December 31, 2009

Aiyi's Big Fish

Today we were made a gift of Aiyi's favorite food from her home Anhui Province.  This was the second time that we've had it.  The first time we had it, Aiyi came in the door, very excited, with a red plastic bag.  When she showed me the contents, I wasn't exactly sure what to think.  There in the red lit bag were two enormous brownish-reddish dried fish, eyes bulging, complete with scales and fins and a very strong smell. (The picture at the top resembles it, but is not the actual thing)  She proclaimed with excitement that it was "da yu" (leaving room for different tones, I think that it means "big fish") and announced that she was going to prepare it for us.  I was very thankful that I would not have to pretend that I knew how to prepare that fish.  It was as dry and hard as a bone.

She began cooking and foreign odors started drifting from the kitchen.  I peeked into the the massive simmering pot (full to the brim) at one point.  I was surprised to see that the only moderations she had made to the fish were to hack them into massive pieces (with bones, scales, fins and eyes) and then boil it with onions.  Eventually it was done and she presented us with massive bowls of rice with the hunks of fish on top.  James and I bit into our first taste of "da yu".

Strong salty flavor burst through our mouths, so strong that our cheek linings, tongues and lips burned with it.  Quick!  Take a bite of rice!  She is watching us!

"Hao chi Aiyi!  Hao chi!" (Delicious Aiyi!  Delicious!)

Thankfully, she does not speak any English and James and I were able to analyze the taste to each other (with smiles of appreciation on our faces and the occasional "Hao chi!").  She beamed, watching us.

"Yikes!  That is salty!".   "I think there is another flavor in there, but I can't tell".  "There are so many bones!".  "Its not so strong if you take ten bites of rice for every bite of fish".  "I don't think I have enough rice in my bowl to do that".  "Do you think there is this much salt to cover up the mud flavor?"  "I think that is just the fat".

We ate our fill, regardless of our reservations, and by the end had decided that not only was it edible, it even had a little charm of its own.  But after three straight meals of eating "da yu" (and still having not made a dent in the massive pot) we decided to freeze the rest.  For all of its charms, I had happily forgotten that it existed.

Today another batch came in the door.  It seems that a fresh delivery arrived from Anhui in the last 24 hours and Aiyi has sacrificially given us some of her favorite food, as a special gift for us.  So we cooked it up and ate it for supper tonight.  I contemplated that the taste seemed even stronger than last time (my mouth was burning with salt) while James concluded that it was less strong. I was completely unaware that I was eating it with a deep grimace on my face until James burst out laughing at me.  As we ate it, we made a ranked list of people who we thought would absolutely hate it.  Here is that list:
  1. Leonard Gerbrandt (My dad, whose combined displeasure for seafood and Chinese food would collide in this tasty dish.)
  2. Char Kenemy (My close friend, and a vegetarian - although there are many more reasons than animal flesh that would stand in the way of enjoyment.)
  3. Diana Stahl (James' sister, also a vegetarian who once read the back of a package of bologna, only to scream in horror, "There are turkey hearts in here!")
  4. You, the reader, whoever you are... guaranteed.
However, James was quick to decide that there was, at least, someone who would undoubtedly like it.  This is of course, Steven Frey (his dad).  James went on to elaborate that even if he didn't "like" it, he would steadfastly swallow every bite, determined not to allow his face to display even a hint of displeasure, and defending it as "good eating".  He would then make a few comments along the lines of, "After all, we're not eating at the Ritz", or "I'm not saying I'd want to eat it for breakfast", or alternately, "Sure, it doesn't taste like candy".  But he wouldn't skip a bite.

Following this categorization of our loved ones, we went through the full range of analysis again. "Is there a subtly unsubtle taste of BBQ in here?"  "I don't think so" .  The final conclusion yet again was "It has its own strange charm".

And that is the story of our last charming meal of 2009.  I'm sure that 2010 bring more such charming meals.

Happy New Year!

December 27, 2009

Our Son, Harry Potter

A few weeks ago when I dropped Ari off at school, I was asked to sign a permission form to have Ari's picture taken.  It struck me as a little strange, but I figured that it was some kind of school picture.  I imagined that it would be something like my school pictures with some horrible fluorescent line background and me beaming a toothless smile (minus the frilly little girl dress of course).  What we were not expecting was the picture we were handed when we went to his school program!  Harry Potter is quite the rage here in China.  He even has his own name: Hālì Bōtè.

Ari however, has no idea who is impersonating in this picture; he was just excited to wear glasses!

December 25, 2009

Christmas Picture Appendix

Jude wearing his lion costume from Grandparents.  

Merry Christmas!

Today we passed our first Chinese Christmas.  We did not have a white Christmas, but there was a bit of a dust storm last night (if we just listened to the wind and tried not to breath the dusty air, we could have imagined that it was a blizzard!). In addition to this being our first Christmas in China, there is another reason to memorialize this time.  It was a year ago on the 23rd that we first found out that we were coming to China.  That's right, it happened in a very fast flurry of two months!  There have been a few events lately that led us up to this momentous Christmas.

