Friday, November 14, 2008


since i arrived in china, i have been doing two things consistently:
• not capitalizing (unless something is of the upmost importance)
• making lists
these are life shaping lists, experience lists, lists that i will look back on when i am old and say "ahh, i accomplished that", or "now i must do this before i can die", or maybe even "i am glad i never got around to doing that: what a foolish girl i was". it is a cathartic habit.
one of the lists i have been continually revising is entitled:
items cover a broad spectrum: get a tattoo, eat fermented duck eggs, eat pig feet, walk barefoot in the street, hock a loogie in a restaurant, ride in the hard seat section of the train, go to the hospital (again), etcetera, etcetera.  
just so you are aware that i am not a huge lame-o who does not want to experience culture, you should know that there is a much longer list of things that i do want to do while i am in china.  
anyway, since the last time i was in the blessed middle kingdom, i have been appalled by the practice of eating chicken feet. thoroughly disgusted. i admire the determination to not waste any part of the animal's body, but ever since a woman tried to sneak a chicken foot into my instant noodles* on the train from lhasa two years ago, i have had, at the top of my T.I.D.N.E.W.T.D.I.C. list:
and also, at the top of my list of things to do in china:
avoid chicken feet.
i have had people say "amy, it is a cultural thing, you have to try it. blah blah blah."   to this i say: THEY WALK AROUND IN POOP THEIR WHOLE LIVES! 
i, for one, am not in the habit of eating poop. no thank you. 
chinese people explain it like this: 
"we eat the chicken feet because we do not enjoy the large pieces of meat. the chinese prefer the smaller, more delicate portions of the chicken, and of the other animals also- pig feet, chicken wings, chicken leg, intestines, pig nose. we can not eat portions as large as the breast of the chicken, it is just too much."
today at work we were talking about finding turkeys for thanksgiving. my boss, a chinese businessman, asked me 
"do you eat the turkey feet?"
after confirming that we do not, in fact, eat the turkey feet, he continued; "what a waste! you could make much money from the turkey feet. they would be quite delicious! what do you do with them, just cut them off and throw them away?"
i don't really know what we do with all the thanksgiving turkey's feet. i told him that maybe they grind them up and make them into strange canned meat, or perhaps use them for some sort of animal food or fertilizer. i do not know. but, i do know that i do not want to eat them, or even have my friends eat them. 
once, on that same train from lhasa, i watched a couple munch chicken feet for hours and hours. it is a stomach turning process, if you think about it too much. the feet are cold, often pickled, and are fleshy little buggers. and this is the most terrible part: the nails are still attached! here is an example:
look closely, and you will notice the little claws that scratch around in the poopy dirt all the time. mmmm. 
in order to eat these delicate appendages, one must gnaw. a lot. which brings me to my recent experience. 
one of my students, a fantastic 14 year old girl named katie, invited me to her house for dinner with her family. i met up with her, and arrived at her family's apartment** to find that her grandparents and aunt had all shown up for the occasion, which is awesome- i was really excited to be around older chinese people, because most of my time is spent with the younger generations. while the adults were playing ma zhong, katie showed me her sims family, and then we sat down to eat. 
lo and behold, there on the table, amongst plates and plates (probably 15) of tasty looking food, there were the chicken feet! i thought to myself i'll just avoid that, there is so much food, there's no way they'll notice if i don't take some of the chicken feet. and i'll avoid those other dishes that look like they are only skin. okay. dig in. what do you know, but her dad, after pouring me a glass full of baijiu***, plopped a chicken foot and some pig skin down on my plate. i couldn't avoid it. there were three generations of expectant faces watching me. to avoid looking completely ridiculous trying to navigate my way around a fleshy claw, i played dumb.
 "ummm... this is my first time with one of these... how exactly do i eat it?" 
first, katie said that i didn't need to use chopsticks, and then came the fateful words: "now put this part, is it the nail, into your mouth, and bite it off. then put it out onto your place." so i did. and then i found my way into the next joint, and bit it off and gnawed and gnawed until i had pried some of the cold skin loose, then i removed the bone from my mouth and put it in my bone dish and continued on to the next joint. and then i ate cold pig's skin. all to be polite. i now have hella guanxi(good relations) with that family****. 
so, was it that bad? i think i will borrow my friend joel's description: it is like biting into a pencil covered in rubber-bands. and you are trying to EAT the rubber-bands! and they are cold, and a little wet, and they do not have much give. and the whole time you're eating it you're thinking this has been walking around in poop for it's entire existence. not pleasant. 
overall, i am rather proud of myself for eating the chicken foot and the pig skin (and also skin gelatin and intestine) for the sake of good manners, but i am not about to try to do it again, unless i absolutely have to. you can be proud of me, too!
the fresh product:
notice the nails. 
*just a little thing about instant noodles: in chinese they are called fangbianmian which directly translates to "convenient noodles". it is one of my favorite words to say. 
**another note: katie's family is loaded. i knew this because they have a stuffed eagle with it's wings outstretched mounted on a rock in their living room. awesome. also it is positioned under an enormous set of deer antlers.  
***say it: "buyjo". it is like the most intense grain alcohol ever. well, that i have tried. it tastes like what i imagine kerosene or rubbing alcohol would taste like.  he said white wine, and i said yes. i sipped the thing all night and never finished. 
****later in the meal, katie's Grandpa had a stroke or something, i'm not really sure. now he is in a larger city's hospital because they found a brain tumor. it was very intense, and i honestly thought he was going to die. thankfully he did not, but please keep him and his family in your thoughts. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

well then, what do you like?

