Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! I wanted to let you how how Alison and I celebrated our Turkey day here, 1/2 a world away.

First, when I woke up, I took pictures of this beautiful money vault (that we will use as a candy jar). During the Cultural Revolution, it was punishable by death to have family heirlooms from pre-Communist China, so families shattered all their Ming and Qing dynasty vases and porcelain. This man, a jewelry designer by trade, collected the shards and turned them into other things. He's pretty legit--he was very honest about what was old, what dynasty it was from, and what was news. And if that weren't evidence enough, he had pictures of President Clinton and pre-surgery Chelsea up in his store.
The front of our box is the Chinese characters for double happiness, which is traditionally used for weddings (haha!).The back says something in ancient characters he couldn't read.Then I had a normal commute to CICAMS.
Isn't Beijing traffic delightful? This picture is from the pedestrian overpass I use to get from the bus to the hospital. Then, I surprised my colleagues with some pie. Here you can see the famous baggy that they serve your lunch in! And my tea concoction.

Then we met for dinner at the Rosenberg house. Here we are with Aunt Suzie, Stacy, Uncle Mike, and Courtney at fried chicken night.

Or not. As you can see from this picture with Kevin and Courtney, Alison's mom made huge blow-out pictures of us so we could be included on the family pictures!

What we actually did is go to our neighborhood American restaurant with Sarah, Esther, and Ben.The food was delicious...though, of course, my pumpkin pie was much better ;)

Hope everyone enjoys friends and family today. Miss you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Day as a Pastry Chef.

Today I went to a cooking class at The Fig Tree, where a Chinese American ibanker turned Le Cordon-Blue (or however you spell it)-trained pastry chef has a beautiful kitchen. Alison and I wanted pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and as her job is completely inflexible, and I can "work from home" whenever I want if I don't have a meeting, I went for both of us. Erin, 1/2 of the couple from the police station, works there (her blog) and told us about the class.

We started at 9, and I knew I was in for a long day when we learned how to make the crust. To make sure it is properly flaky, you can't melt the butter, or even warm it. So instead, you do this weird ball making motion with your hands to grind the butter into the flour, without heating it up, until there are no chunks. Which takes about 45 minutes. I of course, did it wrong, so my first batch ended up "too hot" from my hands and was less flaky than it should be. The second batch was much better because ever 5-10 minutes, I took a break and put my hands under cold running water to make sure they remained appropriately icy. Let's just say I suffered for my art.

Fast forward to 4:45 pm, when I took my loot home (2 large pumpkin pies, 3 medium pumpkin pies, and 3 extra pie crusts (she said we could cook them if we wanted, and I didn't want to throw away 1.5 hours of my life just cause I didn't have enough filling!) and 2 pumpkin tart thingees). I had been baking all day and was absolutely exhausted. On the cab ride home, I decided I do not have the patience (or talent) to be a Le Cordon Blu pastry chef.

But then, I got home, saw Alison, and we ate the little tart thingees. And, they were absolutely HEAVENLY. The damn crust even flaked apart in my mouth, just like she said it would! So the final verdict? Eating that deliciousness more than makes up for having to cook it, and Alison and I are definitely going to sign up for another class.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Yunnan part 2

I've decided to combine the last three days of my Yunnan trip into one post, so get out the coffee and hemorrhoid cushion, cause you'll be here for a while.

The day after the dancing disco miners, we drove 3 hours back to the airport in the province capital. En route, we stopped at a little town that had a big military outpost from the Ming or Qing dynasty that looked like the Forbidden City. We also stopped to eat sugar cane (so delicious) at the entrance of t
he historic downtown. Most mojitos in NYC have little pieces of sugar cane in them, but I had never seen real cane before--it looks a little like bamboo, and you have to hack off the green covering to get the sweet plant on the inside. You chew on it and spit out the fiber when there isn't any more juice left (in the US, you might have a problem with disposal, but here you just spit on the street).

