Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Kinda Live Like a Hippy in China

Leaving California was not the easiest of decisions, especially since Ben and I had grown accustomed to certain habits and a way of life there. Thankfully, we have found small ways to retain this lifestyle through things like homemade vegetarian lasagna (using tofu instead of ricotta cheese) and recycling our bottles by giving them to the people who go through the trash cans each night.
Ben and Sweet Purple Potato Soup. Yum!

However, one of the most difficult things about being in China is the food. Don't get me wrong, I love Chinese food. But the oily, spicy, meat-y dishes often leave me and my digestive tract longing for my gentler California cuisine.

This year I have an increased interest in making more foods from scratch. At first this included lots of breads and cookies because carbs is something I always crave, but now I am branching out more.

My first MYO (make-your-own) venture was one of my favorite foods: peanut butter. Having finished my jar of natural peanut butter, I was stuck with the dining hall's Skippy pb. 

One day it dawned on me how easy it would be to make my own, and I was (partially) right. Peanuts here are sold for practically peanuts [hehe], and I found after some roasting and some blending, I could make a jar of all natural peanut butter in about an hour for about 20 cents. 

Peanut butter that deceptively looks like chocolate ice cream 

I will never go back to paying $ 5 a jar for ones in the States! 

Even better than the "real" thing! 

Now that imported milk is available in our town, I have enjoying milk much more. After learning how easy it is to make my own yogurt, I knew I had to give it a try, especially since plain yogurt is non-existent here.

Mine looks kinda similar, but I didn't have a good pic 
It take minutes to make, about 12 hours to incubate, and approximately two days for us to go through a whole carton. Super delicious and nutritious. I even tried straining it and making a Greek-style batch.

Super strange looking way to strain
I definitely foresee some delicious tahzaki dips and some sour cream substitutes in our future! 

The fermenting Process
(note the Radiator / Kombucha / Yogurt brewing Machine)
Next on my list was kombucha. I was a big fan of it in the States, and I know probiotics is always a good thing for China living. However, I didn't have a starter SCOBY, so I was stuck. 

Thankfully one of the other teachers got a hold of one, and I was gifted one of her "babies." It was love at first sight. So squishy and slimy. I began making kombucha immediately, and every week we have a fresh batch to drink. A combination of green, black, and jasmine teas with some fresh strawberries thrown in near the end of the week is our favorite way to enjoy this refreshing drink!

Strawberries and fermented tea - how can you go wrong?

This last one is not about food and actually might be even weirder than strange fungus growing drinks. Recently I have been experimenting with a DIY "shampoo." 

Sulfates and other stuff that is in shampoo is apparently bad for your hair (according to very official sources like Buzzfeed) So when I found a recipe to make your own shampoo and conditioner that only required baking soda, water, and vinegar; I thought, why not? 

Shampoo ingredients

Although it is a bit strange initially, I did feel like my hair became healthier and had less split ends. Just a word of caution though, do not try this in conjunction with coconut oil deep conditioning unless you enjoy nice coconut oily hair all day long (which is something an actual hippy just might do)! 
Roasting peanuts with my hippy hair

So there you have it! How to kinda live like a hippy in the middle of China.


If you are interested in some homemade goodness below are the links to the recipes I mostly follow:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Not April's Fools

I guess that renewed blog interest I had in December and January was not meant to last, but I’m back for now! And man, do we have a lot to catch up on.

Ben and I had an adventure-filled winter break in the Philippines complete with crazy souped-up motorcycle rides, swimming and water fall jumping deep inside caves, ATV-ing through massive mud pits, and of course, backpacking up a volcanic, sulfuric mountain for three days.

Trying not to die on this not-for-three-people motorcycle up at mountain
Backpacking up the volcano
After that relaxing vacation, we plunged into teaching and Chinese classes pretty hard, and now we have finally come up for air…sort of.

Last week and this week has been filled with visits from my amazing family! I will try to devote a whole post on that wonderful experience soon.
Eating scrumptious Chinese food with Ben, Hannah, and Sarah!

However, the real reason why I decided to break my blogging hiatus is that we have some exciting news:
We are returning to the States in June!

I say “exciting”, but it is actually more bittersweet. I got accepted into grad school at Monterey Institute of International Studies, where I will be studying International Education and (and sometimes in) Chinese! We are beyond happy to moving back closer to family and friends…yet, it means we are moving far away from our Sias family and friends.

The decision to leave our incredible community, job, home, and life here was a very difficult one, but we are confident that this is the right move for us. We also have the assurance that we will be back for visits and possibly work in the future.