i like when things get better. 
recently, i have been having a pity party.  it's been going on for a while, and ultimately ended with a giant three day festival called "amy can't quite bring herself to get out of bed", at which point i realized that i was being ridiculous. sure, i'm a bit homesick: culture shock is setting in.  yes, the weather is changing, and teaching english is a little challenging... oh, and chinese is not the easiest thing in the world. but really, i need to put things into perspective. or at least start looking on the bright side of things. 
so. the pity party is over. now begins the "buck up amy g, you have a fantastic life and people love you and you are trying new things and your country elected a new president who seems to have a heart and also immaculate articulation" party. okay. on wednesday (because of the time change) i sat in my bed (this was during the pity party) and watched obama's speech probably 8 times (not all the way through- i was just waiting for it to load) and cried. i was in a fragile state already, but i am a sucker for hope and passion. and elocution. i am excited/hopeful. but, as a woman (so rudely) pointed out to me in a coffee shop the other day "not EVERYONE is excited", so i am staying more quietly glad, and hoping that mr.obama will do things that will earn the respect of his detractors. 
some of you may be wondering something like "amy, you're away from everything you've ever known, including: your family, your best friends, the ocean, normal bread, convenient dairy free options, and stores that stock your size of shoes. how on earth are you not having a pity party all the time??"
let me show you:
reason i am not having a pity party #1.
 the food is too good (and cheap) to be sad for too long.
these 面条  (noodles) are handmade to order. 
this is a piece of sheep stomach. and also some lotus. i ate both of them at...
i love hot pot. i am now the proud holder of a v.i.p. card for the hot pot restaurant 2 minutes from my front door! 
reason 2. the plant market.
i can go here whenever i feel sad, and walk around in the enormous greenhouse. and buy things.
my friends joel and jesse help me transport my bounty. 
3. fall colors happen in china, too!
my weekly scrabble challenger lives down this little alley. there are apple orchards on the other side of the trees. i like to walk here. 
we went on a camping trip here, and while the experience was laughable at best, 
the trees were changing, and that was cathartic in itself. 
number 4. children. 
this it the sports school near my house. these children start at seven am. i like to watch them play soccer and basketball, and yell things like "foul" "traveling" and "nice pass". 
i met these boys in the alley behind my favorite market. they buy these crawdad creatures from the seafood vendors, then they race the animals. 
this girl was on vacation. i was going swimming, she was a twirling fairy. 
5. glamour shots.
reason 6.  beer testing.
we were walking past the beer aisle one day... and decided to try them all. 
pabst: highest alcohol content of all contenders.
the contenders:
chill (carslberg)
pineapple beer
ginger beer
lychee beer
pabst knockoff
harbin wheat
another ginger beer
the winner: ginger beer. but we hear lhasa beer is good, so we're holding our breath and hoping. 
7. nice people who help me.
this is my roommate. her name is Tseba. she is an ultra smart girl: besides her heart language, tibetan, she also knows english, and chinese. she is a translator. also i am becoming a cleaner person, because she likes clean space. 
this is my chinese teacher, Sheila.  she also has a lot of languages: chinese, qinghai dialect, english and korean. she is a teacher at my school, and she is ULTRA patient. 
reason 8. you know... chinese things.
hey halal festival!
this baby goat thing loved me. it wouldn't come to it's mother's bleating, and i think i should have taken it home. see how much it trusts me. 
these are polite chinese fingers. it is what classy chinese ladies do to get the men, and the respect. i do not have delicate fingers, so it is a tough thing for me to get the feel for. 
 9. it is getting too cold for this sort of thing.
which gives me a reason to dress cozy cozy. 
now i have a new jacket, and i am working on my "keep the heat in" outfit. last year it was
  -50ºC. yikes. 
so. the pity party is over for now. here's hoping it doesn't try to repeat itself anytime soon. tomorrow i am going to dinner at a middle school girl's house- i met her at an english corner that i help out at. we just got done texting, and i'm hoping that my "i like to try new things: surprise me" response to her query about what i'd like to eat was not a mistake. her grandparents and parents will be there- i need to not lose face. she is ultra adorable too- she just texted me:
AMY~i hope we
can have a good time
tomorrow right?
and i am so excited
just can't go to sleep. 
i know. so sweet, so honest, so direct. it is lovely. 
wish me luck. love you. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

amy teaches chinese children the importance of safe sex

don't be nervous, just ask.
and always always always keep a rubber on hand. 
thank you, new cambridge english. now, i will never forget the sound of 50 9 year olds reciting this to me.