Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shengdan Kuai-le!

Another Christmas away from home has come and gone. Despite being in China, we still managed to get a (fake) tree, listen to Christmas carols, wear Santa Hats, and bake Christmas cookies. The last was only possible through the ingenuity of my dear husband, who fashioned cookie cutters out of a tin can. That's right, bring on the apocalypse, we can survive.

Some of my favorite gifts this year were:

Battery powered Snickers. Actually, we never figured out what the purpose of the battery was.

A beautiful jade necklace and earring set from the spouse.

A Chinese-landscape calendar from Helen and John.

A Great Wall silk scroll from one of my students.

Warm and colorful socks from another student.

Two bobble-headed rabbits, also from a student. 2011 is the year of the rabbit, so everyone's gearing up for the new year.

Money from Andrew's parents for a noodle-making class in Beijing.

And a Kindle from my family! This is how I look these days to everyone else.

I've read four books in less than four days. Andrew stole it from me this week, for both his sanity and mine.

We were also treated to Christmas cards in the mail from Emma and Sandra. Thank you guys so much!

We spent Christmas Eve with the bosses, and Andrew cooked an extraordinary feast complete with foie gras I've been hoarding for the past six months. I have to say, I really missed France this holiday season. Spending last Christmas in the snow, with the wonderful Christmas market and dinner at my colleague's house really was amazing. It was nice sharing Christmas with Helen and John, but I still missed France, and even more, my family back home. This is definitely the last Christmas we're going to spend abroad.

On Christmas Day we hung around the house, eating leftovers, watching new movies, and playing with the Kindle. Then we went to a dessert party with the other foreign teachers where I received no fewer than three marriage proposals in response to my Bailey's brownies. Andrew's awesome banana bread had everyone melting, too.
James, Morgan, and Greg (isn't her jacket awesome?)
Secret Santa gift exchange with foreign teachers

Andrew's adult class gift exchange

Unfortunately, we only got one day off for Christmas, and then it was back to work. In just two weeks, though, we'll be heading to Harbin for the winter Ice Sculpture Festival.

Speaking of only one day off, let me explain, what Andrew calls, a "Chinese holiday". The word "holiday" in China has a different meaning. Yes, it means a day where you don't work, but no, it doesn't mean a day off. Let him explain. The government decides: "Let Independence Day be a day of rest." "How nice," you say. Only, here's the catch: you work the Saturday before to make up for the missed work! So, you have the day off, but you still work the same amount of time. Likewise with our Christmas holiday. The poor high school students technically have 6-day school weeks, but the school usually decides to let them take their weekend only every two weeks, so they end up studying for 12 days straight before having a two-day break. Sometimes, however, the school changes its mind and postpones the weekend another week, thus the students study 19 days straight before having their two-day weekend (as is the case now. They skipped the Christmas weekend to, instead, have their weekend on New Year's, even though they don't technically celebrate it. Heaven forbid they have an extra day off!). The Chinese have a way to go for workers' rights, but it'll happen someday, I'm sure.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dogs, Chickens, and Pigs: The Three Food Groups of China

(Tap tap tap)

Is this thing on? Helloooo, anyone out there?

Okay, finished with not-so-subtle-hint-to-comment.

Nothing much has been happening here, except our festive preparation for Christmas and a winter trip to Siberia. What does one wear to Siberia, anyway? I'm not sure we'll survive the -40 degree C temperature.

Here's some random pictures from the last month or so, most of them food, of course.

Andrew finally tried the shrimp burger at KFC, which included whole shrimp mashed together and formed into a patty. Yum.

We finally ventured into the category of Animals-That-Should-Never-Be-Eaten and tried dog. Hey, when in Rome....It wasn't great. It was served cold, and the less fatty pieces tasted a little like leftover Thanksgiving turkey (the dark meat, in case you're wondering), but the image of poor little Mopdog (who was not harmed in the making of this meal) was enough to deter me from a third bite.

We were going to buy some chicken's feet and pig snouts, but we figured we were done eating weird things, so we just took pictures of them in the supermarket. Sorry if you're disappointed. We're not. They sell these things in travel-size, perfect for any long distance bus or train ride! I considered sending some back home as stocking stuffers, but decided the garlic and chili flavored dried peas were treat enough for them (you're welcome, Mom).

In addition to eating our way through China, we've been spending a lot of time with the other foreign teachers, and of course, watching DVDs. It costs about $1.50 for good quality DVDs, so we've been working our way through the entire series of "Lost."

Christmas here is more of a tourist attraction than anything else. The big department stores have trees and decorations out, and all the locals giggle and pose for photos while rocking the peace sign. It's interesting to watch. We got a tree! It's fake, and the decorations are shoddy Chinese ones (just like home, right?) but it's green and pointy and has space at the bottom for presents (so far just one from my mom; thanks Mommy!), so I'm pretty pleased. We're not totally sure of our Christmas plans, but hope to spend at least part of it with the other teachers. Our bosses were really disappointed that we wouldn't let them take us out to dinner, but really, Chinese food on Christmas?!?

It snowed the other day, bringing the temperature down to a less-than-comfortable level. Should it really be 52 degrees F in my bathroom? 67 in my living room? Government controlled heating bites.

Another random tidbit about Chinese culture: When two cars get in an accident, however minor, the policy appears to be to wait in your car, no matter where you are, until a police officer magically appears to determine who's at fault. Does it matter that you're in the middle of a busy intersection? No! Does it matter that it takes almost 30 minutes for the police to arrive? No! You aren't even allowed to get out of the car and make sure no one is hurt.

No post would be complete without some great Chinglish signage. Enjoy: