A Morning Walk

Years ago, I posted about my daily walk in Shenyang.  I made that walk so often going to Chinese class and the gym.  My view is different now that we’re back in South Carolina.  I still think of that vined archway that isn’t there anymore, the guitarist playing for small bills in the tunnel under Qingnian Dajie, and the way the buildings tower above.  I miss it.

Within a week back in the US, my friend D told me that I would grow tired of the question, “Are you glad to be back?”  Well, of course we are.  We’re glad to be back in a country where we can read everything and understand.  We’re more capable of navigating the politics and bullshit.  But people don’t ask that question in the same way we answer it.  People ask as though it’s a comparison.  “Glad” to be back here rather than still in Shenyang, as though the last five and a half years were tragic somehow.  A hardship.  And being back is better.  It’s difficult to be with people who don’t think about or appreciate our life there, and that we miss it from time to time.  But at least some people ask something.

This is part of culture shock.  Or maybe it’s just part of every day life.  Folks go on about their business.  Maybe they ask questions so they can answer it themselves.  Or they ask questions about only that which they know.  Many just live their lives in a state of comparison.

I’d rather live this life than that life.  I’d rather be a country mouse than a city mouse.  I’d rather be like me than be like her.  Well, you know what?  I’d rather Daniel Craig acknowledge that he is my secret boyfriend.  I’d rather peanut M&M’s were actually good for you.  I’d rather be sure that Glenn is still alive.

So, yes, I am glad to be in the United States, where life in Smalltown, America is pretty darn good.  I am glad that my morning walks are highlighted by blue skies and red brick.  I am happy to drive my little car down highway 29 every morning, saying hello to the cows on my way to work.

But I would be happy there too.  It isn’t a question of rather.


On the Trail

For my first post since moving back to South Carolina, I take to the outdoors.  We had heard a lot about the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, and I took a field trip to check it out.

I started at the grocery-cafe near Old Buncombe Road and walked in a northerly direction to Sulphur Springs Road.  This is about two miles one-way.  I saw plenty of other walkers, runners and bikers on a beautiful morning under a perfectly blue sky.  I would imagine that Saturdays and Sundays are busy on the trail, but on this morning, it was calm and quiet.  There were times when I couldn’t see anyone in front of or behind me.  And it is a beautiful place to be alone with your running, your breath and your thoughts.

I think this trail is a year round spot for those interested.  That includes me.  It is a beautiful location in Upstate, South Carolina.  Enjoy.

To take a look at how the Swamp Rabbit Trail meanders along the Reedy River in Greenville SC, just GoogleMap “Swamp Rabbit Trail”.

Greenville County PRT has a good bit of information too, including maps, descriptions and photos.  Click the link to visit their website.  Take a look at the info on TrailLink too.

A Four Hour Lunch

An ode to the four hour lunch in China … Over the years, there were times when a friend would invite us for a meal on a special occasion.  You must plan for a lengthy event, and T always had to plan for a significant amount of beer.

On such an occasion in early August, it was our driver, Pan, who invited us and friends to a newly renovated restaurant in Shenyang.  We arrived and socialized, took some photos with friends, then Pan exited to make the food and beer order.  Then the nine of us sat around a large, round table with a formidable lazy Susan perfectly placed.  Dishes began to arrive and chopsticks were put to use.

There were toasts and discussions in Chinese and English.  Memories and laughter were shared.  There was sad acknowledgment that we would soon leave Shenyang, but this lunch was a celebration of friendship and food.  It was a celebration of how friendship crosses borders and cultures, defying distance with hopeful longevity.

I won’t say this is my last post about our life in China, but it is for now.  Enjoy.

What Is It?

I don’t know.  Try it.

Every once in a while, someone would give us something to eat in Asia, and we wouldn’t know exactly what it was.  It could be identified as a chip-type snack, or a meat product, or a fruit or vegetable, but we wouldn’t know the name or what the flavor would be.  For the kid who wouldn’t eat green things growing up, this was a challenge.

I am a big fan of the seasonal way they eat in China, especially the fruits.  Little oranges in winter, perfect Dandong strawberries in spring, gorgeous peaches and expensive cherries in summer, crisp and just sweet enough apples and pears in fall, etc.  There are also giant pomegranates, sweet grapes, different watermelons, colorful tomatoes (yes, fruit), persimmons, blueberries, clementines, big and small bananas, pomelo and all manner of citrus, passionfruit and more.  I’ve eaten lychee, longan, mangosteen, Hami melon, berries I don’t know the name of, kumquat, hawthorn, apple pears, star fruit, yangmei, durian, rambutan, jackfruit, dragonfruit and loquats.  Loquats are, by far, my favorite.  I have not tried the reptilian-like custard apples or bitter cucumber fruit, but there is still time.  There is still time for quite a few tries.  And these are just the fruits!  We benefit from what is grown in China, and also what is easily and quickly imported from India, the Philippines, Thailand and beyond.

