Monday, November 28, 2011

The Great Thanksgiving Blowout

The above photo is from Google's Picasa Web Albums and is for illustration purposes only. Looks like a place I wish I could be though!

Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you all! I hope everyone spent theirs well. Lane took me out for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants here. We brought Raelynn too but to say he took US out to dinner would imply she got to eat. She did not partake of the food there but she did enjoy plenty of milk from the magic milk boobs and she even got to eat some sweet potato before we left home. A good first Thanksgiving for her too, I think!

We didn't have a traditional Thanksgiving feast either. We went to an all-inclusive Japanese restaurant because of the great quality and tons of endless food and booze for a rather cheap price. We'd been invited to a real Thanksgiving dinner by a friend but Lane felt the cost was a bit steep. It was, though I wished we could have gone. Still, we had a good time on our own and got to stuff ourselves with sashimi, lamb chops, oysters, steak and much more.

But whether or not we went out on our own or went to my friend's affair, I missed home. I missed my parents, my brother (who is the closest in distance over in Singapore) and the family dog, Tasha. And I missed Mom's cooking. No one can top her turkey. Or any of her sides. Or her desserts! Oh how I longed to be back home with my family and show my husband and Raelynn what Thanksgiving is all about.

Since I couldn't be with them, I shared some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories of them with my husband. And now, probably to my mom's great chagrin, I will share with you one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever. Mom, if you're reading this, you know you rock and I love you but enough time has passed that you have to laugh about this now.

It was about 10 years ago. Hell, I think it was longer than that actually. We were in our old house in Plantation, Florida. There were so many family members and friends milling about. We were snacking on cheeses and other tide-me-over items while indulging in lots of alcoholic beverages, playing pool and watching boats go by in the canal. The weather was perfect for a Floridian Thanksgiving.

Mom was busy preparing her 5-star meal of the year. Not that any other meal by her should ever be missed. But Thanksgiving is the meal of all meals. Mom makes some new things each year, but you can count on her to make the juiciest turkey ever, deviled eggs (all others pale in comparison) and her homemade stuffing. My job during this time was the best. I'd offer some prep help but mostly, I got to taste-test everything.

On this particular Thanksgiving, Mom had taken her large Pyrex baking dish of stuffing out of the oven and had set it onto our halogen stove. I'm not sure what she was thinking when she did that. I suspect she was too busy thinking of everything else or it would have occurred to her that this was not a grand idea.

Now, the only reason what I'm about to tell you is so funny is because everyone was outside, thankfully. While outside reveling, we all heard it. KABOOM! We all looked around at each other. "What the fuck was that?!?" I yell. We ran back into the kitchen and there it was. The Pyrex baking dish had exploded and pieces of it and the stuffing it once contained were everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! At this point, Mom hadn't realized that we were all lucky we were outside. She was in a state of panic because her prized stuffing was completely destroyed, having been blown to smithereens all over our kitchen, breakfast nook and den; and she was desperately trying to whip up another batch in time to go with the rest of her top-notch Thanksgiving offerings. Somehow, she pulled it off and for that, and for no one having been injured in the stuffing blowout, we were all very thankful.

When I think about all the Thanksgivings past, I realize that this one is most epic of all because I have so much more to be thankful for. I have a wonderful family and friends, despite the miles between us. I know I am loved. I have my health. And here, I have a kind and loving husband who would move a mountain a pebble at a time if he thought it would make me happy. But of course, what I am most thankful for is my absolutely precious daughter. I promise I will learn how to make a big turkey dinner by the time you will know how to eat everything on your plate. I love you most of all Raelynn!
Raelynn's first Thanksgiving! Happy Belated Thanksgiving from all of us to all of you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Doody On The Sidewalk

The above doody was not made or photographed by yours truly. This was an image I found thanks to Google image search.

Once upon a time, my brother introduced me to a spoken-word song by King Missile called "The Sandbox," which is nothing short of hilarious. It is about someone who goes to the sandbox to play and winds up sitting right in a doody that was in the sandbox. Several years ago, I'd introduced it to my dear friend Marni Kaiser Thomas and it was all she could talk about. Disgusting stuff, yes, but damn funny in the fictional sense. But let me ask you this...what if finding a doody in a sandbox became a very real possibility? Would it be funny then?