This summer Ben will be studying for his Civil Engineering test and finding a job and apartment, while I will be in a Chinese immersion program in Vermont. We are excited to see what new opportunities and adventures await us in this next stage of our lives.

Ben and I with our friends on top of Mt. Apo

Friday, January 3, 2014

Christmas in January

Yesterday on my way back from a run, I stopped by the school post office hoping and praying to God and China Post that the long-awaited package from my family had arrived. 

Having been denied for weeks, I was beginning to think the Pacific Ocean or custom officials had consumed it. However, much to my amazement, it was there! 

I grabbed it and sprinted home as fast as my tired legs could carry me. Unfortunately, Ben was on a man-date, so I had to wait an excruciatingly long hour before he returned. It took every ounce of my very limited willpower and patience to not tear into it.  

Victory Pose! 
 We knifed into the like a couple of children on Christmas Day who didn't have any adult supervision.

Isn't this how everyone opens boxes? 
Underneath the Trader Joe's brown paper bag (not tied up with string but still one of my favorite things!), I discovered a box from Auntie Faye! This may not seem that impressive except for the fact that my dear great aunt passed away about four years. 

What? How on earth? Actually, this is not a story about a miraculous post-mortem delivery, but more of a testament to the fact that my mother never throws anything away. Not even postal boxes from five years ago. 

Thank you, Auntie Faye and Family and... Jesus?

Inside this deceased women's box lay a veritable treasure chest of things to feed the soul and stomach. Every square inch was stuffed with teas and chocolates and deliciousness. It is like they knew exactly what we wanted (or perhaps, read my emailed wish list to them last month). We are so loved and so spoiled! 
Since all my willpower had been used up to not open the care package before Ben arrived, I succumbed to the delicious powers of dark chocolate and immediately tore some of the goodies. 

My preciouses 
Ben, the weirdo, was most excited about...pens. I had asked my parents to send him his favorite Zebra ballpoint, and he was over the moon. I will never understand him, but I guess I knew what I was getting into when I married him...mostly. 

Pure (nerdy) joy
Of course, the non-edible highlight were the letters from (most of) the family. They brought me smiles and sniffles as I read through them-- thank you, Mom, Dad, Sarah, and Bex....I could be wrong, but didn't I have a couple brothers over there, too? :) 

So much love 

The loot!

 And lastly, I'll leave you with one last picture. I call this one Chocolate Hot Flash.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cheater, Cheater, Dumpling Eater

A couple weeks ago, Ben and I proctored for some fellow teachers' exams.

Before coming to Sias, I barely knew what proctoring was and really had no idea what it entailed. Lucky me is getting lots of practice here!
I totally should have been a P.I.

Due to the huge issue of cheating among students, reinforcements must be called upon to catch them in the very act and turn them into the authorities (i.e. teachers).

However, the only time I ever saw cheaters in my life was when a lady who worked in the building next to mine was definitely having an affair with a married man (my office had very large windows and a nosy coworker, me.).

Nevertheless, we are all required to proctor a few times each semester to enforce the law of academic honesty. 

Us teachers are pretty much split 50/50 about how we feel. Some enjoy the thrill of discovering a hidden cell phone or uncovering cheat sheets hidden up a sleeve. Others, myself included, hate the tedium of it and are entirely unable to catch more than shifty pair of eyes.

This time around, the proctor in the class next to mine caught two cell phones and suspected a girl of hiding notes in her blouse. Me? I uncovered an old steamed dumpling hiding inside somebody’s desk. Don't worry, I didn't eat it.

It becomes even more awkward when I know the students who were taking the exam, and they become really excited to see me…unless they realize I’m there to make there to make already an stressful situation become even more so by closely monitoring every neck stretch and yawn. 

In all serious, schools in China and America (see: A Cheating Crisis in America's Schools) are dealing with this very troublesome problem. 

The students here are under an overwhelming amount of pressure and some are even encouraged by their parents to cheat.

Sias is trying to very hard to combat this epidemic through the proctors and stricter penalties and even a jumbotron of shame (giant screens that show all the names of students who have been caught cheating) but many students fail to see how cheating is even wrong. 

A few weeks ago, a girl was wandering the halls of Peter Hall distraught because she had been caught cheating in her exam. She was looking for the proctor to beg/bribe for mercy. While I did feel sympathy for her, but I also knew, given the chance, she probably will cheat again. 

As it turn out, I might be teaching an Ethics and Morals in Leadership class next semester. Since I am passionate about justice and doing right, I am excited but nervous about how to approach it in a culturally-aware, but also straightforward way. Should be a fun challenge!

