Monday, March 30, 2009


Last Tuesday I was inconvenienced by the fact that was blocked in China.

The reason for the blockage was due to some controversial video posted, and since the YouTube servers aren't in China, they blocked it.

I guess Google and China worked out whatever issues were at play because Friday, it was reopened, so no big deal, a temporary outage.

Unfortunately, today, for the second time in as many weeks, has been once again blocked in China.

This is getting rather annoying.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Weekend at the Zoo

This past weekend Jean and I went to the 杭州动物园, the Hangzhou Zoo (literally, Hangzhou Animal Park).

We left her place Saturday morning and headed to the bus stop. The bus we needed to take, the 315, came by a couple times, but was extremely crowded, so we decided to try and nab a taxi (which for some reason, all day, I kept calling it a tab, like I wanted to start saying taxi and finish saying cab).

However, when a taxi came by, we said where we wanted to go, and the driver said the traffic that wasn't too good so he didn't want to go that way. We decided that since the zoo wasn't too far (3 stops on the bus), we'd just suffer through the crowded bus for a bit. So, we hopped onto, nay, squeezed into the next 315 that came by and went on our way.

Now, the zoo is about 3 miles away from Jean's apartment. At the time, however, I didn't know how far it was. Anyhow, the bus SLOWLY, in some seriously heavy traffic trudged to about halfway there. Then everything just came to a complete standstill. Just for reference this was at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Some people asked the bus driver to open the doors to let them off, and about half the bus emptied out, including ourselves. (FYI, to give an idea about the sardine-tight packed-inness of the bus, even after half the bus emptied out, there were still no seats available.)

Jean said she didn't know exactly how to get to the zoo from that point, but as it turned out, it was on the same road we were on, just about mile and a half down the road. I should point out, we walked the remaining mile and a half, not hoofing it, just walking relatively leisurely, and we beat not only our bus, but we passed an earlier 315 bus on the way. The traffic was not moving at all. Even Jean admitted that while traffic is usually heavy in Hangzhou, it rarely was this bad, a dead stop.

Anyhow, we did ultimately arrive at the zoo. I did, however forget to bring my camera. I still took some pictures with my camera phone, but the quality is nowhere near as good as my camera. But as someone probably once said "the worst picture is the one not taken."

I have several pictures, but I won't bore the blog readers by putting them all up. But here are a few of the more interesting ones:

This one isn't interesting per se, I just like that the monkey area of the zoo is called 猴山, hou shan, literally, Monkey Mountain.

Here is China's most famous animal: the panda

Here they have some fake panda statues just outside the panda exhibit. These pandas look awfully fierce!

Here is a rather scrawny looking tiger. Don't get me wrong though, I still wouldn't want to mess with him. Though I have to say, the tiger kept pacing back and forth over a stretch of about 3 meters, almost as if it was a nervous tic, kinda weird.

This one by itself is also rather ordinary, BUT, this was my favorite animal growing up. Why? Because I was always short and wanted to be taller.

Finally, a particularly sad elephant. Seemed like he was imprisoned, and during this, what I guess was its feeding time, it was chained to the bars. (Just so you know, the elephants did have a Large outside area, but they were just inside for that time I suppose to feed. It's still pretty depressing, but at least the elephants don't have to just sit in that small room the entire time.)

By the way, when we left the zoo, we planned to go into town to eat. But after about 2 hours in the zoo, the traffic outside was still stopped. So we walked the remaining 2.5 miles into downtown, and we still got there faster than the traffic.

On a different note, I learned a slightly interesting fact. Mashed potatoes in Chinese is 土豆泥, "tu dou ni". "Tu dou" is potato (literally "soil bean"), so I had just assumed that the "ni" (泥) meant mashed or smashed or pureed, or something to that effect. Actually, "ni" (泥) literally translates to mud, not mud-like consistencies of things, but plain old "dirt-and-water" mud. So, mashed potatoes in Chinese translates to English literally as "potato mud." :) It actually makes sense, but it also seems pretty funny.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Birthday Weekend

So for this past weekend, the weekend following my birthday, I invited some friends over for dinner Saturday evening.

All total there were 5 of us: Jean, Ellis, my friend Erik the Peruvian, Jennifer (a new girl in Huzhou from Minnesota, I think), and myself.

Ellis offered to bake a cake with her newly acquired toaster oven, a cake whose batter that has strawberries among its ingredients. Yes that's right. Strawberries in the cake batter. Unless you've tried it, you really have no idea how WELL that works.

Anyways since I was inviting people over, I had to prepare the food. I decided to prepare baked chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and... baked ziti, once again. Jean decided to try her hand at making some sushi, as she had seen her mother do so many times before but never actually done herself.

The chicken breasts were easy to do, as I've done it here so many times before. You simply buy the boneless skinless breasts (which, here in China, are cheaper by the pound than chicken wings), marinate them overnight, add a bit of breading, and bake for 30 minutes, easy peasy. The one snag with the chicken: I didn't think about it until too late that I didn't have enough steak knives, so the guests had to use butter knifes to cut the chicken, a tool which worked better stabbing the chicken than sawing it, not because the chicken was tough, but because these were really thick butter knives which a "fake" serrated edge.

The mashed potatoes were something I had never made from scratch before, but was actually really simple. They came out just "alright." When preparing them at one point I noticed that it needed more salt. Unfortunately I added a bit too much salt. It wasn't "oh-my-God-I-need-to-drink-some-water-immediately" salty, and it actually was still pretty tasty, just maybe a hair on the salty side. The only other bad thing about the mashed potatoes is that while they were delicious, 4 potatoes doesn't make nearly enough mashed potatoes for 5 people. I think a better number may have been 7 potatoes.