Now, let's suppose that this fictitious doody in this fictitious sandbox was actually a doody on the sidewalk. And let's further suppose that this doody is not of the canine or feline variety. What then say you?

In China, this is a very real daily occurrence. When walking, you learn that instead of walking with your head up you should be looking down to ensure you're not stepping in someone's excrement. Dog owners should be shamed for not picking up after their pets but even worse are the parents and grandparents of small children who allow them to shit upon the sidewalks.

Today, I had to go to the store by my school to grab pads and chocolate, the winning combination. On my way back, there was a young Chinese boy, the same age as the youngest grade of Korean kindergarteners we have, taking a dump (or rather, leaving a dump, as Beavis and Butthead would have said) right there on the sidewalk. Even though this is not the first time I've seen such disgusting behavior, I can't help but be shocked by it. There were several stores and a cafe not even 100 feet away. Why couldn't his parents (or grandparents, who likely taught him this was okay since Chinese parents let their own parents raise their kids and thus, a nation of socially inept only childs is born) take him to the bathroom instead? He was too old for diapers and old enough to go to a toilet himself. Yet, there he was, crouched down on the sidewalk, much like a dog, crapping away like it was normal.

Dear China, this is NOT normal. And it needs to stop. This is a big city. This was not on some dirt road in the countryside. If you want to be taken seriously as a top runner in this global economy, go use a toilet. And for God's sake, wash your hands afterward!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Welcome Home, New Couch!

Finally, I can declare with confidence that I actually like our home. I still don't like WHERE it is located or that it is a wee bit small, but for now, I can feel at home here until we must move to a larger place. Someday, Raelynn will be bigger and this little place won't lend enough privacy. Terrified of her candidly (and loudly) asking us while out for ice cream or something why Lane and I were making loud noises the night before, we have both agreed that moving to another home is best.

For now though, we'll be staying here while we save up and plan for that phase of our lives. And this is okay with me now because we just bought a new couch. It was delivered on Friday and with its' arrival came the departure of the last burdensome thing from my in-laws...THE WOOD COUCH AND CHAIRS. Remember those?
For fun, I included this above shot first since it's so old. It's fun to go back and look at the atrocities we gradually replaced. It has those gross granny flower pillows from yester-year and this photo was also taken long before we replaced that 70s curtain and the frosted glass panes with the privacy door, truly showing just how much we've changed this home over the last year.

Here is the old wooden couch, sans ugly flower pillows, in a more recent shot. I must stress here that the wooden furniture is quite lovely. However, sitting on it for any length is pure hell. And it takes up so much space. When trollzilla and her husband (MIL and FIL) moved closer to us earlier this month, they said they would take this wood crap for their living room. Fine by us! Lane and I had been wanting to change this setup for a while. Not only was it uncomfortable and consuming too much space, but it also posed a huge threat to Raelynn who has just started crawling. Not wanting to chance having our daughter clunk her cute little head into this monstrosity, we went looking for a new couch.

And we found it. Oh we found it! Do you want to see? OF COURSE you do! Presenting Jennifer and Lane's (and Raelynn's!) living room, 5.0:
Improvement MAJOR, am I right?!? I loooooove this thing. It's very comfortable, we can sit together on it, it won't cause any unnecessary bruising, it doesn't take up the whole house and it looks great. Here it is from different angles:
No more horrid in-law decor! It's all gone. All of it. Now this house just reflects our style.

A closer shot. The fruit basket is new too, incidentally, though we eat so much fruit between us that it never stays very full.

Yes, this place now says "home sweet home" when we walk in instead of "look at all the stuff we got for free from the Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the poor part of town that got shut down by the grace of God for contaminated food in a country that doesn't care about those sorts of things to even go check it out." Now if you'll excuse me, Lane and I are off to enjoy the couch!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Year In China

The above photo is perhaps one of my favorites of strange things I've seen since I've moved here. And now that I've lived here for a year, I can tell you that shit like this is quite normal in China. The half-assed loud speaker (seen in a nearby park) is the ideal representative photo of this country where everyone does a half-assed job.

