Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tomb Sweeping Day

Back in April we took a quick trip to Nanjing (3-4 hour bus ride) for the weekend that happened to fall on the tomb sweeping holiday. On this day individuals will visit the graves of their ancestors. They will bring offerings of food, wine, tea, chopsticks, and ghost money to honor them and support them in the afterlife. We were given some days off of work while others went to visit the tombs of their relatives.

It was kind of a coincidence that we would finally be visiting the famous Nanjing Massacre Museum on the Chinese holiday where you honor the dead. It's a mass grave site of those 300,000 men, women, and children who were brutally murdered during a 6 week period by the Japanese just prior to WWII. It was an emotional experience as you read the plaques to learned about the horrific methods used by the Japanese.  If you're interested in learning about this piece of history you can read about it here

Andrew and I found it to be a good experience and very informative. Usually museums in China are a bit ridiculous and don't impress us much but this one really impacted us. We appreciated that after all the bad news it ended on a happy note. As you finished walking through the mass grave site you exited through a dark hall with floating candles in surrounding pools of water & hanging from the ceiling. It brought you outdoors where you immediately saw a massive statue of a woman holding a dove with the word "PEACE" printed on the base. 

In a small way we were able to take part in tomb sweeping day by visiting the grave site of those innocent victims. We witnessed a young man with a back pack full of wine bottles pouring the liquid into the grass near a wall of names. He was honoring his ancestors in the best way he knew how. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Your Ultimate Guide to a Chinese BBQ

Imagine an all out American BBQ. Now take that imaginary BBQ and place it at a park where there is a large group of people who are fishing by the river, grilling & eating delicious food, playing games and enjoying each others company. How are they fishing? What are they eating? How are they preparing the food in the park? What games are they playing or in other words, what's their source of entertainment?
Now that you've painted a clear picture let's take that imagine and place it in China and I'll tell you exactly how it should look.

Everyone fishing needs to have an old glass jar with a long string wrapped around it so you can easy retrieve it when you drop it in the water. That jar needs to have a piece of saran wrap over the top and a small whole for the fish to swim in and eat the bread that is bait.

There needs to be a man who is a stranger to everyone there but has been called in to be the personal grill master. He rides in on his scooter with a skinny, long rectangular grill, a box of coals, and all the food necessary to feed the crowd. He proceeds to set up, cook, and serve everyone.

The people should be eating flubbery pork skin, grilled seaweed, skewered tofu & cilantro wraps, a variety of spicy grilled meat chunks, fish, shrimp, dehydrated beef, chicken feet, and the international staple-watermelon. There were some "hotdogs" on a stick but they look and taste like they're plastic. Hotdogs are already unnatural but these bring hotdogs up to an entirely new level of being unnatural.

The people are sitting around on picnic blankets making sure no one forgets to try any of the delicious food (it was all actually very tasty). You are repeatedly offered beer no matter how many times you refuse it. Others are up running around with the kids, playing badminton or Taiji dragon ball.

When Andrew and I were invited to go to a BBQ by his students' parents we didn't know what to expect but we had a feeling there wouldn't be any potato salad. Now you can be prepared the next time you're invited to attend a Chinese BBQ. Your welcome.

Just remember that even though it looks strange they will be able to catch some fish (they were just small little baby fish but the kids loved it--and loved trying to kill them in little to no water). Also, the food may look inedible but it's safe. When you hear "pig skin" just eat. The texture of some things may throw you off but the spices they use are yummy yummy. If all else fails stick with the fruit and shrimp. That's usually safe. You will see the Chinese people playing games and think that you can be just as amazing. It's harder than it looks but try it anyway for a good laugh. I'll give you a leg up and show you what two player Taiji dragon ball is supposed to look like. Just become one with the ball and follow its lead. Good Luck!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday FUNday

What else do you do when you have Monday off from work after a seven day work week? 

I don't know about you but there's nothing this nature girl wants to do more than soak up the sun while strolling around the park. 
It was a blissful afternoon. 
Have I ever mentioned how much I love parks in China? That is one thing they are really good at doing and everyone spends a lot of time walking around them when the weather is just right. It's a peaceful place.

I had one of those days when your head hits the pillow you feel really accomplished. They've been rare lately.
I woke up early to go running and lift weights. Finally tackled the piles of laundry in our room. Swept and mopped the downstairs flooring. Spent the afternoon at the park with my love. Made a delicious spaghetti dinner. And enjoyed an uplifting Family Home Evening lesson from {Hannah}. It was a nice change from being sick and lazy for the last week.
Mondays don't have to be terrible. You make your days as good or bad as you want them to be. 
...Of course it helps when you have the day off.

aren't toilets ALWAYS an emergency ?
so any colorful kites. next time i'm buying one.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Countdown Begins!

We officially have finalized {kind of} information on our return flight home to America! We are all eager to be reunited with friends and family as well as stuff our faces with delicious food that is currently a distant memory.

Our week started off on shaky ground as we were trying to communicate the terms and conditions of our departure with the school. After civil disagreements, phone calls, and emails everything is settled. We will be ending our time at the school on either June 15th or 16th. One of those days that weekend  will be the school's graduation for the oldest class (Hannah teaches) and they are trying to rent a stage for the event but don't know which of the days it will be available yet. We'll all be performing one last hoo-rah on that day so it should be quite the celebration. Afterward we'll make our way to Hong Kong again to quickly renew our visas and then we have some time to travel one last time before our return flight home on June 30th from Shanghai to Salt Lake City. Where should we travel? I'm thinking maybe the Philippines or Shangri-La.