We continued our tour with a visit to a famous Confucian temple, which was beautiful!This pillar was carved from a single rock with Jade in it and took over 3 months to make: The pic below is looking out of the temple, and I just had to post it because it has both of Alison's favorite things: a doorway and a reflection.We then flew to southern Yunnan with a local gynecologist to mee
t with the hospital director and discuss the HIV/HPV coinfection study at the local women's hospital. Originally, I was turned off by how limited the hospital seemed in terms of resources. But my attitude quickly changed, and these two women inspired me--the gynecologist had noticed that her HIV patients had much higher rates of cervical cancer and had started a project with her own money to determine what was happening, which will become an incredibly important research study. And the hospital director has such an excellent relationship with the patients that she calls them on the phone personally to catch up and ensure they're taking their medicine...and the patients always show up to appts! Definitely two role models of making medicine work in low-resource settings. The weird thing about designing the study was that they invited a bunch of patients to discuss the protocol, which definitely wouldn't have happened in the US, where projects are designed, developed, and started in the Ivory Tower.

The town is full of various minority groups, as is much of Yunnan. So they had a beautiful Buddhist temple, which we got to see.
As well as DELICIOUS food. Each meal included some sort of bug, which were actually delicious. They also eat a lot of lotus root, which you can see a field off in the background of this picture.Apparently to harvest lotus root, you have to walk barefoot in the field to feel where the plant is. Crazy stuff. We also saw special types of flavored booze, olive, apricot, and...
...snake. They served this delicious fermented rice alcohol though. So yummy. Our last day, we started by watching a minor surgical procedure. The patient was one of the women who had discussed the protocol with us the day before. She had mentioned she had some pain in her stomach, and they did a pelvic exam and ultrasou
nd that day, with surgery the following day! The operating room was as dingy as the hospital, and they had some key differences from ORs in the US. For example, the patient received a spinal tap (like American women in labor) instead of being knocked out in order to decrease costs, all surgical devices were thrown away after using once since they can't disinfect them, and the room is pretty unsterile, as you could see. But it worked.We then drove 2 hours and hiked for an hour through a lush, tropical bamboo rainforestto see a waterfall. We continued our tour with a trip to Ruli, a poor city that's on the border with Myanmar. Below, see a license plate from across the border!
Dr. Qiao was obsessed with getting us into Myanmar for some reason a
nd asked the Chinese security guards if we could cross. Their response: we can let them across, but we don't know if they will let them back. Though the Lonely Planet said we could cross without problem, considering President Obama had just praised the release of the famous Burmese advocate for democracy, we decided a stamp in our passports wasn't worth a stint in Burmese prison. But here I am at the border!Dr. Qiao is negotiating with Chinese immigration in the background. We then went to this even smaller village that was made entirely of bamboo. You can see how tall bamboo gets:
Also, did anyone else notice that the tractors they use here look like those flying racing things from Star Wars from the planet with the little bears? Anyways, each house had its own little farm, was mostly empty (Dr. Qiao invited us into one)...but never fear because they all had cable television.
I entitled this photograph, "Don't mind me. I'm just sitting here playing with my machete."The last thing we did before driving back to our hotel was go to this village that was split between China and Myanmar. Residents held a special card that said something like, we are two countries, but one village of one people, and allowed them to cross over. Dr. Qiao asked again if we could run across to get our passport stamped, but the guard said no (thank god). Here's our last shot of Burma:
It was a fantastic trip, and I'm excited to go back with Alison during our February holiday (or in the spring if we decide to go elsewhere).

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So I've been composing this post in my mind for a while now and thought it was about time to write it down. I will absolutely need to update as time goes on, but for now, here is a short lesson on Chinese manners from a foreign perspective:

1. Always remove your shoes when entering someone's home. Sometimes they will offer you slippers, other times not so much (which does not bode well for my family members with Deckelbaum feet...!)
--if it would be awkward for you to remove your shoes (because, say, you're in a kindergarten), you will likely be offered blue elastic footie things to put over your shoes so as not to track outside dirt.
--you might also bring a pair of "clean shoes" along with you, and change upon entering the foreign space.

