I was wondering the other day--why isn't there such a thing as a bobby pin re-squisher? Mine get bent out of shape so they are no longer tight enough to hold thin hair like mine. I guess people just figure it's cheaper to just buy more.
25 February 2014
24 February 2014
Friend: "Michelle, can you tell me if what I bought is baking powder?"
Michelle: "Hmm, I've never seen baking powder that looks crystalized like that, but I'm pretty sure it does have 'sodium' in its name like the English on this package. Let me google it."
Pause while the great Chinese firewall tries to block Google and my VPN says no way . . .
Michelle: "Oh, here it is on Wikipedia: 'monosodium glutamate.'"
Scrolling down while we both take a gander . . .
Friend: "I bought MSG? Oh no!"
As a side note, I remember my family teasing my brother, Michael Smith Glauser, saying that he couldn't have Spaghettios because the can said "No MSG." Ba ha ha.
11 February 2014
Happy Chinese New Year!
I feel like I now kind of have an idea of how non-Christians feel during Christmas in very Christian places.
Michael just had several days off due to Chinese New Year. Since I couldn't get him to go traveling, and I realized that finding a Chinese family to spend the holiday with would just mean way too much eating of things I struggle to eat, we used the time for watching several movies and getting lots and lots of sleep. I even got Michael to do some YouTube workouts with me.
Staying inside was a good idea, because fireworks went off for a week, all day long, no matter the hour. I heard them at 3 AM, I heard them at 3 PM. (And I still hear several blasts every day.) While it's great that people felt festive, I felt frustrated by their unwillingness to listen to public warnings about fireworks making the pollution worse. The norm for Shanghai is already bad for "sensitive groups," which includes me. While Michael excitedly took videos, I repeatedly checked my pollution levels app.
The amount of fireworks was astounding. Michael nearly posted something about Shanghai being a war zone on Facebook, but I didn't think anyone who had actually lived in a war zone would find that funny, even though it looked like what we imagined repeated bombing would look like. Here's the video he shot:
Can you see how there are clearly a lot of other fireworks going off (as indicated by the bursts of light), but you can't see them because of all the smoke? After the first night of really intense fireworks, the air quality index in Shanghai clearly peaked as a result of all the fireworks at about 460. Beijing got up to 500+ (I've heard that Beijing only reports up to 500 because over that they have to let people miss work). To compare, it looks like Salt Lake City's air quality index peaked at 63 in those 24 hours, and California had some areas get up to almost 200. I know there are places with much worse air (here's looking at you, Iran and India, with your daily averages above 250), but it was so hard to enjoy the new year celebrations and to go to bed knowing that people were filling my lungs with more nastiness despite warnings. I wore a mask for as long as I could bear it and ran the filter all night long.
A few days later, I read an article about how Xi'an issued a yellow alert on the 31st. Pollution levels there got up to 1006 (doesn't that sound more like a red alert? I guess I don't really know what the levels are). I've always heard that Xi'an is beautiful, but hearing that made me think twice about visiting there.
I started thinking about if there are Christmas traditions that were just as inconsiderate to everyone, and I thought of cutting down trees to use as Christmas trees. I guess we don't usually think much about that because there's no immediate effect noted (as far as I know), but all those trees have to add up to some negative effect, methinks, whether it be less tree-cleaned air or more pollution from transporting all the trees. I have thought before that some day, I would love to buy some kind of potted tree (it doesn't have to be an evergreen) each year, decorate it in December, and then plant it after that. Wouldn't that be awesome? I also thought about how if people were to never stop caroling, that could be really annoying, but not much more than that.
Anyway, did you know that the lunar calendar doesn't keep track of years? I don't really understand how dates are calculated, then--"I've been working at this job for two and a half twelve-year cycles, meaning I started during the year of the rat two cycles ago"? I guess since people's ages increment at the new year, it doesn't really matter, but so many official things are based off of birthdays in the West that I don't really understand how that works and a really rudimentary Google search and asking Michael didn't really answer my question.
Well, have a happy year of the horse (not "whores," BBC).
01 February 2014
Xiamen (pronounced "she-ah-men") is the part of mainland China right
across the water from Kinmen and is a popular destination for Chinese
tourists in the winter because of its warmer climate. From
Kinmen/Jinmen, we headed there on a ferry, which apparently has only
existed for the last few years because of the conflict between the two. I
can finally say that I've seen a mainland Chinese city other than
They played Chinese karaoke (KTV) movies on the ferry. It was a long short ride.
We were so fortunate that Michael's dad also had connections here. They brought us to dinner in a really fancy hotel restaurant and fed us an enormous seafood dinner for the (Chinese) gods. Unfortunately, I'm not a seafood lover (besides sushi), nor am I Chinese, nor am I a god, and I had a hard time with the food, especially since they kept noticing what I hadn't tried, and especially since I had thought I was done struggling through difficult meals for a while. The woman was especially friendly and energetic, the man was nice but seemed a bit like life has been annoying to him, and the driver (also a man) had the most interesting jaw I've ever seen—it was really long and it went up in the middle.
