Friday, February 12, 2010

Bravery & Odd Parts

I can’t write and listen to music. Does anyone else have that problem? I’ve been sitting here for about a half hour trying to think of a good way to begin this entry and I like to think that I’m much more quick-witted than that. So I choose to blame this music that keeps carrying me away into deep thought… and the mirror directly in front of me that I keep staring at myself in. I don’t think one realizes their own narcissistic tendencies until they’re placed in front of a mirror for an extended period of time.

By the way, I’m having a really good hair day.

It’s been a long week in contrast to the others I’ve spent in China so far. I worked five whole days, which is one day more than I have consistently worked for the last several years of my life. I like to overachieve when it comes to keeping the Sabbath. My week consisted of 24 English classes, 2 English Corners, 12 bus rides, 3 taxi rides, 3 trips to Carrefour (a magical French Walmart), 1 trip to KFC (terrible, terrible choice), and several interesting food encounters.

I know it seems that most of my “adventures & observations” have been centered around food, and it’s true - they have. That’s because, second to the language, I think cuisine might be the most contrasted cultural element between China & America (or maybe just between China & Jaime… I’m not sure yet). I keep telling my Chinese friends that in the U.S. we really only eat the meat (as opposed to every part) of the animal. And every time I see a soup with all the chicken parts in it, I can’t help but think how incredibly resourceful these people are (after I get over the shock of seeing a chicken head in my bowl). They really don’t waste a thing. I had dinner at a girl’s house last week and her mother made fish. She showed me how if you dry out the fish lung it’s a really healthy and delicious jerky. Mmmm. Fish lung. It’s just nothing I would ever think of eating. I was walking around the wonderland of Carrefour (which is the #2 retailer in the world after Walmart) last night and encountered a butcher’s table with pig feet, thigh, tongue, nose, liver, intestine, stomach and heart all laid out (my high school biology teacher would have been proud of my ability to identify all these parts). It’s just SO different. I try not to react outwardly to the way I feel inside when I see all these parts, “Sick.” I don’t necessarily think we do it better or right in the U.S., I’m just not used to it. So when I see my friend feel a little self-conscious about the way they eat, I always try and make sure to emphasize that it’s just different. It will take time for my taste (and gag reflex) to adjust to the Chinese way. But I will be so brave in the meantime.

Speaking of bravery and eating odd parts… I ate cow stomach the other day. Sometimes your friend tells you that the meat in your soup is “beef” and then after you eat it, has you guess which part of the cow it is. I do not like this game. Mostly because I usually don’t know we’re playing until the bite is working its way down my throat. This also happened with chicken heart, jellyfish and cow tongue. You’d think I would have learned by now.

Not all of my food encounters have been so stretching. Today I had hot pot! I thought of Rosemary Jones the entire time and how much she would have enjoyed such an authentic hot pot experience. It was so great! Hot pot is basically a pot of boiling water with spices that you add all sorts of fun things to.
We had mutton, beef, three kinds of tofu (which was so super delicious), crazy mushrooms that I’ve never seen before, seaweed, cabbage, spinach and some other kind of leafy green. Everything they give you is raw and you put into the big “hot pot” in the middle of your table and wait for it to cook. Then you just grab it out with your chopsticks and dip it into this really great peanut sauce. So good!

But I think the best part about the entire experience was discovering that the key ingredient for making heroine was one of the spices flavoring our hot pot.

Hello, Mr. Opium! Thank you for coming to our hot pot party. How crazy! Unless I’m super naïve and it isn’t unusual to see opium poppy used as a spice for cooking. Please tell me if I’m thinking that this is way more shocking than it should be. My friend told me that it is also often used in traditional Chinese medicine, but only in small doses. She also cautioned me against eating it – which was actually really good because I did end up crunching into some other inedible spice by mistake. China is enough of a trip without an accidental high.

In other news, Qingdao is experiencing record low temperatures right now. It is SOOOOOO cold.
I woke up yesterday morning to about six inches of snow! With the wind-chill coming in off the Yellow Sea, it feels like 14˚F outside… and that’s in the middle of the day! Bundling to the utmost is absolutely necessary, and yesterday it provided me with the added bonus of some much needed anonymity. All you could really see was my nose and it was just as red as everyone else’s. And I LOVE not having to worry about driving in this weather! The public transportation here is well equipped to handle the conditions and all I need to worry about is not falling on the ice when I walk to the bus stop. However, the busses are pure insanity. Yesterday on my way to work the bus was so crowded that I had to climb over a seat and lower myself down to the door in order to get off at my stop. It was awesome.

You know what else is awesome? Gift shopping in China. After our hot pot lunch, my friend took me to the store to pick up some gifts to bring to the family that’s having me over to celebrate Spring Festival. I asked her for some good gift ideas and these were her suggestions: eggs & milk. She said that these two things were very fashionable and practical gifts in China. I feel a little bit silly because it would be so strange to give someone 40 eggs & a huge case of milk for Christmas, but it’s a great gift here. And so affordable. I hope to bring this fashionable trend home with me to America. Merry Christmas everyone!

You’re welcome.


  1. I have trouble writing with music on too - or reality tv in the background.

    But what I don't have trouble with is reading your blog. I love you Jaime! Thank you for sharing your adventures. I think you are INCREDIBLE!

  2. Oooooh, hot pot!! Jaime, you've inspired us. I think we're going to hot pot tonight. I'm so glad you loved it! I'm wondering... did they give you dippers to transfer the broth from the pot to your bowl? In the more americanized place we go to, they do. At the crazy authentic place we went to, they didn't and we were at a loss as to how to drink the broth. You are now my "how-to-eat-authentic-Chinese-food" expert. Please advise me.

    Also, I've seen that similar spice floating in the pots here too... but I'm really, REALLY hoping it's something else (nutmeg??) and not opium! There are about 20 different unidentifiable spices in the mix though...

    I'm really glad you are having a good hair day.

  3. Hey Jaime! Enjoy reading your entries and learning more about China from your perspective.(You are a talented writer!) It's also awesome to hear of how God is using you there! BTW, two of my Chinese students are from a town near Qingdao and one of them chose to write about Qingdao as the topic for his second paper. Hope you are enjoying the Chinese New Year celebrations---I'm sure it must be quite exciting!
    You are in my prayers! :)

  4. Hi Jaime,

    Once again you out did yourself with your descriptions! What games you are playing around food! Perhaps we are wasteful in the limitations we place on what we eat. Have you had Peking Duck yet? Clark had that when he was in China in 1980. I think it is pretty much strictly just the fat.

    Love the practicality of the gift giving--eggs and milk! Sounds like breakfast to me!