2. If you are sick or have a cold, drink water. More water is the solution to every ailment.

3. If said cold causes nasal drip, for goodness sakes, GET IT OUT! Spitting from any location, at any time is quite necessary to help you "get well soon." This means that if you are on the subway or in a restaurant and the urge arises, by all means--your countrymen know your health is important. Spit away.
--(I have a serious cold at the moment and have been able to spit some amazing loogies on my way to work. Thank you, China, for providing me with this opportunity. I feel better already).

4. Do not flush paper down the squat toilet. Better yet, don't use paper when using a squat toilet. That way, there will be no need to use soap (or even just water to rinse your hands) after using said toilet.
--This is the motto my co-workers use when going to the bathroom, which is why I am constantly washing my hands.

5. Everything should be clean all the time, particularly when children are involved.
--Each class has at least 1 "ayi," a teacher whose sole purpose is to clean and serve meals (the windows, floors, chairs, and individual toys are all cleaned at least once per day).
--This is confusing to me, considering manner rule #4 (see above).

6. Do not tip. Ever.

7. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
--This is mostly for children, whom I have spotted peeing on the subway platform, on the stairs leading to the gym, and on various street corners, among other places.
--That being said, when you are in the countryside, anything goes. Example: en route to the desert in Xinjiang, our driver needed to go to the bathroom, so he dropped us and our guide off to "take beautiful pictures and go for a nice walk" along a bridge while he "waited" for us at the other end. I found what he did while he was waiting when I went into the bushes to pee. After all, "when you gotta go, you gotta go."

8. When waiting for the subway, queue up in nice, orderly lines. When said subway arrives, push your way to the front to get on the train first and hopefully get a seat.
--This is my morning commute. It is also the worst part of my day, every day.

9. If your stop is next, stand as close to the subway door as possible so you can get off.
--This would be a great idea, except that people gather around the door while people are still filing onto the train. This means that it seems overcrowded, but when you finally push and shove your way through, you realize there is plenty of space to stand in the middle of the car.
--Another reason why my commute is the worst part of my day.

10. When speaking English, adding the word "maybe" makes it sound better and more correct. Therefore, do it all the time in inappropriate places.
--"Maybe we will have noodles for lunch today." Yep, we ate noodles.
--"Maybe Gordon will not be here for one month because our principal told his parents he must 'have a rest.'" Yep, Gordon is absent for another week (YAY!)
--"I think maybe we will have a dance lesson today. Maybe you give your lesson later?" Yes, there is a dance lesson in the morning, and yes, I will clearly have to postpone my lesson again.

So there you have it: Alison's lesson on 10 easy-to-learn rules for manners in China. Don't worry, I'm sure there will be more eventually :)

Yunnan: first two days

Yesterday I got back from Yunnan Province, in the southernmost part of China. We were there for a few reasons: to participate in the 3rd Annual Cancer Progress and Prevention Symposium, celebrate the local hospital's 70th Anniversary, and also launch a larger version of a study about HIV/HPV coinfected women that was started on a smaller scale by last year's Fogarty.

But we started our trip by going to the Stone Forest, which used to be under an ocean, so has some pretty cool looking rock formations.In some places, you can see how currents affected erosion.In others, you are suspicious that the Chinese government has caused erosion.
There was this really cool part where a tree had actually grown into the rock itself.

And this last picture at an overlook is for my mother, who hates looking at pictures of just "things" because she will "forget what [I] look like."
There you have it, Mom--I'm still as much of a doofus as ever. We then proceed to travel to the tin mine town, which should have taken 2.5 hours but instead took 6 or 7 due to traffic delays. Never fear, though, since at one point Dr. Qiao got out of the car to help direct cars up a hill and across a bridge..before a car broke on the bridge and we had to do a u-turn.