Right now we are in Xi'an for a few days before heading to The Philippines via Hong Kong! We will try our best to keep everyone updated on our travels and adventures!

Remember, Remember....: Soccer/Football/足球

Hope you aren't getting tired of the constant barrage of blogposts. If so, tough.

Soccer fans...making football
fans look normal since 1928
Some of you may know that before I met running, my first (sport) love was soccer. I played in the city league as a girl; I played on my high school team for four years; I played on IM teams in college, and I even coached AYSO U12 boys a couple of years ago.

I am also crazy about the World Cup and pretty much think it is better than Christmas, which is saying a lot because I adore Christmas.

Hence, when I heard about the a two month long soccer tournament at SIAS, I couldn't wait to relive my "glory days." Joining the Rejects team, as I affectionally called us because we were students and teachers who didn't have a department to join, was a blast and a great experience. 

Initially I thought it would be a fun way to keep in running shape because my motivation to run is directly to correlated with the outside temperature. 

Yes, I find it ironic that the thing I hated most about soccer-- running-- was my primary motivation to join the team (who am I?!). Although it did help me exercise, I was painfully reminded that I am no longer 8 years old, or 16, or even 20. My knees and hip ached and groaned after just kicking the ball around for a few hours. Wimps.

We had a great team who may have not had the best record  (our total wins was, um, zero), but we lacked in skill and talent, we made up in heart and spirit.

At the end of the tournament, we played the two best in the league, and almost tied with both. Everybody loves an underdog, and we definitely gave them both a run for their Chinese RMB.

Interestingly enough, girls playing soccer is almost unheard of here. In a university of 20,000+ students, we had one Chinese girl join. She had to play on our team because her department wouldn't allow girls on their team. Crazy.

Apparently, girls who play contact sports here, especially soccer, is the equivalent to those who play tackle football in America or buzkhashi in Central Asia.

Riding on a horse, swinging a dead goat. Very manly

Playing against some of my former students and seeing their surprise and amazement never failed to crack me up. A few almost couldn't believe that I was the same person who taught them how to say their "th" sounds (who am I kidding, most of them still can't).

Overall, despite the old lady joint pains, impressively unbroken losing streak, chilly/smoggy weather, I had a great time.

I love how many amazing opportunities we have here to participate in, and I am so thankful.

Right before I nailed him in the head with the ball

Failing as  (I think the score that game was 1-7)  
Grass Warmers! 
And the best part was that we wore totally authentic counterfeit FC Barcelona uniforms/kits! Since Barcelona is my favorite European pro club team, when fellow teachers saw me wearing it, I told them that they recruited me to play with them in Spain on the weekends. Strangely, very few believed me.

Totally legit

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Remember, Remember, What Happened in November : Culture Week

I guess I'm going chronically backwards from now to the start of school in September. Since we've covered December here, it is on to November!

This month was dominated by two things: Culture Week and soccer. Both took up a lot of more time and energy than anticipated but were very fun and rewarding. This first post will be on the joys and trials of Culture Week.

Every year, the foreign faculty here at Sias get the huge honor/responsibility of representing all the populated continents over the course of a several days through song, dance, food, and drama (much, much drama). It doesn't matter that the vast majority of us are from North America or that most of us have the acting ability of the silent shepherd in the Sunday School Christmas pageant. The show must go on!

As you may or may not remember, Ben and I got roped into being Mario (curse you, Italian-looking, Armenian genes) and Princess Peach last year which required three hour rehearsals nearly every day for weeks.
Yes, go ahead and laugh
This year we swore that we'd scale back on our commitments. However, someone signed up to be treasurer, prop-maker, King Arthur, and a cha-cha dancer. I joined him in the cha-cha dance and somehow ended up choreographing, directing, and performing in a Scottish dance, too, while simultaneously teaching a double-load of classes plus lesson planning 15 hours a week due to a teacher's visa problems.

Needless to say our attempts of not overcommitting were futile between nightly two (!) hour cha-cha practices, afternoon Scottish dance practices, and weekend decorating and much more. The good news is if Ben and I need to direct a really low-budget off-Broadway play called Mario and Princess Peach's Cha-Cha Adventures in the Ancient British Isles, we would totally be un qualified!

They hid us (me) in the back left

Ben and I technically joined the Europe team, but we helped out the South American Day with our friend's cha-cha dance that solidified my suspicion that I inherited the dancing ability of my incredibly wonderful, yet so terribly gangly father.

Parts of the ordeal were enjoyable, and the hundreds of pictures and videos the students took of us provided us with plenty of cringe-inducing memories, complete with bizarre graphics.

This pix showed up
 in a marketing presentation! 
Aren't our wings lovely?
Love is in the air?