On Thursday, Ari had his very first Christmas function at school.  Ari is the only foreigner in the class, but as we have mentioned, it is popular to celebrate Christmas in some form or fashion here.  All the parents were invited to listen to their kids sing strangely worded Christmas songs (Ari argued vehemently with me the other day for the weird words he was taught to We Wish You A Merry Christmas), and watch them dance.  Ari surprised us with very smooth and sleek dance moves, and we were secretly pleased to note that he seems to be the most interesting child in his class.  We had already suspected this from the reports that his teachers give us from time to time.  "Ari has not been participating with exercise time. He has been hiding behind the slide" or "Ari thinks its funny to put his rice in other children's bowls during meal time."  Aiyi came with us to see him perform and she seemed to quite enjoy it.  We were also able to see the girl in Ari's class that he has deemed "girly" enough to be pretty.  We suspect that he has the slightest of a crush on her!

I have been playing piano a lot for the church over Christmas.  This poor audience has had/will have me for four straight Sundays.  I still am not all that great with learning several new pieces of sheet music per week so the mistakes are definitely abundant.  However I am getting better, and am learning to accept the fact that it takes time to recover from eight years of not playing.  One of the most fun things recently was playing a piano duet with another MCCer for the Christmas Eve service.  We played Carol of the Bells, and it went quite well.

After the boys were in bed last night, James and I set about decorating the tree and wrapping the presents.  Our tree is partly edible, with hanging tangerines and marshmallows.  In spite of the fact that I caught an unfortunate and exceptionally unpleasant cold and have spent the last 24 hours mouth-breathing, it was quite fun to watch the boys come out of their room this morning.  James decided that the traditional Santa Claus story is boring, so the boys now believe that Santa Claus is a fur trapper who rides a dog sled and only leaves presents for children who leave furs under the tree on Christmas Eve.  They were very excited this morning to see that the furs were indeed gone, and that there were presents in their place.  

Tomorrow we will be hosting a Christmas party at our house with our Chinese friends.  The boys will be re-enacting the Christmas story for everyone and we will eat pizza, jiaozi (Chinese dumplings), and chicken.  We are looking forward to it quite a bit. 

We have discovered that there are some advantages to celebrating Christmas in a country that doesn't really celebrate it.  1) Because it is popular to celebrate Christmas, everything goes on sale to try and convince people that they should buy Christmas gifts.  In North America, everything goes on sale after Christmas.  2) You can invite anyone over and no one has special plans.  Friends can come over and their parents have no idea that today is Christmas and that they are theoretically supposed to be together with family.  3) It is really worthwhile to say "Sheng dan jie kuai le" (Merry Christmas) to a Chinese person, because they are genuinely surprised to hear it and then look quite happy about being included (in our experience).  

I saw a really great English sign that just went up recently in our neighborhood.  It is a barber shop whose name is "Adoring Ancientry Haircuts".  Ancientry?  How far back shall we go?  Paleolithic man?  Care for a Confucius cut?  A Socrates cut?   Nebechudnezzar?  Queen Nephrititi?  You know where to go!  
(For the record, I'm not writing this to make fun of their English, because I know that I make equally silly mistakes in Chinese.  Rather, I am noting how funny it sounds in English)

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Menagerie

Christmas Menagerie

Fun Costumes for Boys!  Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2009

Our Days

Alarm goes off at 7:00.  James slaps snooze, Jess is unable to fall asleep again and lays in semi-wakefulness.

Both eventually crawl out of bed.  Parent A gets dressed and Parent B tiptoes into the boys room and tries to pull Ari out of bed without waking up Jude (50% success rate, especially on a morning when Ari says in a loud voice "Am I going to school?)

Parent B brushes Ari's teeth, dresses him and repeats any instructions to him at least 10 times.  His hearing is horrible in the morning and you might as well be talking to a hitching post.  Parent A meets them in the entrance and goes out the door with Ari by 7:30.

Parent A and Ari run to catch a bus (either the 538 or the 467).  On the way to school there is a mix of taxi counting, story telling and sometimes silence.

Parent A drops Ari off at school, watches as he has his temperature taken and tonsils checked and then runs back to be squished onto a bus.  This parent may have to pick up milk or cereal on the way home.

When Parent A gets home (8:15-8:30) Parent B has coffee ready in the French press and Jude is eating.  The two parents eat breakfast and drink coffee together.

Parent B goes to the MCC office (9:00), and Parent A either works from home or does other things while Jude plays.

At 11:30 Parent B leaves office, catches the 467 bus and picks up Ari.  More counting taxis. Two days ago we saw 52 in the short time of waiting for the bus.

When Parent B and Ari get home (12:15-12:30), Parent A has made lunch.  The two parents exchange 5 minutes of small talk while gobbling lunch.  

At 12:30 the sound of the doorbell pierces the air...and doesn't stop.  It keeps going, and going and going...  Heaven forbid you should be in the bathroom and unable to answer the door when Aiyi arrives!  After you buzz her in, Aiyi comes in with a flury of "Hen leng, hen leng, hen leng!" (So cold! So cold! So cold!).  When speaking to us Aiyi calls us "Oreh de Baba" (Ari's father) and "Oreh de Mama" (Ari's mother).  I think it would be embarrassing at this point to tell her that we have names!