He is a god among men. The next day, we gave our talks, as you can see by my fancy name tag next to a jar that looks like it's full of grass.

But never fear--that's just how people have tea here! (Sarah took a bunch of pictures of me speaking that I will post when she gets back.) We then got a catered lunch full of delicious things

like chicken heads before we went to the anniversary celebration. Before I start telling you about what happened, I want you to know that this is exactly the sort of celebration that in the US would be marked by a stuffy black tie gala or extravagant silent auction where Aunt Barbara writes the minimum bid on every item in the hopes she gets lucky (that's right, Aunt Cat in the Hat, I just called you out! ;). It's a big deal, and Sarah and I knew we were in for a treat when we walked down a red carpet, got corsages pinned on us, and were directed to our seats, with name tags that said "American Expert" on it.

Note the TV camera pole in the background. A
fter the classic 30 minutes of speeches and introductions. (Sarah and I were honored by an introduction! So cool. Also, we were the only two non-Chinese in the audience so the cameras kept panning back to us, and we had to keep smiling the whole time! Lots of pressure; thank god I'm not famous.) All of a sudden, the speeches end, these sparklers go off, and people run out and start dancing in ridiculous costumes.

I started CRACKING UP, but then a TV camera zoomed in on me, and I quickly pretended to sneeze so I didn't offend the Chinese people watching live. Actually, now that I type that, I'm thinking that my guffaw-turned-sneeze probably made me appear psychotic to those watching at home. Oh well. Anyways, the show continued with actual hospital employees dressed as miners acting out tin mining, getting sick with lung cancer but wanting to still work, nurses coming to the rescue, Chairman Mao decreeing somethingand the founding of the hospital. It was The. Most. Insane. Thing. Ever. I mean, China just keeps raising the bar on surreal moments. They also had 4 emcees.

The ones on the right spoke Chinese for 10 minutes, then the one on the left who looks like a stuffed sausage in her dress did a 15 second English translation. I hate to be mean, knowing that I've taken about 60 hours of language class and can barely say the most basic survival Mandarin (and have so much respect for Chinese people who speak English!), but I have to call it as it is...her English was atrocious. Granted, her lines were lame (Your love is like a stream, your love is like the moon shining down on us) but her pronunciation was so bad it took me a minute to realize that "er wuv is wike a stwee, er wuv is wike de mun" was my native language. The ceremony continued with some poor minority child whose parents both died from lung cancer getting paraded on stage to talk about how great the hospital was,
more dancing, this time with guitars, (notice how a lot of dancing is swaying and kicking. No choreography awards here). They also had singers who performed traditional and modern Chinese songs (with a superb rendition of O Sole Mio by a member of the Chinese National A Singing Group). The evening concluded with my favorite dance. I obviously couldn't read what it was called in the Chinese-only program, but I came up with my own title: "Disco Miners Wave Silk Fans While Images of Surgery and Medical Technology Flash on the Background Screen."

Man, I love this country.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


It has been a big week here in Beijing!  Adam has been in Yunnan since Thursday, and I am very much looking forward to his return on Tuesday night. Here are some recent developments:

1. On Tuesday, Adam invited me to dinner with the CICAMS crew and representative from the Fogarty who was in Beijing. I did not know where the restaurant was, but found it on google maps and wrote down directions. I chose not to take a taxi because I allowed myself an hour to get there and it was rush hour, which is a terrible mess in Beijing. Sooooo clearly I got lost (walked too far south instead of turning, which tends to happen when you cannot read Chinese street signs). When I realized I needed to turn around, I stopped people and asked for directions in Chinese and I was understood!!!  I was so excited!! However, I only understood some of the response (luckily there were many hand motions that I could follow), so I ended up asking every block or 2 to ensure that I didn't miss the turn off to the other street. Only 1 person ignored my "qing wen" (excuse me), but everybody else was eager to help. I made it to the restaurant only 10 minutes late (after an hour of walking around...) and we had a delicious Sichuan meal. 

