Rob 1: 我自己做饭: Cooking in China

Hello all! Qufu life is settling in pretty well after a month and a half (or is it more?).

Lately my life has seen a lot of cooking. As teachers, we were asked to host “free talks” every week, where students can come and talk with us outside of the classroom environment (a “low-stress opportunity to practice English” kind of thing), so to make life more interesting for me, I’ve started hosting culture activity free talks, the most recent of which have been focused on cooking Western food (you can see pictures of us making zucchini bread at the end of this entry).

Despite our furnished kitchens, as teachers, we tend to go out for meals a lot in Qufu. Part of that is because its easy, part of it is because it’s very affordable, and part of it is because when someone else decides to go out to eat, saying no to the invitation just seems antisocial. Still, I really love cooking, and I was excited last week to host our second foreign teacher potluck at my apartment.

Potluck’s are always lots of fun, and this on was no exception! (If a little crazy — figuring out how to fit 20 people around a table in an apartment is never easy). It involved TONS of delicious food, struggling to fit tables through doors, locking myself out of my apartment with the stove on (long story), and other fun adventures; BUT, I think the most exciting adventure of them all was making my contribution to the potluck: chicken soup (story and recipe below).

“Chinese” (but not 中国式 — that is, not “Chinese style”) Chicken Soup

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Nick 2: Looking to the East

Well, I feel pretty settled in right about now. We’re into the third week of classes this week and now starting our very first full week of classes with our freshmen and sophomores. It’s nice to finally have some stability, getting a feel for our daily schedules and beginning to develop our daily lives and routines. It also sucks to have stability – routines get boring. I came here to break routine. Routine and spontaneity – an excellent example of the Chinese philosophy of yīnyáng. I’ve been doing a small amount of traveling on the weekends here with some of the other teachers. Last weekend we took a day trip to Jǐnán, the capital of Shandong Province. It was a short trip – we took advantage of some of the city’s Western delights to ease our homesickness: pizza, hamburgers, enchiladas and CHEESE.

This past weekend we went to Tài’ān, a city about an hour away, and did a nighttime climb of Tài Shān (Mount Tai) one of the most sacred mountains in China. It has been summit-ed by the who’s who of Chinese history: Confucius (Kǒng Zǐ – born in Qūfù), Mao Zedong and over 70 Emperors from different dynasties.

We started hiking up the over 6,000 steps to the top at about 11pm and it took us anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours to complete (pretty good times considering many take over 7 hours). Arriving at the top at around 3:30 am, it was cold and windy. We somehow killed the time (I must admit I got some shuteye after lugging my sleeping back to the top) and woke up to watch the sunrise with what we estimated to be at least 1,000 tourists (98.7% of them Chinese). With that many people staring off into the Eastern sky, the anticipation was palpable and, when it happened, the sunrise was beautiful; but what was more amazing was the sheer number of people that had made the pilgrimage to see it.

Climbing up the mountain the night before was crazy – it was impossible to get any space from others climbing the mountain. Many of them were students (I ran into 8 of my students alone on the train going to the mountain) but there was a fair share of adults too. Each carrying their flashlights, huddling together for warmth on the 2,000th, 4,125th, and even 5,999th stair, underprepared and seriously risking hypothermia each step of the way. It was eye-opening to see how important this was to each and every person. It didn’t feel like those people were going as sightseers or tourists but they were making the trek and pilgrimage just as it had been made 2,000 years ago. Max brought up the question: Do we have anything like this in the U.S.? And if not, why?

History. China has this immense cultural history and I think, as a result, they have a deeper historical understanding. Mount Tai, for example, has served as one of the most sacred mountains in China and been a place of revelation for Confucius, Mao Zedong and everyone in between. Not only that, but the mountain has been under continuous human settlement since the Neolithic period (about 10,000 years ago) with religious worship of the mountain has beentraced back over 3,000 years. Anything with that much history becomes a superstar celebrity like Mount Tai.

Do we have anything like that in the U.S.? Nothing comes to mind. Why not?
I think many would make the argument for certain sites in the “New” World that have just as an immense cultural history as Mount Tai. But the vast majority of European-Americans aren’t culturally linked to those sites. They belong to cultures that are no longer in existence for one reason ror another. And when you think about it, most Americans don’t have a cultural history or heritage that dates to beyond 500 years ago. This cultural history did exist and continued to until about 500 years ago. Now we Americans can only look at places of cultural importance as tourists rather than as participants continuing to make history.
Some photos:

Annie 1: Chew-Foo(d)

As you can probably guess from the title, this is a post about food!

Since arriving in Beijing late last Friday, we have been feasting non-stop. After everyone finally arrived at the airport, Connie and Andy (some of our bosses) took us out to dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. It was my first time eating real Chinese food, and it was very good! I was too jet-lagged to remember to snap a photo of our meal, but I’ve documented quite a few more that will give you an idea of what Chinese meals are like.

Breakfast in Our Hotel in Beijing

For starters, breakfast is kind of like dinner. Actually, all meals are kind of like dinner. We discovered this when we sat down to our first breakfast in China: corn on the cob, steamed bread, sliced sausage, pickled veggies, couscous-like porridge, soy-soaked hard-boiled eggs, warm milk, and–brace yourself–clotted blood soup. Mmm…salty.

In the U.S., I’m practically a vegetarian (i.e., I hardly ever eat meat), but I hesitate to commit to vegetarianism because I want to be able to fully experience the culture of different places when I travel. I think I’m doing a good job experiencing the culture so far. I’ve tried everything we’ve ordered, including jellyfish, pig’s ear, pig’s liver, pork fat, cow’s stomach, whole fish and shrimp (complete with eyes and fins!), and deep-fried crabs that you’re supposed to eat without taking their shells off!

Here are some more pictures to whet your appetite:

Dinner in Our Hotel in Beijing

Fried rice, spicy soup, rubbery mushroom dish, flaky dough, many meat and veggies dishes, and, my favorite, the pumpkin dish with sweet sticky rice.

Hot Pot with Some Students and Connie in Qufu

Beef tartar, tofu, lamb, beef, quail eggs, spinach, sweet potato slices, fried dough, noodles, and more. (Cultural note: Most of the foods served at Hot Pot are raw because you’re supposed to cook them in your own personal pot of boiling broth.)

Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

You know you have too much food when you have to double-stack the dishes on the lazy Susan AND use the small tables against the back wall.

More of Our Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

Even More of Our Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

So now you probably have a better idea of what Chinese meals are like. I’ll be sure to post more about food (and other things) as I explore more. Maybe I’ll give you a taste of Qufu’s street food next time! Oh, and one more thing: if you’re unsure how Qufu is pronounced, just take another gander at my title. 😉