Tuesday, September 16, 2014

day-to-day China (so far)

There are some things we are getting used to over here that I want to remember and write down before they don't seem so new to us anymore.

I carry two cell phones everywhere I go.

Since we're only going to be here for a short time Dave got me a little Chinese cell phone that I use to text, call and WeChat, but I cannot type on that thing to save my soul!  It can't do some of the things my iPhone can do (Instagram, take pictures, use apps to find my way around with Chinese addresses), so I carry around both and I'm having some serious communication frustration!

Everyone I text gest me.ssagis lik tphis and I'm sure it drives them nutty if they can even understand two words of it.  I have to go two screens from where I'm typing to add punctuation so that makes it extra tricky.  Dave has taken to calling me "Fat Fingers" and gets a kick out of the messages I send to him.

I also get a great variety of calls from people who only speak Chinese.  Our conversations are awesome.

Lots of texts I can't understand too:

I love walking around with the kids.  Not only can we walk to school, but also to the market and some little shops where we found school supplies.  I love that Claire oogles over every little child we come across.

We joined a gym.  It feels good to keep those endorphins going.  Max heads over there every spare chunk of time he can to practice his vertical and all the things he needs to do for volleyball.

We only drink bottled water.

When our bottles are empty we re-fill them with this thing:

We brush our teeth with bottled water too.
Lucy is turning into a pro.

It is muggy and hot here.  Wow.  Sometimes it feels like we are in a sauna.

We don't have air conditioning in our house.  Instead we have these swamp coolers in most of the rooms that we turn on when we need and turn off when we leave.  This is a really big one for the area downstairs:

And here's what they look like up in the bedrooms:
That one in particular is leaking down the wall...we need to figure out how to fix that thing...

It is hot, but there is something really refreshing in the air outside this last few days, just early in the morning and at dusk:  There's a teeny, tiny hint of a bite when the air touches my skin.  And it makes me happy because it tells me Fall is coming.

And I've got to admit I'm pretty excited about that.

I inherited a trash can from a friend:
I never knew I could be as excited about a trash can of all things!

But you will understand if you see the kitchen trash can we started with:
Maybe you can't tell from the picture, but it is like a little behind-the-toilet bathroom trash can.

Which, of course, filled up every two seconds in our kitchen.

And I couldn't just jump in a car and run to Target for a new one.  Because I can't speak this language.  And I don't have a car.  And there's no Target.  Ha!

Every day I work a little bit on my Chinese but it's sure slow in coming.  People will knock on our door and go into some big schpeal about something or other and all I can do is smile and look confused.  It is pathetic.

The American receipts and coupons in my wallet have been replaced by these:
Let's get a closer look at that beauty from the "Metro" supermarket:
Now that is a receipt!

Claire has found a good homework spot.  Which is good because she has a whole ton of it.

We got a printer.  Some guys from Dave's office came to help us set it up.  I couldn't believe the ink deal with it so I had to take a picture.  Instead of a little cartridge thing like we've always had back home, they have these big bottles of color that they squeeze in there:
Why oh why can't they do that back home?  I swear we're out of ink every other week with those teeny things.

We are addicted to "Bananagrams."
Max was particularly proud of his board the other night.  (We count "Q" as "Qu" because we kind of cheat :)

We are trying to do lots of journal writing.

Our dishwasher has been broken until two days ago.
So grateful for dishwashers, especially since one time when I was doing a particularly large load of dishes and drained the water we heard a big bubbling sound.  Then all the dishwater came out of a drain in the kitchen floor and flooded the the place.

Yes, dishwashers are good.  So far no floods with that thing working.

Some day I will figure out which light switch is for which light.

I remember one time in Romania how I fried a curling iron by using the wrong plug converter.  And I think I've done that a few times since.  So we are trying to be really careful with the plugs around here.
So far so good, except that we only have one converter.  Gotta figure out how to track down another one of those things.

Monday, September 15, 2014

navigating food options so far in China


I knew food would be a little bit tricky here.

I remember one morning about a week after we arrived on our trip eight years ago when I finally figured out how I could feed my family French toast.  I felt this huge sense of accomplishment watching my kids' eyes gleam when I set a pile of half steaming, half cold French toast on the table for them to gobble down.  I had gone to two different places to buy milk, eggs and bread and had cooked each piece of bread separately on the tiny little frying pan we found in our apartment.  I remember lugging groceries by myself in taxis and taking a few trips up our elevator each time, and searching high and low for any sort of familiar ingredients to use to feed my family.

This time around it's different in that there is a lot more available to buy and I came more prepared.  We brought a couple boxes of things we had been told were hard to get here and we know how to maneuver a little bit better.  

But this time around our kids are huge and hard to fill up.  Claire looked at me with fear in her eyes after the first couple days here and said, "Mom, I think I'm going to get really skinny here."  Luckily we've been able to find some things to satisfy the hunger but it is a work in progress for sure.

I had been to the local grocery store (see that trip back HERE), but I needed more than I could get there.

So after dropping off my kids on the first day of school I took the metro to meet my new friend from our branch.  She had had pity on my the day before when she fed us dinner and must have noticed in horror how they were all scarfing things down and figured I must need a hand. Ha!  I kid, but they really were like a pack of hungry wolves and she really is one of the nicest people I've ever met.  So she and her driver (most expats have their own drivers) took me to three essential places.  The first was IKEA (yes, there is an IKEA here and I am in love with that place more than ever over here!).  

I know IKEA doesn't have much to do with food except that I could buy a 9x13 pan there as well as a large frying pan and mixing bowls and utensils which are kind of essential for food prep.  (and they also had absorbent towels and bath mats and things to organize stuff here and so many other things I was missing terribly).  

And those things are worth their weight in gold over here I tell you!