Today is officially the one year anniversary of the date that I first moved from Seoul to Qingdao. And one year later, I am still dealing with the intensive culture shock that I got from this place. That didn't happen with Korea. True that Korea and its inhabitants could irk me at times, I felt much more at home there. It is as strange as I am. I had it figured out. But I'm still trying to figure out China, slowly but surely at least.

I was 4 months pregnant when we moved here. Perhaps if I hadn't been pregnant, it would have been easier for me. I could have found other foreigners by going to bars and coffeehouses and wandering around town. But in Qingdao where the subway is currently being constructed, your options for getting around are limited to driving yourself (no fucking way could I possibly even attempt to drive amongst these folks as they drive even more frightfully than my disgusting pig of an ex which is saying quite a lot), taking a taxi or hopping on a bus. Our street is a little long which is no problem now but when I was pregnant, it was pure hell because I'd have to majorly pee when I got to the bus stop even though I'd gone before leaving the house. And forget taking a taxi by myself! I only knew a few words and phrases in Chinese (one of them being "shagua" which means "stupid"). Not knowing my way around, not speaking Chinese and no easy bathroom access made my life here as a pregnant foreigner extremely difficult.

Not being able to get around easily means not being able to make friends. My husband was working and I was stuck in our house. I wouldn't have minded relaxing at home but it wasn't at all peaceful. Back then, MIL came over every single day. I had no privacy as this was back in the days of when we just had that stupid vomit-patterned mess of a curtain to separate us from the living room. She was constantly making disgusting messes in our home and kept our kitchen looking like the backyard of the worst trailer in the trailer park until my husband took a good look around and realized I wasn't complaining just to hear myself.

Thankfully, much has changed over this last year. Ten major changes:
1) We've upgraded our home so it looks like ours and not like some dirty migrant workers live here.
2) I never see MIL anymore except for just a few moments each day after I return from work.
3) I'm no longer pregnant and in need of bathrooms often.
4) I know how to take a taxi all by myself in Chinese.
5) I can get around by bus fairly well now too.
6) I discovered restaurants and normal stores that make me feel less out of place.
7) I started teaching again. Because the school is Korean, I feel so much more at home there.
8) We made some great new friends. Even Raelynn has met other babies.
9) They are making a lot of progress on the subway they're building here.
10) Best of all, I am a mommy!

And if those things don't cheer me up, well, I just whip out my camera and capture things like these. Presenting my favorite random China photos:
The 3-wheeled car. I can't imagine ever riding in such a thing, especially in a place where the only time I'd feel safe going anywhere is if I was in a tank. You will never catch me in this death trap. Or on motorcycles. No way. No how!

We saw this one during one of the many times I had to pee while pregnant. This was before I knew where the decent bathrooms in this city were. But even then, when you're pregnant and you have to pee, you will pee anywhere to avoid wetting your pants. Anyway, Lane and I cracked up at this. English might be his third language but he's a smart cookie when it comes to shit like this. I've taught him well.

This lovely shampoo was in our bathroom when we moved into this house. I just always loved the crazy English on the front. It sounds more like a description of what a laxative will do. I think that is why I just couldn't bring myself to use this product.

This was in a bathroom stall I stopped in for another pregnant pee. I was with my friend Andrea who was my first friend I made here. We LOVED this!

Andrea and I also loved this sign we saw in Carrefour. "Thanks for your patronizing." Oh it's perfect! You patronizing bastards! It's just so odd, especially because Carrefour is a French company. You'd think they'd have had a better time translating the English in a more professional way but no.

My friend Genesis (my second friend I made here) will back me up on this when I say this toothpaste, which is pine needle flavored (no joke), tastes EXACTLY how Pinesol smells. E-X-A-C-T-L-Y. Now, imagine being pregnant and getting a mouthful of that. Barf and Pinesol taste are even more disgusting than just barf or just Pinesol. Trust me on that one!

Coffee anyone? With horse dung coffee on the menu, I think I will stick with tea thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Egg Tarts: A Second Helping

If you missed the first serving of egg tarts (known as "dan tat" in China) that my husband lovingly made for me as a surprise, go here. It's worth seeing for comparison and background on my fascination with egg tarts and a true testament of my husband's love for me that he would go to so much trouble to make them instead of just going to a bakery.