2. I [kind of] got a promotion! Things at school finally settled down in early November after a very hectic 2 months (long story, but basically my principal was fighting with Scholastic and RYB, the management companies for the school, and the foreign teacher, which happened to be me, was in the middle).  So for the past 2 weeks, I have been teaching the 2 international classes at school, as I was originally hired to do. On Thursday, I received an email saying that my principal really likes my work and wants me to teach the "normal classes" as I did the past 2 months, which means I will be teaching for an additional hour each day. I was surprised because the principal has never actually seen me teach, but it means that the teachers and students have given positive feedback, so I was really really excited for the compliment. The best part is that I negotiated it so that I would not have to get to school any earlier or stay later, but I still will be getting paid for the extra hour, which will add up to a significant amount of money. Yay!!! In Adam's words: "Alison, you're going to be my sugar mama!" hahaha.

3. Last night I went to dinner with one of the new teachers at my school (she speaks the best English in the school) and some of her friends and former colleagues. Big step--socializing out with all Chinese people! We went to a hotpot place and it was delicious. Hotpot is kind of like Chinese fondue; there is a big pot of broth in the middle of the table (either spicy, mushroom, or clear), you order vegetables and meat that you put into the broth to cook, and then you dip into one of various sauces to eat. I did not partake in any of the ordering, which is why our food included stomach lining, duck tongue, and what was called "blood" (looked like liver color and gelatinous...ew). I stuck with the lamb, beef, and veggies. At the end, someone came to our table with noodles that he was going to hand-pull at the table. It was not quite what Adam and I did in our class; this guy was essentially jump roping, swinging the dough like a piece of ribbon, and twirling it around the room! He then split it into smaller pieces and put into the hot pot to cook. The conversations were difficult to understand at times, but overall it was a great evening and a lot of fun! (Then I got home and had a fantastic skype date with my friend Liz, which was the icing on the cake!)

4. My parent's skype FINALLY works!!!!!!! (aka I got to see Lucy! YAY! oh, and my mom and dad too:)

5. WE HAVE HEAT. Now that the weather has dipped to the 30s and 40s, it's about time!

Here are the pictures from Xi'an that I keep forgetting to post: (they are in a picasa web album) - Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

off to Yunnan...and cooking class

Tomorrow, Sarah and I are going to Yunnan Province to celebrate the 70th anniversary of a local hospital catering to tin mine workers (and see the Lung Cancer research site), participate in another study launch, do some sightseeing with Dr. Qiao, and give presentations to Chinese physicians. Sarah's is about medical education in the US, and mine is about healthcare in the US--which was actually really helpful to learn about, considering my complete lack of knowledge about the remuneration side of medicine (political side note: I still think all drs. should be paid by salary, but the only way for that to happen is to make med school cost less than $55,000/year).

A typical DIC (dude it's China) moment happened when we were n
otified 12 hours before our plane left that we will spend our flight sitting next to a journalist to be interviewed about god knows what...for three hours.

Another cool thing that happened--I did some "heavy editing" of my Fogarty twin's paper (she wrote a draft, which I rewrote), and they asked me be a co-author on that paper as well! It was submitted today.

Other than that, last Saturday, Aliro and I took a Uighur hand-pooled noodles cooking class at the Hutong and had a BLAST. And it was much easier than dumplings, so we'll definitely be able to cook it in the future. First, you make the dough and roll it...

(turkey gobble not included) and coil the rolls into a lollipop looking thing.
After making the sauce, you take the noodles and pull on them.You can get them to be really long (the Uigher people eat noodles that are 3 meters long sometimes!).
And then the best part?

Eating the dinner!