Next we went to "Metro" not to be confused with IKEA because they look strangely familiar...

I was so happy to find things like an iron, hair dryer there (different plugs here burn up those kinds of things from home unless you have a really awesome converter, not to be confused with a transformer which will help plug your plugs in but will burn some things out as well).  I was also happy to find all kinds of food to fill up my empty cabinets.

You have to go to these ladies and weigh all your produce here before you go to the cash register.
The people at the stores eyes grow wide when I come to check out with my basket filled to the brim. 

En route to the stores while talking to my new friend I saw all kinds of new and crazy things like this biker with a big load.  You can only see a tiny portion of it in this pic:
 Here's the back:
I love how much people can cram into any type of transportation here.  It's fascinating.

We went to one other tiny market that had all kinds of familiar things if you're willing to pay the price...which sometimes you are when you're fresh in a new country and trying to feed your hungry family.

This was our load on the way home.
 Oh man was I ever grateful for these guys that day!

Since then we've spent plenty of time here:

Trying to pick between shelves and shelves of stuff like this: 
 

And in here whipping up what we're going to eat.
Up there are Lucy and Claire making their sack lunches in the morning.  They bring lunch every day just like they did in the states.  They are extra excited about it here because the only bread we can seem to find readily available is white bread which we never do back home.

For breakfast we are figuring out some good options since the cereal we brought is fading fast.

We forgot to bring measuring cups so my friend at home sent me a picture of one of those childrens' IKEA cups with the right amount of water to make up a cup (yes, IKEA to the rescue once again).  This is how much a "cup" of water is for anyone who's interested:
So I kind of estimated my measurements for a while until my friend here let me borrow a set of measuring cups.

Our first batch of pancakes was really good if I do say so myself.

Luckily I had remembered to have Elle take a picture of our favorite recipe back home before we left.

...and had her WeChat it to me from early-morning seminary so I could whip them up.

We get ready for breakfast while Max and Elle are at seminary.
Claire is a good helper in the kitchen for breakfast always with a smile on her face.

I think the eggs are cool here.


They're never refrigerated, just sitting out on shelves at the grocery store, just like in the majority of other countries in the world, and are pretty fresh and tasty.

I bought this yellow bowl at IKEA because I fell in love with how cheery it is.  
I know, weird, but I love it.

We tried waffles for the first time the other day.
(We brought that sucker with us from the states.)

I was worried it wouldn't make it through the first batch since it was smoking like crazy (no power converter):

See all that smoke?

But that trusty little thing made it through a whole breakfast and held up like a champ.  We'll see if it still works next time we try...

We branched out and tried Ocean Pancakes this morning (recipe HERE).
Our oven is small and the highest temperature it gets up to is 350 so it took an hour to cook those puppies.

Still, they were gobbled down pretty quick.

As far as dinners go we have tried to do pasta and a couple Mexican things, but our main standbys so far are the three recipes back in this post back HERE (Thai, stir fry and Japanese curry).

We have our very sweet "housekeeper" at least for the first couple months who helps make the evening meals and it is heaven I tell you!

The kids help set up the table and family dinners here have been pretty great.

She's helped me gather some of the ingredients for whatever I want to make and it's been kind of fun to work together in the kitchen.

This was our little trip to the "wet market" to get some potatoes:
She bargained those guys down like nobody's business.

 There are a few little "wet markets" right on the way home from school which is kind of nice.

We were delighted when we found enough ingredients for a really good green salad.

This is our all-time favorite.  I was so excited when I found this at Metro:
 My kids thought they had died and gone to Heaven.

This was Max's second helping last night:
For reals.

We have tried all kinds of different milk.  I say "we" but I don't like milk so I personally haven't tried any.  So far I think the middle one is everyone's favorite.  

Our house came with this fancy rice cooker we've used a ton:

There are all kinds of cool fruits here.  My personal favorite to look at is the dragon fruit.

It's the most creative fruit I've ever seen and makes me appreciate God's art more than ever.

The outside looks like this:
Not the best picture but you get the idea.

And the inside looks like this:
 Oh my word it's cool.  It tastes kind of like kiwi.

And here's a pomelo:
That one was really dry but the pink ones are really good.   There are some really great melons too, and all kinds of different apples.  So much more to explore in that realm.

I had some other friends take me on a little field trip to Sam's Club last week.  Yes, low and behold, there is a Sam's Club here!

It was really weird because as much as it had a Sam's Club feel it was very Chinese (of course, we are in China).  But it was almost like I was in this parallel universe or something.  These ladies were here giving samples of some kind of seaweed treat just like the ladies do in the states (except without the seaweed :)
 The produce section has stuff like this:


I love family dinner.
Always have, always will.

But there's just something extra special about it here.  Maybe it's just that we have found a way to make things everyone likes and that's rewarding.  But even more, I believe it's because we get to be together with so few interruptions.

We're taking advantage of it while it lasts!!

p.s. I am doing an experiment taking off comments at least for a little while.  I'm sad because I love comments, I actually even like the controversial comments although I know they make some people uncomfortable.  I've had the sweetest notes from people sticking up for me and emails asking if I'm ok which I appreciate so much!  But most comments I'm fine with because they make for really interesting discussions and I really enjoy knowing where people are coming from and trying to put myself in their shoes.  

But there have been a few lately that went over the line of "interesting" and that's not what I want this blog to be about.  So I'm just seeing how this goes for a little while.  I still have a bunch of questions I'll get to some day on a Q & A but please send any other thoughts or questions to my email for the time being at sepphotography at gmail dot com.  I cannot promise I can get back to you because I'm horrible with emails (as anyone knows who has tried emailing me before!) but I do read all my emails and love to hear your thoughts.  
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