Again, Lane attempted to make egg tarts. How were they? Oh, well...they were much better than that last batch, but they still need some work. Here's some photos:
As you can see, these look much more like egg tarts should look, but they're still a little off. The crust tasted a bit too doughy. It reminded me of Play-Doh but thankfully tasted better than that. Oddly, his first egg tarts the other day had a better crust. He said he'd added too much butter by mistake so perhaps that's what did the crusts of these in. The filling was rather yellow and bright. I've never seen them shine like the sun, but there you go. And if you are wondering what that white stuff is on top, it is sugar. My husband forgot to add sugar to the filling before baking them. He remembered just before they were finished and just sprinkled it on top. Oh, Lane.

Here is a shot without flash. They are still day-glo yellow!

And now for an interior shot:
Lane gets major points for getting the texture right! I bet if he'd remembered to add the sugar into the mixture beforehand, it would have been just right. He didn't add enough sugar to the tops of some of them and without it, this batch of egg tarts tasted blah. When I added more myself, it tasted sweet enough but he still has a lot of room for improvement. He gets an "A" for effort.

Third batch will be a charm! I hope so at least or else a certain handsome Chinese husband of mine will be going on a run to a bakery soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chair Scare

Raelynn sitting in the Baby Bjorn Babysitter Balance chair, without doubt the most wonderfully useful gift any new parent could ever ask for.

For those of you who might have been wondering, "Gee, Jenn's been awfully quiet about MIL lately," this post is for you. Yes, those of you who beg for more MIL are in for a treat. Not me of course. You can take her. Free shipping and handling. She speaks no English, doesn't use any cleaning products when she cleans despite having been shown them dozens of times by her own son and needs reminding to use soap but she does make outstanding dumplings from scratch. If you want her, she is yours. I think even Lane is getting sick of her too.

Anyway, I have been trying not to complain about her too much because I don't want to hurt my husband's feelings. She's a spaz and all but she's his mother and somehow by the grace of God, she managed to raise him into an adult. An adult that ultimately left the country to study abroad in Korea and perhaps this explains why he is so normal and non-country bumpkin-like. Also, since I have been working, I don't have to see MIL except for perhaps 2 minutes a day when I first come home from work. She leaves right after I put down my stuff and rescue my baby from Grandma's smelly clutches. So she is tolerable in small doses. Like for 10 minutes total per week. Anything more would be pushing it and luckily for me (and her) I don't have to see her foot-shaped face (wart and all) early in the morning. There is not enough coffee in the known universe to cope with such a sight.

But this week, I nearly hit the roof. We had a scare with our chair. Our baby chair that is. We have a Baby Bjorn Babysitter Balance chair, which was a very lovely and generous gift from our friend, Cherie. Not that we don't appreciate all the gifts we have received for Raelynn (you all know who you are and we can't thank you enough), but this chair was like a gift for the three of us. Gone are the nights of sore arms and lost sleep. The chair calms her down easily and is a great place to put Raelynn when we're busy around the house. I must admit that I love this chair and I cannot even fathom surviving without it. Neither can Lane. I love this chair like I love egg tarts. Oh yes. I went there.

It was fine when I left for work in the morning. Raelynn had sat in there next to me while I ate my breakfast and all was well. But by the time I'd returned from work, something was wrong. Lane was kind enough to make dinner while I spent time with Raelynn. I read to her and played games with her and her toys until she inevitably got sleepy and began rubbing her little eyes and yawning. I put her in the chair to rock her into a nap and that's when I noticed it. Creak, creak, creak, creak, creak. Like death itself creeping from the depths of hell, this loud creaking noise bellowed from the chair. Raelynn seemed a little confused by the sound but thankfully, was too wiped out from our play time to be bothered. I tried to figure out what was the matter and finally called Lane in for reinforcement. I held Raelynn and we watched her daddy try to fix the chair. I could see annoyance and panic set into my husband's face too. He had concluded the same thing I had: that his ignorant mother had not taken proper care of the chair.