Side note: I have a new favorite dog: schnauzers, Chinese style. Here, people clip their hair... they look like...
DRAGONS! I want one.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Chinese Halloween

I have a few long overdue school stories to share, complete with ADORABLE pictures!

A few weeks ago, I walked into the small class to teach my lesson, but all of the kids were in their puffy vests, lined up with water bottles--field trip! Clearly, there was no reason to notify me in advance. I changed my shoes, grabbed my coat and water bottle, and piled onto a van-bus with 22 children and 7 adults. I had no idea where we were headed, but an hour and a half later (gotta love, Beijing traffic), we pulled up to...a playground? Nope. Hands-on science museum (a la Discovery Place)? Nope. Anything remotely related to 2 year olds? Nope. The Military Museum/Museum of the China People's Revolution. Yes, we took 22 2-4 year olds to see how China became and maintained its Communist state. Now, as a teacher who has planned many a field trip, I don't think this would have been my first choice. [Lauren and] I always considered the age group and relative interests of our students. However, in China you take a field trip to take pictures, eat snacks, and pee in random places. 

PICS: As soon as we arrived, the kids were ushered to the front of the museum, where all of us posed for a picture (apparently one of the chaperons was there solely to photograph the kids). We did the same thing next to various cars, planes, and boats in the museum. The head teacher yelled a lot to keep the kids in order (when all they really wanted to do was pull on the chains that roped off the vehicles). That was the entire experience; we were in the museum for a sum total of 25 minutes.

PEE/EAT: On the bus, they pulled out a little portable potty, put a garbage bag on top, and had the kids use it throughout the 1.5 hour ride. Upon arrival, it was thrown out and a new garbage bag was used IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MUSEUM any time a child said "xiao bian" (pee-pee). Then that one was thrown out as we left and sat on a sidewalk to have a snack of bread and water/tea. As the kids finished, the teachers had them all stand in the dirt next to a tree, pull down their pants, and pee again before getting on the bus!!! The security guards thought it was adorable, as did the hordes of tourists looking on. I just kind of stood there and ushered the kids who had finished onto the bus. On the way home, they each got a banana and to pee on the garbage bag potty again. Then we got back to school and fed them lunch before naptime. It was an experience that completely summed up China: pride in a country, pictures with no real meaning behind them, eat a lot, and demonstrate bodily functions in public. Honestly, I think my eyes were bugging out for most of the field trip. I'm just sorry I didn't have my camera that day!

Luckily, I did have my camera for my school's Halloween party!  I co-coordinated with Susan, who works in the office and speaks some English. A group of us decorated the school's entrance and big auditorium:
This is what you see when you walk into the school.
Susan and I preparing for the party!
We co-emceed as well so she could translate for the teachers and kids, who were absolutely adorable! A few came to school with costumes, but most filed into the auditorium in teacher-made ensembles, consisting mostly of garbage bags and random accessories.
The youngest class (1.5-2 year-olds); these are the kids who cried when I first came.
Me with one of the 3-year-old classes.
Baby International Class--these are mine!
I love the bow on his head in front!
We started by showing pictures that related to Halloween and having the kids learn and practice the words. We then carved a Jack-o-Lantern and put a candle in it for them to see. Next up: mummies!  The kids helped wrap one teacher and one student in toilet paper and then we all sang a song. They thought it was hilarious.
This was followed by teachers bobbing for apples; everyone found this hysterical because they clearly had no idea what was going on. The teachers even coerced one of the janitors to get in on the fun!
Then it was time for the kids to grab candy from the string using their mouths (no hands):
A dinosaur, Snow White, and the only white kid in school (Australian parents, speaks only Chinese)
Finally, they all "trick or treated" around the school and received bags with an apple and a few pieces of candy. This culminated in the entire school circling the outside of the building, chanting "Trick or Treat! Happy Halloween!" It was awesome. I had a great time, and I know the kids were having fun. I'm looking forward to celebrating more foreign holidays at school!