Over the years, Chinese friends have introduced me to many Asian fruits and snacks.  They can usually tell me the name in English, but maybe not.  At home, T asks, “What is it?” Then I say, “I don’t know.  Try it.”  That’s how it often goes when people try new things.  Sometimes, you like it.  Sometimes, you don’t.  Sometimes, you’ll discover a new favorite that you will crave when you can’t find it anymore.

Join me in this taste test of two Asian fruits.  To begin, we have a small melon.  It is about four inches wide and tall, with a thin, variegated, edible skin.  It grows on a vine and ripens in July/August.  The only English names I could find were green melon or Asian green melon.  Many eat it like an apple, or you can skin it and seed it too.  On the inside, the fruit is pretty green with a pale, seeded center.  It is soft with just a slight bite to it.  It tastes a bit like honeydew, but not that hard, out of season honeydew you get at salad buffets and breakfast meetings.  It tastes like sun-ripened piece of summer.

Second, we have a small snacking fruit called husk cherry, husk tomato, husk cherry tomato, physalis, ground cherry, cape gooseberry, and a cousin to the tomatillo.  They turn yellow and are harvested from the ground once they fall.  Easily peel the thin, papery husk away from the fruit and chomp.  One bite.  The skin has the texture of a cherry tomato, though the inside is thicker than one.  They have an interesting flavor that varies on your tongue between sweet and savory.  Perhaps depending on when you buy them, they might be sweeter or more savory.  They are perfectly good to snack on, and I’m imagining the more savory ones in a breakfast casserole with sausage and egg and some herbs I haven’t decided on yet.

That’s it for our latest installment of “What Is It? I Don’t Know. Try It.”  Enjoy.

For a funny view on Asian fruits, check out the Fung Brothers video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgfegiWS3Ds


Let’s Meet in Shanghai

When a friend says, “I’m coming to China.”  You say, “Let’s meet in Shanghai.”  Let the fun begin. For me, a last jaunt on this side of the world.

We checked off a wonderful tourist to do list.  We rode the Maglev Train from the aiport.  We visited the Bund, Yu Garden, the gorgeous and quiet Longhua Temple, the ornate and busy Jing’an Temple, and the Tianzifang neighborhood.  We strolled through parks, watched dancers and taiqi groups, talked to people, took pictures with them, received welcomes, recommendations and good wishes for our stay.  We sat in a small room and had our feet massaged by perfect little hands while watching “China’s Got Talent”. We ventured over to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang, two of the gorgeous water towns west of the big city.  We ate noodles, dumplings, and street food, and even a little Mexican food just for a change.  My friends visited the financial district for a journey up in the bottle opener and views of the second tallest building in the world (Shanghai Tower, 2073 feet, 120+ stories).  We walked in the rain, and then some more rain.  It is Shanghai, after all.  Enjoy.

For more about the Shanghai Tower, check this out.  http://n.pr/1H9Aopn

Miss – Not Miss

For five years, we have used and heard so many similar phrases.  Two of those especially – “I’m going to miss that.” and “I’m not going to miss that.”  Months ago, we started compiling a list of both of these.  It is not meant to be all-encompassing, and in some ways, merely gives my sarcasm another outlet.  There are simple things, obvious things, things that have grated on every last fiber of my being.  They have all left an impression.  Enjoy.