When I was in high school, we had mandatory Scottish dancing for our PE class which was pretty much the bane of my overly dramatic existence (dancing + boys = emo Rachel hell). However, those hours of learning Strip the Willow and The Gay Gordans (hehe, still funny) came to my rescue all those years later when I was so willingly volunteered to choreograph a European dance.

After calling in a few favors, coercing, and begging friends and my sweet students, we had enough for a rousing Scottish hoe down. We even got "King Arthur" to wear a kilt and join us! You can a video watch our dance on Facebook: Scottish Dance.

Despite the long, long hours, the constant rain, and making a fool of myself, I do admit it was highly enjoyable at times.

King Ben and his paparazzi 

He enjoyed his role...too much

My sweet, dear students

Dang, I need some cool frames, too!

King and I

No Chinese were harmed in the making of this photo

Thanks for reading and experiencing a special aspect of life here at Sias. It truly is something (what that something is-- I am still figuring out). Much more to come!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Merry Little Chinamas!

Christmas without family is never easy, but thankfully December gets so packed with activities that it is hard to find the time to succumb to homesickness. Well, there's always January for that!

This Christmas season has been full of fun parties and great friends. We are very blessed with a wonderful community here at Sias.

We love decorating our front door and window.

Ben made the "Merry Christmas" window lettering and the awesome reindeer and trees.

We even got some gifts from a mysterious "Arctic Santa" in our stockings.

This year we bought a small Christmas tree and put up some lights and tinsel. Streaming Christmas music on Songza and baking cookies and breads non-stop really helped bring the holiday cheer to us and our guests.

Each year, the university throws a Holiday party for the foreign faculty. This year it was held in our President's Mansion/Villa on campus. It was an amazing three-story house complete with a karaoke stage, full bar, movie theatre, and Oval Office (just kidding about the last one...I think).

Every ritzy place in China must come with chandeliers
It was fun getting dressed up and experiencing the more glamorous side of things for a bit.  Ben and I with some others even preformed some China-fied version of classic Christmas songs: Laowei (Foreigner) Got Ran Over By a Tuk-Tuk, Baby It's Cold Inside, and Waka (a local supermarket) In a Chinese Wonderland.

Two photo bombs, but I think only one was intentional
That's one good-looking man, if I do say so myself! 

 The parties did not stop there! To mark the end of a crazy semester, I threw a small soup/Christmas-themed party for my 100 sophomore students. It was crazy but really fun! 

I made a Western-style Creamy Potato and Bacon Soup, and some of my students made a delicious Corn, Oat, and Egg Chinese soup. Both were huge hits.
After that I taught them the true meaning of Christmas by showing them Home Alone. 

Last Saturday, we invited some of our closest Chinese friends for a ornament decorating and cookie eating party. We had a lot of fun admiring and making fun of each other's paintings.

Everybody loves our Oatmeal Cookie Recipe!
Concentrated decorating
Some of the final products
Aren't they so cute?
We also had some lovely Christmas services at the local church and our foreigner meetings. This was definitely one the highlights of the season.

We usually always go out for lunch with our friends after service, and it being freezing cold and Winter Solstice (冬至), we decided to go to hot pot. On Winter Solstice, everyone must eat dumplings in order to prevent their ears from falling off. It's on Wikipedia so it must be true: Dongzhi Festival.

An International Hot Pot Party

Ben and his ear dumplings 

Ben and his special face
Finally, it was Christmas and time for the real parties! Christmas morning was spent with Ben eating delicious Life cereal (only in China do you get excited to eat cold cereal for Christmas) and opening up way too many Christmas presents. I am one spoiled wife. 

Some delicious Christmas Eve American goodness
Brunch with monkey bread, egg scramble, banana bread, and so much more was spent with some of our close teacher friends here. We did a fun gift exchange and scored some sweet gifts.

Love Skyping with the family! 

Now it is beginning to feel like we're bragging, but we had another party to attend in the afternoon. This time we did a Christmas toy exchange with our fellow teachers. We all opened up presents in the forms of bb guns, jump ropes, toy cars, and legos. This was my favorite part about Christmas last year, and it did not disappoint.

Building their Lego airplanes

Never too old for Christmas toys

Christmas Dinner consisted of a feast of ham, salmon, turkey, pies, and more. We stuffed ourselves silly and then went back for seconds (and thirds for Ben). Then we somehow made it upstairs and enjoyed a restful evening and contented sleep.

Massive and delicious hams
Ben stealing the presents
Merry Christmas to all! 

Ben and I hope that your Christmas was also filled with much love, happiness, and joy!