I kept thinking about how I have a really hard time picking up people's Chinese names. Not only is it difficult for me to grasp the names because I have nothing to compare them to (I don't know anyone else with these names), but also because of the sounds I mix up in Mandarin (is it "Xiao Cai" or "Xiao Zai" or "Xiao Zhai"? And which tones are those?), and I get confused about if it's their last name or their first name and what it's appropriate to call them by. So yeah, I don't know what our hosts' names were.
After dinner, they asked us where we wanted to go the next day. I handed them a list. They looked it over and tried to figure out what each place was in Chinese, and then promised that the driver would take us to as many of the destinations as possible. It turns out that the people in Xiamen speak a dialect similar to Taiwanese (obviously they don't call it Taiwanese), so Michael and the driver exchanged a few sentences. I think they mostly spoke Mandarin, but I don't think I understood a single word the driver said to us.
While they were checking us in to the hotel, I noticed that the screen with prices in different currencies said, "Check-out time is 12:00am,Late [sic] check-out will be charged." I said to Michael, "We'd better get to sleep now if we have to check out at midnight!" Of course, we ended up wandering out to find some chocolate. We passed some interesting bakeries and coffee shops, saw stores with their inventory thrown everywhere (I will never understand that), picked up a passion fruit drink for me, and got Michael some kind of Taiwanese boba-type drink.
First stop the next morning after stuffing myself with donuts at the hotel restaurant: the Overseas Chinese [People] Museum. This place is the only museum in the world dedicated to emigrant Chinese people. It was kind of weird. Basically, it was filled with descriptions and mini-exhibits of what trips leaving China were like and what great things Chinese people ended up doing wherever they ended up. Not much was in English, and what English they had didn't always make a lot of sense.
These statues were on the most fabulous wooden bed. It turns out this is a portrayal of a Chinese emigrant couple on their traditional marriage bed. Michael snapped this picture because, "They look soooo uncomfortable."
This tea set looked really cool to me. I wasn't really sure if it had belonged to or was designed by some emigrants or what.
Saltlakecity made it onto the globe showing places that emigrants ended up at! Unfortunately, I couldn't find Salt Lake City.
And then, somehow, weirdly, we were in a room full of stuffed dead animal displays. We think that was a separate museum.
This is what the lawn in front of the museum looked like. Apparently this is a popular kid meetup spot.
Next stop: Hulishan Fortress.
This place was teeming with Chinese tourists.
I felt a little like a traitor here, since I'd just fallen in love with Kinmen the day before. Michael pointed out that the weapons here were used for conflicts before the twenty years of bombing between Kinmen and Xiamen, so that was a bit comforting, but still.
Next stop: Gulangyu Island, a car-less island about five minutes away by ferry. This island has historically been inhabited by a lot of Westerners, so it looks a bit European, making it a popular spot.
Our first stop was the Organ Museum, which was less a museum and more a big, historic building full of organs you can walk by. There weren't signs or pamphlets to read more about everything, and I was surprised that there wasn't even any music playing.
After about three minutes, we were ready to move on, but I asked where the bathrooms were first and was directed to the back, where there was a lovely bit of land.
Anyway, at the top of Sunlight Rock on Gulangyu Island, I noticed a few Caucasians. At the end of the day, I realized I'd seen fewer than 10 other Caucasians the entire day. I guess Xiamen isn't as popular for Westerners? Or the first week of January isn't a popular time to travel? Or both?
We passed quite a few stores and a lot of little food stands that handed out what looked like an octopus tentacle on a stick. Mlerg. We also saw a couple of Christian churches, where I happily recognized that "三位一体" or "three figures one body" must mean "trinity" (by the way, if the Trinity is confusing in English, imagine trying to explain it in Chinese). Finally, we stopped and watched a soccer game for a bit.
Jimei School Village was built in 1993 with funds provided by a famous philanthropist and educationalist who was a native of Xiamen named Mr. Tan Kah-kee. Occupying an area of 100,000 sq meters, Jimei School Village has universities, colleges, secondary schools, primary schools and kindergartens with 10,000 students and teachers.That sounded pretty cool to me. I saw that we were driving past what looked like schools, but when the driver stopped and let us out, we were quite some distance from it and it appeared as if he thought we wanted to see something else, which was about to close and cost more than we wanted to pay. We wandered along the streets, bought some dragon mustache, and realized when we came back that the gate had been opened and locals were wandering in there for free. So we followed them, glanced around at some red veranda thingies, and then left, still not knowing what we were seeing.
Off to the airport. I had dreaded leaving Taiwan for China, with its cleanliness and politeness (even from sales people), but now that I was in China, I dreaded going back to Shanghai specifically. At least in Xiamen, the streets were relatively clean and people didn't spit as much.
