Happy New Year! Welcome to 2010!!
Wow, so much to celebrate on this year.
I made it, for one thing. I can live in China. You could, too...maybe.
Also, a special thank you to Butch and Sue and my Grandma Bea. I got the Christmas cards, finally. Thanks! :)
Right now, I am sitting in my dorm room on my laptop, listening to Chinese folk music, eating Japanese noodles, and drinking a coke. What a wonderful world. :)
Last night, I went out with my friends and ate Sichuan style Chinese hotpot. So delicious...When I get back to the U.S. I promise you I will find a hotpot restaurant (there has to be one) and treat you all to hotpot. If you love food, southern China is the place to be. There are many reasons for this:
First is the vegetables...south China has every kind of vegetable imaginable. And GREEN things! My goodness...so many kinds of greens...ten varieties of spinach, and the same amount of cabbages and lettuce. Then there is eggplant. Chinese style eggplant is so good...it's steamed and then glazed in this caramel sauce that is a bit sweet and a bit dark flavored...heaven. Then of course you have the standard broccoli, and potatoes of every kind (sweet potatoes, yum), lotus, cauliflower, they have 4 kinds of carrots, many mushrooms, and peppers, so many flavors of pepper, and different varieties of tomato (although to be honest their tomato sauce is really bad...avoid at all cost). Oh, and then there's the melons...all kinds of squash, pumpkin, and tons of other weird ones I don't know the sames too...one is bitter melon, very unique, and oh yeah, beans! Every kind of bean...they have these dark dark green beans glazed in a sweet sauce with roasted beef slices...so delicious...and for breakfast I generally eat some sort of bean dish, usually it is warm black beans cooked in a sauce with a sprinkling of 15 other kinds of beans and a little bit of sugar on top, oh and every meal I eat bean curd, it is called tofu, and it comes all kinds of ways, I like it steamed and cut into squares and its a milky white color, then it is dripped in this soy sauce and then they add some spices...ginger is really popular...it's delicious. And let's see, when I get homesick, I eat this cabbage soup that tastes almost as good as the cabbage soup my mom makes, yum.
And the spices are great, too. Everything can be spicy, but nothing like the spicy I've had before. Remember the tomato sauce is awful, so no salsa and nothing like spicy chicken wings or BBQ, but it's mixed with this special kind of pepper, and then some spicy chili powder and oils...then a lot of spicy food will come with a green like oregano or cloves mixed in some soy sauce, or something like that which balances out the food perfectly.
So last night my Sichuanese friend Katrina took us to hotpot and she showed me how to perfectly concoct the hot pot dipping sauce. Basically hot pot is this fiery red flavoring, and Sichuan hot pot is the best because they add a special spice that is really tangy and makes your mouth feel a little bit numb. You could say it is a spice similar to the sensation wesabi has, but not so strong and with a spicy flavor. So you boil all of your food in this giant pot of spice, then what makes it so delicious is the sauce...especially last night, I had the perfect sauce. So then you have the sauce with cloves and a little chili pepper, some oil, and then you mix in soy sauce, and after you boil your food, you dunk it in this sauce...so it is this hot, tangy, spicy, but a little cool tasting food. And depending on how spicy you want you can adjust the hotpot and adjust the dipping sauce, and usually one side of the pot is only a little spicy and the other side is really spicy...Last night was truly an unbelievable dining experience. And it is not expensive to eat because you can dip anything in this pot and it tastes good...seafood, vegetables, noodles, tofu, fish, meatballs, and any animal part you can imagine. Last night, the weirdness winners were cow intestine and octopus tentacles. But they were delicious and they had interesting textures after being boiled in this sauce.
So there is a sampling of Chinese food for you. I think I might mention hot pot a lot. I love it. Mind you, all Chinese food isn't all this delicious. In the cafeteria they have a lot of northern style food and it is generally a mushy mixtures of noodles and vegetables all braised in soy sauce with a lot of salt and MSG. Not good. But southern style and spicy food is amazing. The Chinese recognize four major styles of food, and I like the southern and the western styles by far the best, which is lucky for me because that is the kind of food most easily accessible here. The other kinds are awful, so if you want good food stay away from north-central and north-eastern China. Southern syle is the most like home, with sweetened vegetables and a lot of seafood and chicken, and western is just crazy with lots of spice and tang and crazy dishes where they eat almost all animals and all parts of them at that.(If only they would chop them with some kind of system...)
When I take my first vacation back to China, my plan is to hike and eat my way throughout all of southern China. I'll start with a week by the ocean where I can scuba dive and surf, then make my way up the coast and then through the mountains, doing a big circle throughout the south-east and south-central provinces. Haha, or maybe in actuality that is what I'm doing with my life right now. It's great though, because it doesn't cost anything extra. I have to pay for food anyways, so I might as well eat the tastiest food. McDonalds is some of the most expensive food around, but I don't understand why people would ever want to eat it around here when you can buy delicious hot pot for one third the price. That's just the top of a long list about many of the impossible to understand things about China...ehm.
So, to continue on with my New Years...
Earlier yesterday I took 20 Saint Scholastica College students from Duluth shopping. They are at UIC for a few days as a part of a traveling trip sponsored through their school, so Bill, my study abroad advisor here, asked me to take them shopping. Shopping is something I do very rarely...because I'm really bad at it. I can't distinguish quality around here at all, and in the land of everything fake, I just get frusterated and want to cry. But yesterday I found a sporting clothing shop full of fake sporting gear and so I bought a new fleece jacket and a new rain coat. Total they cost about 45 dollars which for whatever reason, I feel really really guilty about. That's what living in China does to you, I guess. Being with those American student was quite an experience. A lot of them spent over 200 dollars in the first hour. I was shocked. That's a semesters worth of food around here! But so I bought new jackets.