Parent A gets ready to go to class with the inevitable caution from Aiyi of "Duo chuan yifu!" (Wear more layers of clothes!).  Parent B goes back to the office.

During the time that Aiyi is at the house Ari refers to Jude as "Judah" and to himself as "Oreh".  Jude also refers to Ari as "Oreh"

Parent A studies four progressive hours of Chinese (from 1:00-5:00) with four different teachers.

Parent B stays at office until 4:15 and then comes home and makes supper while Parent A squishes home on the bus.

Parent A gets home (6:00) and there is a short while to relax while waiting for supper.

We eat supper.  This is a mix of reminding the boys that supper is for eating and not playing with and that if they talk more than they eat, they may have to be quiet.  There is also quite a bit of "Ari, Jude, sit properly.  Do you think you are riding a horse?"

Jess practices piano for an hour while James reads or is on the computer.  The boys run around playing, yelling, giving each other horse back rides etc.

Boys go to bed at 8:00. One parent does teeth brushing and the other does storytelling.

James and Jess retreat to a room with one lamp on and try to ignore the upstairs neighbor who bought an electric guitar a few weeks ago and plays the same three 80's hair-band songs every night for up to four hours.  We have contemplated that he seems to be trying to start a band.  The other night someone was playing scales on the piano to the guitar song, someone else was drumming and the guitarist was constantly singing at the voice cracking range.  Once in a while James starts to sing along. I hate to rain on their parade, but I don't think they will make it far.  Its just too bad that the lack of garages around her renders the term "garage band" unusable.  

Jess reads on the couch (usually falling asleep before 10) and James continually comments how much he "loves" our neighbors music, while reading about strange topics on Wikipedia (a recent example being the Assyrian Church of the East).

James wakes Jess because its bedtime.

The next day Parents A and B switch roles.

The other day as I was waiting for the elevator at the office building, my ears were assaulted.  Someone had parked their pink motorbike inside the entrance and their high-pitched alarm decided to go off.  The entrance has many curves and is solidly stone, so the sound ricocheted around the small area, building and building.  The bike itself was also getting louder and I saw that it eventually became so frenzied that it was throwing itself around.  It was a truly horrible noise and I could feel the blood pounding in my ears in time with the alarm.  Needless to say, I was very happy when the elevator arrived.


December 09, 2009

More Xi'an Pictures

These pictures are of the boys and a Terra-Cotta Warrier, the Nestorian Stele, and the stele rubbing.


Dear Friends, Family and Countrymen!

The last while has found us extremely busy.  There has been much traveling, much work, much learning new piano music for church, and much school.  What we have had less time for is, blogging, grocery shopping, and resting.

Last weekend we were in Xi'an.  With a few breaks in between, Xi'an was the capital of China from 1046 BC until 907 AD.  It is also the well known home of the home of the Terra-cotta Warriers.  This army of 6000 warriers, are life sized, individualized statues of warriors made of fired clay.  They were made for the Emperor Qin 2300 years ago so that when he enter the afterlife, he would be already have an army with him and could also dominate in the next life.  It includes horses, chariots, sword bearers, archers (actually crossbows), and much more. When they were made, they were even painted bright colors.  It is a truly fascinating sight, and is the eighth wonder of the world.  

We also spent Saturday night dragging the boys through the loud and crowded Muslim Market.  James and the boys came home on Sunday evening, but I had to travel to Chengdu from Xi'an the next morning.  Thus, I and and two other MCCers were able to do some more walking around the city.  

We walked to the Forest of Steles, where there are many huge metal slabs contain writing from hundreds and thousands of years ago.  They proclaim edicts, write histories, and record social exhortations.  Here in this "forest" is a stele declaring the history of the first Christians (Nestorians) that come to China in about 650 AD.  They set up a church and did well for 150 years, after which point, the Emperor had them driven out/killed.  The church also still exists a three hour drive away from Xi'an.  This stele was carved in remembrance of the Christians shortly after they were driven out.  All of the steles are mounted on the backs of giant turtles (which are a symbol of wisdom).  It was truly fascinating.  See the picture at the top.  We were also fortunate enough to watch the workers make rubbings of the steles (picture).  One of the other MCCers bought a rubbing of the Nestorian Stele.  Knowing many people who would be interested in such a rubbing (James and his Mom!), I briefly considered buying one as well, but did not have enough money.

Also in Xi'an we saw the Big Goose Pagoda (built to house the Buddhist Scriptures in 649 AD).

Before I end, here is a story.  Today Ari casually told me "Today at school I threw up in the garbage can again."  I wondered to myself why his teacher would not have thought to tell us about this.  Then he said, "I had paper in my mouth from my food.  My teacher had to squeeze my throat in order to get it out".  WHAT!!!  My mind started racing, wondering what on earth could have happened.  However, a few simple questions it came out that "squeezing" was actually the teacher putting her finger in his mouth to pull out the paper, and "throwing up" was actually spitting it in the garbage.  Moral of the story: Readily recall at all times that your  child's vocabulary is new and untried!