What We Will Not Miss
  1. Last Minuteness.  Very soon after moving to Shenyang, I knew the cultural differences would either drive me crazy or change me.  I will admit that the last minuteness has changed me for the better.  I can handle last minute changes in a much more accommodating and less WTF manner now.  But the lack of planning in most cases…  The reality that you can announce on Monday that you’re moving to a new school and you actually move on Thursday …  Not reserving the location for a 200-person event until days before…  And on and on.  Take a deep breath, you can do this.
  2. The Internet Service.  My theory is that they have to keep the internet speed slow so as to better control the information shared.
  3. Anxiety over health care.  This anxiety stems from the Great Broken Leg Incident of 2012.  What if something goes wrong?  What if my RA medicine stops working for me?  Can SOS land a helicopter in our parking lot for the airlift?  Is my husband annoyed that I still say to him, “Don’t fall down.”?  Would this drug pass a quality inspection from the FDA?  What if I slip on this frozen spit wad and crack my head open?
  4. Five Months of Winter.  Oh, South Carolina, you beautiful place, thank you for your days of winter, not your months of winter.  Thank you for your long sleeve tshirt weather in February and your early spring.  Thank you for your outside BBQ weather at Thanksgiving and your hiking possibilities in January.  For all these things and more, I will forgive your 102 heat index in July and the random ice storms in March.  I will relish wearing my Merrell boots two or three days a year, knowing they were broken in very well in the Chinese tundra.
  5. The Giant Panda.  That’s me, the giant panda on the street.  As a foreigner in China, do you get used to being stared at?  Having people talk about you while you’re standing right next to them?  Having them tell you you’re fat and beautiful in the same breath?  Asking you how old you are, how much money you make, and why you don’t have any children?  Every single time I go outside.  Every single day.  Maybe I have gotten used to it.  Maybe I stare back with my mean foreigner face a little more often now, muttering unmentionables under my breath.  Maybe I just say yes and thank you now when they tell me I’m fat and beautiful.  Maybe I would chuckle if a scooter driver’s rubbernecking caused him to have a small crash.  I won’t miss being the center of attention and being the giant panda on the street.  I won’t miss it at all.
  6. Being Driven.  Talk about grinding on every last nerve, this first world problem in a second world nation leads to a most explicit and detailed inner monologue on my part.  I’m not even talking about the traffic.  Read at your own risk.  “Pothole. Pothole. Pothole.  (swerve, bump)  Don’t get in that lane. (brake, swerve, change lanes)  Bus stop. Bus stop.  (brake, swerve, honk)  Crosswalk.  Yellow light.  Crosswalk.  (speed up, honk, no braking)  Downshift.  Downshift.  (grind)  Turn here. Turn here.  (oops.  Yeah, sure, now let’s go around our ass to get to our elbow, or just turn around in the middle of six fucking lanes)  …”  And their dickweed on-off use of the gas and brake pedals is enough to have driven my motion sickness into previously unknown front seat territory.   must stop writing   Sometimes, the available curse words are insufficient to meet my demands. 
  7. Smells.  I won’t miss asking out loud to no one on a regular basis, Why does my bathroom smell like cabbage?  Why does our neighbor have to cook fish five days a week (including the morning I started writing this)?  How is the ventilation in our building set up when my eyes water if a certain neighbor is cooking hot peppers?  Why does that stinky tofu have to live up to its name so damn well?
  8. Length of time for certain things.  A friend often used to vent about the length of time it takes a Chinese person at the ATM.  We learned later that they complete any number of transactions at the same time – get cash, pay the electric bill, move money, add to the mobile phone account, who knows what else.  I’m still trying to figure out why it takes some of them so damn long to order at Starbucks though.
  9. Barbie brooms.  For some reason, the only brooms and dustpans available for the home are these tiny, bright-colored plastic pieces of crap made for people no taller than 5’4″.
  10. Certain Public Noises.  Examples of public noises I will not miss – spit loogie preparation and launch, cutting of finger and toe nails, sunflower seed crunching.  I will also not miss seeing the remnants of these three activities.
  11. Flight Times.  I would bet money on the fact that no flight, ever, has taken off on time in China.  Ever.  Or only ours?
  12. Foreigners who come here thinking China should change for them. AND
  13. Foreigners who come here thinking they need to save China.  You will not change China.  You are not right just because some things are different, just because you don’t do it that way.  A different logic doesn’t mean it is not logical.  You should not expect that everyone speak English.  Sit your arrogant ass down and stop.
What We Will Miss