I thought it was clever how the countries on this ad were formed into a red star that I guess is Heineken's trademark as well as a great link to China.
Santas were crawling all over the place in that airport. We saw a big pack of passion fruit (百香果/bǎixiāng guǒ) for sale, and I was sorely tempted to buy it (I love passion fruit), but we figured that if they had it in Xiamen, they'd have it in Shanghai. WRONG. Michael asked a fruit lady in Shanghai a couple of days later and she didn't even know what it was. Woe was me until we asked Michael's cousin about it and he ordered them online for me!
I tried not to stare, but these boots . . . I don't even know what to say.
It turns out that we were in "first class" (my first time in first class!) which really meant we were on the front row, in seats exactly like the other rows, but the flight attendants called us by name and gave us free dinners. Good or not, it was free. Woohoo! Apparently when Michael booked the tickets, the timing was just right and the first class tickets were cheaper than the others.
So there you go. Shanghai—>Tokyo—>Matsumoto—>Kyoto—>Nara—>Osaka—>Hiroshima—>Taipei—> Kaohsiung—>Kinmen—>Xiamen—>Shanghai.
27 January 2014
Kinmen is an island of Taiwan that is close to mainland China. I don't understand why the English version (the pinyin) is "Kinmen," when it is clearly pronounced "Jinmen." I'd rather pronounce it that way.
Anyway, we flew there from Kaohsiung, and one of Michael's dad's friends arranged a driver to take us around to the sites. Our driver, Robby, was really agreeable and Jinmen/Kinmen was great.
Kinmen is famous for its pottery, so the factory was our first stop.
This dragon made me think of my lovely friend Charla Barton, who has sculpted many a dragon.
Second stop: a lake of potable water and a lovely island in the middle.
Next, the August 23rd Artillery Batlle Museum. I wasn't sure that an artillery museum would be interesting to me, but I was surprised and impressed!
Six minutes to gather after the first attack? It takes me that long to put on my shoes. Not bad at all. America backed up Kinmen, so we also saw some American tanks. Apparently the people of Kinmen became so good at making knives out of leftover bomb shells that the knives became famous.
China and Kinmen bombed each other for twenty years. Kinmen sent political messages over to mainland China via radio and shells. The maps show how far the messages reached.
They had an artillery game as part of the display. Hmm.
The Yu Da Wei Xian Sheng Museum is dedicated to a short-and-famous Taiwanese battle strategist who reminded me a bit of Tom Hanks.
For lunch, we ordered a bowl of beef noodles to share. This monstrous-sized bowl appeared.
I really liked the beef jerky, the vegetables, and this eggy tofu stuff.
Michael's dad's friend (on the far right) treated us to lunch is a teacher. And when he saw how much I liked the beef jerky, he went and bought three flavors in a big box for me.
We quite enjoyed talking to Robby, and when he mentioned that he has a small farm as a hobby, I mentioned that I like to garden and asked if we could stop by there. Turns out gardening isn't involved, but I still enjoyed seeing the goats. It was right between some apartment buildings and a bank.
Juguanglou (莒光樓). The people sitting around inside followed me with wide eyes and then told Michael that I was beautiful girlfriend. When he answered, "Wife," they had quite the happy reaction. Anyway, the top of this building had an exhibit explaining the traditional parades that occur each year.
Details of Juguanglou (莒光樓).
View from Juguanglou (莒光樓).
Nice side view of Juguanglou (莒光樓).
Behind the pretty flowers was a tunnel built for the war, Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道).
I walked deeper and deeper into the this tunnel, thinking of soldiers living and working down here during the ongoing battle.
And then, to my surprise, there was water! The one light reflecting on the water made it look like I could see the bottom until I realized it was just a reflection and that I had no idea how deep the water actually was. That was an eery feeling.
Apparently boats came in and out of Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道) with supplies. Awesome.
The beach was lovely. Michael must have a zillion photos of me running on different beaches. I know for a fact there are ones from Half Moon Bay, Oregon, San Diego, and now Taiwan . . . I guess it never gets old?
On to the last stop.
That island behind Robby and me has a statue of Zheng Chenggong (郑成功), also known as Koxinga, a hero from the Qing Dynasty.
I wonder what kind of succulent this is?
A nice little outhouse.
Koxinga Shrine details.
Then Robby took us to the ferry, where we tried to offer him a present. That made him kind of mad. He started going back to his car in a huff, so I had to chase him to get a goodbye handshake. He told me to come back with my parents and to give him at least two weeks' notice and he'd slaughter a goat for us. Awesome.
The wait for the ferry to China wasn't long. Did you know they have Safeway in Kinmen? Oh, just kidding, that's a different Safeway.
I really enjoyed the lovely day in a peaceful place not teeming with people and with fresh(-ish) air, and I didn't really want to go back to everyday life.