It's hard to believe our time is coming to an end but we've had so many great memories here traveling and with our students. I know a lot of my memories will be of this little ball of sunshine. Molly lights up my world every morning when she runs into the classroom, takes center stage jumping up and down, and sports a smile from ear to ear. I'll never forget one said occasion when she came running in with bright yellow swimming goggles on her forehead like a sweatband. She makes me laugh constantly with her expressions. 
I seriously love little Molly and will miss her immensely in 66 days.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

World Traveling Sweet Rolls

Ovens. They're few and far between in this great country but seem like such a necessity in America. It's hard to believe we've lived here all this time without one.

Friends like the Curtis' make not having an oven more bearable on Sundays like today. Amy baked the cheesiest, warmest, most delicious lasagna I may have ever had the privilege of tasting. It's been a long time since of had a slice of that staple dinner option. It's always comforting to have familiar home cooked meals. On top of that, they were nice enough to let us trash their kitchen and use nearly all the necessary ingredients from their cupboards to make Granny Olson's famous sweet rolls. You just don't seem to need buckets of flour and yeast when you don't have an oven in Zhangjiagang.

My mother in law sent a message to us not too long ago addressing her desire to have these tasty treats baked in as many places across the world as possible to spread a little of Granny's love everywhere. Seeing as they've been baked in various states in the USA, the Canary Islands, Mexico, Guatemala, and Canada it is only fitting that we try to make them while we're over here in China. Not having an oven would have made it impossible but thanks to the Curtis' we can now add China to the sweet roll's world traveling list.

Just like the rest of dinner these rolls were beyond delicious and the added cream cheese frosting (not from granny) really brought it up an extra sugar notch on the yummy scale. It was almost as much fun to make the rolls as it was to eat them. I'm glad Amy was there because I was a little lost on what to do. Baking is a science. Hopefully Granny is proud!

Thank you Curtis family! We had a blast and are so glad you moved into the branch while we were still here so we could become friends.
Now feast your eyes on all the yumminess!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Venice of the East

We celebrated our three year wedding anniversary walking the 
streets of the so-called "Venice of China". Lucky for us our anciently 
restored hotel from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was at the heart of 
all the action on Pingjiang Street in Suzhou, China.

The weather was warmer than it's been in months but we 
stayed hydrated as we walked up and down the streets. 
When we got too hot we jumped on a bicycle rickshaw to 
bring us a few kilometers away. While perusing the streets we found 
 leather bracelets for a traditional 3 year anniversary gift of 
leather and discovered one of our new favorite foods, xiao long bao zi, 
a steamy soup dumpling with a tasty pork meatball in the center. 

This whole experience living, teaching, and traveling in China has
 been just one giant celebration of our life together and enjoying this 
time when it is just the two of us. I'm sure Andrew would agree that
this time away in China has only made our marriage stronger.
This experience will be something we can look back on and be grateful
that we took advantage of for many years to come.

Happy three year anniversary, Andrew. I love you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Match Made in Mafia Heaven

There are not enough elaborate words or perfect pictures that could fully express how extravagant this mafia-sponsored wedding was but I will try my best. 

Anna works with Andrew in his main English class as his bilingual teaching aid. She's a really nice girl and a very strict teacher but you can kind of tell that she really doesn't need the job nor does she want to be there. She's a little on the rich side and she just got a whole lot more rich. Her husband is the son of the Chinese mafia leader in our area. Yes, that's a real thing. When the other teachers were telling us about his line of work on the "black road" they whispered even though it was clear no one around us could speak English. It was surprising that the other teachers thought that Anna was going to have a bad life because of the family she married into, like in all situations they were very blunt about their opinions. 

It is probably impossible to tell that Anna is six months pregnant in these pictures but they have actually been married since last year. It's common to get married legally and then talk to a psychic who looks at both of your birthdays and possibly other factors to decide what date you should hold your ceremony on. A lot of Chinese people are very superstitious.

The reception is a big celebration that focuses on joining the two families. It's really beautiful. This wedding will be the most expensive I will ever attend...I'm sure of it. We were told they spent $50,000 USD on the lights alone! Not to mention they hired two CCTV show hosts to narrate the night, a man who sang Michael Jackson songs (we shared a moment), an opera singer (ouch! I don't particularly like Chinese opera), and a group of performers to dance to Gangnam Style. 

FOOD FOOD FOOD!! I lost track of all of the courses. It seemed endless. Mostly everything was delicious but then again I did choose wisely what I put on my plate.

This was only a portion of the room which held 150 tables!

Halfway through the evening Chinese brides change out of their white dress for a much more oriental red gown and make their way to each table for a toast. Everyone stands, gives their congratulations, and takes a drink. It's a lot of work when there are 150 tables! Anna looked stunning the entire night and I love how her dress has a big bow to cover up her baby bump. She is, of course, hoping for a little boy.

Upon entering and exiting the hotel your eye catches the over sized portraits of the bride and groom. Everything at this wedding was the biggest and best it could be. They spent months going to different locations all over China to photograph and even made a short silent film of "how they met". It depicted a couple repeatedly running into each other and then slowly falling in love- riding bikes over bridges, eating ice cream, shopping together, and other adorable things. The entire wedding was a massive production.

They are a beautiful couple and I think the other teachers were wrong about Anna's future. Even though she may have married into the mafia she's going to have wonderful life with her husband. She gets to spend her life with the one she loves and will soon be a mommy. What's happier than that?! 
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