One is a fake North Face rain jacket. I think it is as good as real though,(I think...) In the U.S. it would cost easily over a hundred dollars, and I have a nice rain jacket at home so I figure when I get back I can give it to Sean, but I tell myself this and I still feel guilty...(I would have gotten it in a bigger size for my parents to use, but unfortunately Men's North Face Medium is equal to Chinese XXL...Yes, I do feel like a giant cow around here, thanks for asking.)
Then I found this fleece...my current fleece is getting holes in it and is almost so thin and worn that it is practically useless, and I have worn it every day for two years straight, and it's turning so faded that it looks a little brown, but I could still wear it some more, right? As I'm writing this I can feel myself turning more and more into my father...if any of you were doubting before, I'm definitely a Monnier, awwww...but really. Wow. So I bought this new jacket, and it's sleeves are long enough (which is rare to find) and it is supposedly rain proof plus warm and it has a silver wolf print logo on the back, which is awesome, and I really like it and at home probably it would be one hundred dollars easily, at here it is only 25, but it's still so hard for me to fathom spending that much on anything around here. It's good therapy for me to write these feelings of guilt out for you...basically, Mom, tell me it's ok. Haha. But I could seriously eat noodles for a month or two with all of that. I could buy 100 pairs of cheap socks, I could take the train for a day with that, I could buy fifty cheap t-shirts, 10 pairs of cheap shoes, probably 6 crappy fleeces...Ok, let's be real. None of that is worth it...who needs 10 pairs of shoes that fall apart a week after wearing them? I'm being unreasonable.
I think the combination of being a Monnier and being in China and it being the first time since I was 16 to not have a job have a somewhat negative effect on my shopping reasonabilities...The Monnier mindset, plus the Chinese poverty all around, plus the feeling like a money drain, it's messing with me...ahh...But these other Americans...I'm telling you, I am still shocked. They just bought everything like it was nothing...Wow. Being with them also made me realize how different I've become in these past few months. They were so loud. They made quick judgments about things. They wore a lot of makeup, and really mainstream clothes, and the way they walked...all huddled together in big groups, taking up way too much space, oblivious to all around them. And they asked me really blunt questions...do you like China? and they expected me to give direct answers right away, and I barely know them...first you should ask where I'm from, what my parents do, what I'm studying, how old I am, then a light question maybe about the weather or food...Then you can ask what you really want to know...and their ACCENTS...OMG, Do I sound like that!!?? "OOOOOOOOhhhh yeah, so dontyathink? Wellllll, I was wondering about that...and like, like, like"
It might be a bigger culture shock going home then it was coming here. In China, I've learned to be more quieter, more thoughtful, more reserved, give more compliments, I have fewer and closer friendships, and I'm more aware of everything around me. I was afraid for these kids lives as they crossed the street, even on the sidewalk, I thought they would be killed. And seeing them try to bargain with the sellers...just like they owned the place. I had to explain a million times that if you act calm and quiet and more native Chinese you can get much better deals.
Example: Where I got my coats I had a shop lady help me pick them out, (which you must always do, slightly annoying, I know)and as I was trying them on I asked her where she was from, how old she was, blah, blah, and she did the same for me, I charmed her with my Chinese, and she found me the nicest coats to try, then I looked at the price, and said oh wow, this is just a little expensive, I might have to come back later after I get a little more money. Then she says, it fits you nice, I think you should buy it. And I say, is there any discounts now? And she says, 5% howabout, and I say, only 5%? 20 howabout?, and she says, I'm sorry I can't, I will give you ten though, and I say ok, thank you. Then at the checkout she asks if I will go home for the Chinese New Year (when all of China goes home...very important) and I say, No, I can't, I need to focus on my studies and the plane travel is inconvenient. (Actually implying in Chinese terms I am poor and can't afford to go home.) She understands this unspoken implication, then she gives me 15% off both my coats, a free lanyard, and invites me to her home if I have no Chinese New Year plans. Yes! Success! Meanwhile the other students are in a fierce battle with their clerks over pricing and don't end up getting any deals or discounts or the guarantee that what they are buying is quality. Silly Americans...
So then after the afternoon spent shopping my head hurt, and then finally hot pot. The restaurant was loud, but not American loud, Chinese merriment loud, and all my closest friends were there and it was delicious, and we stayed there eating and chatting for 3 hours, slowly eating our food (which is so obnoxious when you aren't used to eating slowly, but lovely now) and drinking lots of tea and it was much more relaxing than earlier and now I was feeling great. :) So by the time we were finished eating it was 10:45 and of the 7 of us for dinner only me, my friend Emily and my friend Katrina were left at the table still drinking tea, as the other four went off to the bar or shopping, so we picked up some one-dollar bottles of beer from the street shop, took a 20 minute three-dollar cab ride back to campus, and went to the rooftop of our dorm to celebrate the new year. Some students from another rooftop lit some red lantern hot air balloons and set them off into the sky. Beautiful.:)
Then we came back to my dorm, and Katrina and I drank the rest of the beer, opened some red wine, and swapped stories all night. I love her, so much... It's good to not be so obnoxiously American, I think...maybe...at least here and now and forever more.
So that's all of my New Years. It will be the New Year at home in 20 minutes so I'm going to go and call my mom and dad.
New Years Resolution: Learn Chinese.
May the New Year bring you and your loved ones all the best! :) 新年快乐！