2 years.

6. Next week an army of under-trained electricians will rip our walls apart in order to fix our electricity-hopefully before we come home from honeymoon.

7. I’m in the middle of Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth. It’s sort of weird biography but good nonetheless.

8. 8 is a lucky number in China. 88 is even better (the number of this blog post) 888 is even better and so on and so forth.  People pay big money to have license plates and phone numbers with multiple 8’s in them.  Chris has told me that 1988 was a massive party year for China.

9. Can we talk about Glee and how it started and I haven’t seen it yet?  I think a big Chengdu girl’s night is in order post-National Day holiday.

10. I’m going to my friend’s tailor tomorrow to see about a qipao for my first Marine Corps Ball.  Is it wrong that I’m way more excited for the tailor than the ball?  I’ll keep you posted on the dress…

September 22, 2010

China in Photos: Day No 87 In Which We Celebrate Mid Autumn Moon Festival

After a relaxing day with a good friend, board games, and several loads of laundry at someone else’s apartment, Chris and I were crossing the river home when we noticed the air lit up with dozens of giant red lanterns, filled with fire, and floating gently on the breeze.

Today is Mid Autumn Moon Festival, one of the more significant holidays in China.   Everyone brings around the moon cakes to work associates and then spends a few days with family, eating a lot of delicious food and watching television.  I compare it to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, as we tend to have similar traditions.

Save for one very special twist: fire red lanterns sent forth into the sky and flowery floating candles set sail upon the river.

Tonight we parked the car on the side of the road and wandered into the river bank lantern scene.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “gentle” to describe a moment in China, but that was the feel of tonight.  There was something of a hush over the crowd as groups of friends and young couples and families with small children held their lanters and cajoled the flaming contraptions of paraffin and paper skyward.

Every time one achieved finally achieved lift off there was a moment of silence, of prayers being offered and wishes being cast up along with the graceful lanterns.

Chris and I paid a man 3 kuai for a small tissue paper flower lantern then carried it carefully down to the river’s edge.  We held the lantern, together made a wish, then let it go.

Then we stood and watched as it floated away and as other families took our place on the water’s edge to send their own lanters quietly afloat along a current now lit with the hopes and dreams of a whole city.

I felt like I could almost understand this ritual.  For two or three kuai your dreams all somehow seem just within and then just beyond reach.  You watch, as soft tea lights bob along in the river, protected from extinguishment by the most delicate of papers.  You watch as glorious glowing lanterns of red and fire become just tiny dots above before extinguishing and falling back gently to the world below.

And then, it feels like a real metaphor for the struggles of each person along the river to attain something for themselves, for a loved one, or for a child.  It represents of the fragility of life and the enduring brightness of hope, all wrapped up in a beautiful 3 kuai bit of paper magic.

Internet is slowing down so no more pictures for the night.  Happy Mid Autumn Moon Festival everyone, I hope this season is beautiful for you and that all of your own hopes and wishes, and dreams for it come true.

September 21, 2010

China in Photos: Day No. 86 In Which I Share My Love for Glutinous Rice Balls & My Need for Novel Recommendations

Why do I have a feeling I’m going to have some weird porn-related spam after a title like that one?

But seriously, have you ever had a deep-fried rice ball filled with red bean paste and coated in crispy sesame seeds?

Or how about a greenish rice concoction like the ones above filled either with savory pork or red bean sweetness?

Sichuan cuisine doesn’t really do desserts the way other parts of China does, (and then, China doesn’t do desserts the way other countries do) but there is something about those dense chewy treats that is so rewarding.

These little balls made up of rice grains that have been soaked and pounded and ground into a paste and then filled with not-too-sweet fillings are something of an acquired taste; but once tried, then craved for ever after.

The mouth-filling rice gluten and the chewiness and the light sweetness at the center play off each other in such a strangely addicting way that it’s hard to stop at just one.

Of course, indulging in more than one is truly a gut-busting experience, and one that is sure to leave you wallowing in a pool of diet-guilt-hell for the rest of the night.  These are powerful little orbs of pure carbohydrates, after all.

Today’s Mid Autumn Moon Festival in China!  We have the day off and are going to use it to relax, visit a house-bound friend whose back is thrown out, borrow said friend’s washer and dryer to obtain some clean clothes, and maybe go on a photo walk tonight to see all of the celebration.

More photos to come!

And in other news, I need book recommendations.  Not only did I receive a very generous e-book card from my parents for my birthday (thanks Mom and Dad!) but Chris and I are about to spend 6 days on our honeymoon, on the beach, in Malaysia.  Which also means we will be spending at least 16 hours on airplanes.  Which means I need reading material!

I want to read some novels on our trip.  I have a bad habit of getting so caught up in a novel that I usually forget the rest of the world in it’s entirety-Chris, friends, eating, showering, sleeping-until I’m finished.  As such, I very rarely allow myself to read them in the real world when I have things to do, food to eat, friends to see, and a husband to love on.

Airplanes though are fair game for novels and I read scary-fast, so the longer and more complicated the book the better.  Chick-lit, fast-paced historical novels, and funny memoirs usually last me less than 3 hours, and I’m beginning to think that the less innately pleasing but probably more complex “literature” that critics love offers a better a bang for my buck.

So what say you?  Any ideas?  Any great books you’ve read lately?  I’d love to hear about them!

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