  1. My fresh market in the Hunnan District.  They know me.  They tell me if something is fresh, or pull a box out from the back to give me the best cucumbers or onions.  The beef lady knows I want a little fat in my mince, but not too much.  The pork lady says she misses me when it has been a few weeks.  The chicken man won’t let anyone cut in front of me despite the cultural tendency, and he knows I don’t want the head, feet or insides when I buy the whole chicken, or that, sometimes, I just want to buy the carcass if I have a plan for broth.  And my vegetable lady, who was Claire’s vegetable lady before me, loves it when she sees me coming, loves to recommend things, loves to ask me what I will make for dinner.  I pick out the biggest eggs from a huge pile on the egg lady’s wooden table, carefully placing them in a plastic bag and calling them my babies, hoping I can get home without a crack.  The fruit lady loves it when I buy the throw-away brownish bananas for baking, and those little bananas that taste so perfectly sweet.  There are piles of oranges in winter, peaches for one-a-day in summer, leeks for the best potato soup, and so much more.  When we move, my goal will be to find a pork tenderloin as perfect as the ones from this market.  My goal will be to eat fresh, real food as this market allowed me to do in Shenyang.  I will love farmer’s markets and Publix too, no doubt about that, but I will remember my somewhat hidden, somewhat smelly, somewhat perfect market on that small street with the donkeys.
  2. The cost of many things.  Since I reference the market, I will also say that we’re going to miss the cost of many things in China. Pork and beef cost about the same, but I typically spend about $5 for a full bag of vegetables.  Beautiful, hardback, notebooks for a dollar.  Vegetables for pennies.  Printing my own picture books and artwork for school in full color with a discount.  Staying at a cozy, clean small hostel for $20/night.  A $30 full body massage.  Of course, there are expensive things too.  Anything imported has an added “tax” of at least 50%.  I’ve never bought the large box of Cheerios because I can’t get passed the $13 sticker shock.  T still buys Dr. Pepper and Cherry Coke at more than a dollar a can.  I suppose there is balance.
  3. My print shop.  I don’t know how many times I have visited this little shop over the years.  They know me.  The staff members have pictures taken with me.  They know I volunteer for the school so they give me a discount no matter what I’m printing.  And they do a beautiful job.  I create photo booth props for the kindergarten or a friend’s wedding, the yearbooks for school, decorations for holidays, photos and memory books, a special writing workbook we designed for ESL immersion learners, calendars … I’ve loved everything that came to life in that little shop.
  4. The Apartment.  Though we sometimes think fondly of a certain item sitting in a box in Blythewood, South Carolina, or the idea of watching our own garden grow, or wishing for no noise from an upstairs neighbor, we do appreciate these relatively no-hassle, furnished apartments we have lived in.
  5. What is That?  I wonder how many times this will happen in daily life back in the US.  We’ll be walking along at the grocery store, flea market, on the street or wherever, and we’ll see something, tilt our heads and squint our eyes, then ask, “What the hell is that?”  Many times in Shenyang, there is no real answer, just a laughable, made-up version of our own truth.
  6. The death-defying window washers.  They are a symbol of life in the big city in China.  Suspending how many floors up, sitting on a rope with their bucket hanging next to them, they do a job I could not/would not/should not do.
  7. Seeing the neighborhood Rolls Royce or Maybach.  It’s pretentious, I know, but Mercedes, Bentley, Maserati, Jaguar – these are old hat now.  A Porsche Panamera still warrants my loving glance, but I see one almost every day now.  The Rolls Royce, on the other hand, is a beautiful sight worth a slow walk by just hoping the door is open for a glance inside.  I’m talking about the classic black RR with chrome details and the driver wearing a hat.  The powder blue one with the crystal spirit of ecstasy gets a second look but for other reasons. Why would you paint your Rolls the color of a 1977 prom tuxedo?  And let’s not leave out the neighborhood Maybach!  That’s worth a stop-and-stare for so many reasons.
  8. Our People.  Our Friends.  Our Loved Ones.  I’ve tried three times to write this section and can’t bring myself to do it justic.  Winnie the Pooh said it well.  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  There are people who changed me; the ones who helped lead me back from someone I didn’t like very much, someone I didn’t want to be.  Azar Nasifi wrote, “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”  Pieces of me will stay behind, and so many pieces of China will stay in my heart and mind forever.
You Get a Strange Feeling
You Get a Strange Feeling

Inside the Diamond

My friend, Iris, has given me three incredibly memorable Shenyang experiences.  First and foremost, in 2010, she introduced me to a new school full of amazing Chinese people.  Five years later, I am still volunteering there.  Second, she invited me to visit her friend’s tea shop where I learned more about tea in two hours than at any other point in my life.  Most recently, Iris told me about a photo contest going on at what is affectionately called the Diamond building.  For one afternoon, they opened up the Shengjing Grand Theatre for photos inside.  The promotion for the contest was exclusively in Chinese.  Being an educated illiterate in this country, I would have never known about it if Iris didn’t encourage me to go.

Many times, I’d seen the sun and skyline reflected in the mirrored facade.  I had never thought about what it would be like, feel like, inside.  It took my breath away how the light and shadow came alive, like we were breathing them in. Oh, and the design, the architecture, the consistency of it all … there were facets and angles everywhere.

Yes, it had some odd design elements, as one might expect in China, but many diamonds have flaws.  They remain beautiful and unique.  Shenyang’s diamond is just that.  Enjoy.