It had me steaming mad. I mean COME ON you old bag! Seriously. How hard is it to not fuck everything in sight up? Let's count all the things she's ruined, shall we? My clean kitchen floors. The kitchen counters, which are permanently damaged from her when she and her husband lived in this house years ago thanks to her putting pots and pans from the stove right on top of it while they were hot. And speaking of pots and pans, she can take a perfectly nice set of cookware and ruin it and Lord knows how! Our new pots and pans were still looking good until my husband allowed her to cook in our kitchen again and guess what looks like it's 100 years old? I mean BESIDES my MIL! Our poor pots and pans! The kitchen sink faucet, which is loose because of her. The fresh and clean smell of our house when she is NOT here. The window screens. The kitchen cabinets. She put her stupid step-stool that she uses as a chair (for reasons I cannot compute) when she sits with the baby on one of the foam play pads and punctured it. Oh and she clogged the bathroom sink by putting tea leaves down there. This is just the short list, mind you.

What annoys me most about all this is that she comes into our house and treats everything with such little regard. She doesn't take good care of her things and that's why everything she owns, new or old, looks like it's been left for dead. That's fine in HER house but not in OUR house. And now, our beloved chair! Oh hell no! There was no way I was going to let her mess up our baby chair. Lane said he would tell her she needed to be more careful though I urged him to also tell her I was going to break her face with said chair too. But MIL's luck changed for the better since, after applying some pressure to the base of the chair, the creaking ceased and the chair seems to be just fine. She gets to live, until she breaks something else we care about. As long as she doesn't destroy our chair and our peace and quiet that goes along with it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooking Fail: Egg Tarts

Let me just start by declaring my full on love for egg tarts. I am totally hooked on these things. Chances are, if you try one, you will be too. Oh GOD they're good! They are everywhere here! Here, they call them "dan tat." Yes, I finally found something to not complain about while in China. China is a place that is not known for desserts. In fact, go buy a Chinese-made bar of chocolate and you'll be sorry. It is like fake chocolate-flavored sawdust. Thank goodness for imported goods! Oh but egg tarts they get right. Boy do they get them right!

As you can see from the photo above, they are like mini custard tarts. Some places will put fruit in the bottom which is also quite tasty. I hadn't met a dan tat I didn't like. Until this weekend that is.

My sweet, wonderful husband had gone to a nearby market and found small tins for our oven that were ideal for baking up these delicious little pastries I've fallen so hard in love with. He gave himself away by leaving those out plus leaving the Western-style cookbook I'd bought for MIL to use open to the page about egg tarts. Remember that? She never, ever even tried to use it. Thankfully, Lane has been keeping it from collecting dust. Most of the recipes he's tried from there have come out rather well. But not this one.

After I'd busted him on his plot to make them (and rewarded him properly with many a smooch), he went to work in the kitchen, clanking around as he labored with love to make one of the things I love, while I watched Raelynn who is now attempting the beginning stages of crawling and must be watched closely before she takes off running.

An hour later, we heard the oven ding and we both ran excitedly over to it. Egg tarts! In our own kitchen! As my husband pulled them out of the oven though, something looked off about them. He placed them on a plate and we sat down at the table together to give them a try. I should have taken a photo of our faces, but here are the egg tarts in question:
These don't look at all like the top photo of professionally-baked dan tat, do they? Except for maybe the crust. Oh yes. Something was horribly wrong here. It wasn't that it was completely disgusting. Only partially. Just like it didn't look like dan tat, it didn't taste like it either. It was more like an overdone egg souffle.

Here is another look from the side so you can see what it looked like after biting into it:
It's SUPPOSED to have a custardy look, feel and taste to it. This looks more like dried out peanut butter cups or something.

Even though I'm a beginner at the Chinese language and can't read many words, I took a look at the recipe my husband used and compared it to ones I'd found online. From the photos, I could see what the problem was. These should be made with just the egg yolks. My husband used whole eggs, which you can see for yourself in his finished egg tarts. You can see the egg whites. That explains part of it. Most other recipes I found called for using heavy whipping cream which I know he didn't use because we didn't have any in our refrigerator. He also confessed he didn't use the sugar even though the recipe he used did call for it. He couldn't offer any explanation to me as to why he did such a thing either.

You might be wondering why then didn't we just go out and buy some egg tarts? Well, in the part of town we live in, there is no bakery on our street or in our neighborhood that sells dan tat. It wasn't early anymore and it was quite rainy. Here, rainy days mean you need good luck to catch a taxi. But today is Sunday, the last day of my weekend. And Sunday is sunny...sunny with a chance of egg tart that is!