The sushi that Jean made actually was not a fish based sushi, but frankly, I think that was for the better. The sushi she made contained cucumbers, sausage, eggs, and carrots all wrapped inside a rice and seaweed border. Jean claims that they weren't very good, but I beg to differ. Most of you know how picky I am, and I even liked these. To be fair, her complaint about them lies in that, with her first batch, the rice wasn't quite soft enough, which may be true, but if anything, is my fault because she asked me if I thought the rice was cooked enough, to which I replied, "yes." The rice wasn't hard though, just maybe not quite as soft as it ought to have been. Again though, my fault on that one.

As for the ziti... As I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn't get the ricotta cheese. I also didn't make an attempt to "make" a ricotta substitute. As a result, I was basically crossing my fingers and hoping that it turned out alright.

There were a couple items working in my favor, however, in contrast to last time. When I made the ziti before, I had bought a large bag of shredded mozzarella. This time, the mozzarella I had was a total of about a pound of block mozzarella. While that did mean that Jean and I had to shred it by hand, which was time-consuming, it definitely was of better quality.

Additionally, last time, I accumulated my ingredients keeping in mind that there would be a couple vegetarians among our dinner party. This time however, all omnivores, so I could add meat to the sauce. Now, I had never seen ground beef at any of the grocery stores in Huzhou, so I just planne to use ground pork, which is plentifully available. So, Saturday morning Jean and I went to the largest of the 3 big grocery stores in Huzhou to fetch the meat and a few other items. To my pleasant surprise, they actually had 2 packages of ground beef! We're talking in the entire store, there were a total of 2 one-half-pound packages of ground beef and those probably only still there because it was still morning. Anyway, I happily snatched it up.

The sauce was also better this time. Rather than just opening the can when the pasta was ready and adding it to the baking dish and mixing it, I first cooked the sauce with browned ground beef and some fennel for about 2 hours before baking the ziti. The sauce was DEFinitely better.

Mixing ingredients, pre-baking

Finished Product

In the end, without the ricotta, the ziti was still really good! Personally I thought it was marginally better than the last time, perhaps because of the meat sauce, not because of the lack of ricotta. Jean did comment that the consistency was not the same as last time, and that could've been because of the ricotta, but the flavor was really unaffected, and it turned out really well. Nuts to ricotta!

Finally, we ate the cake that Ellis had made. The strawberry batter cake, and then as a topping she had some crushed strawberries with sugar (basically a delicious strawberry filling similar to the kind Mama, my grandmother, uses in her strawberry shortcake bowl).

It was definitely a fun day, one of the best I've had since coming to China: preparing the food during the day with Jean with the radio blaring tunes, eating all the delicious food, and the warm and entertaining company.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So while walking Hangzhou this past weekend, I mentioned to my girlfriend how I have seen that Chinese girls run in 2 ways:

The first way is the same way that all girls run when they need to hurry.

The second way is a move that cannot really be described in words, but is an EXTREMELY girly-looking manoeuvre, one which I have never in my life seen an American girl do, not even little girls. Furthermore this move varies from being "no more efficient than" to "only very slightly faster than" actually walking.

After I mentioned that to her (and a brief demonstration of that run so she knew what I was talking about) she had a short criticism of the way I run, like when crossing the street, or when I forget change for the bus and run back up the stairs to my room (which as you all know I can do in 23 seconds). She said "You know, when you run, you always run so fast, so powerfully, when there's no need to run so fast."

To which I replied, "If you're going to criticize the way I run, I'm glad you do it with words like 'powerfully' "

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Record

Ground floor, foot of the stairs to the 6th floor top of the stairs: 23 seconds

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pre-Birthday Weekend in Hangzhou

So this weekend I went to Hangzhou to visit Jean.

Frankly, I wasn't even thinking about my birthday when I went to go see her, but when I got to her place she had bought me some snacks, some American-style bananas (more expensive here), and a birthday cake!

When we started to cut the cake, we noticed that the cake-cutting knife was shaped like a fish, which Jean then pointed out was cool because I am a Pisces. After she said that, I said, well now I HAVE to take a picture of the knife, so I did, and then she pointed out that with the shadow, the photo looked like 2 fish, so it was indeed a Pisces.

And for my birthday, she bought me some new kicks, a new pair of Nike sneakers :)

Something a bit random, while walking along in Hangzhou this weekend I saw a statue of a creature with a dog's body and an elephant's head.

Finally, tonight, I went to dinner with Ellis and some of the teachers from the school where we ate an eel dish (a specialty dish of Huzhou, with tiny eels- it tasted like noodles), duck tongue, frog-potato soup, and a few other less exotic, yet still very Chinese dishes. This picture isn't too clear, but it is the duck tongue:

I did try a little bit of everything, and it really wasn't all that bad. And for the most part, I don't really mind "trying" these new foods. However, one exception for me personally is foods with vinegar. Vinegar is quite possibly my most hated of all foodstuffs. Actually Jean and I had a conversation about this the other day. She mentioned that her two most favorite kinds of foods in the world are spicy foods and acid food (acid meaning with vinegar). She said she was glad that I also liked spicy foods so she can share it with me, but disappointed about the 醋 (cù, vinegar).

Anyhow, this next weekend I am going to have a few people over for dinner. Ellis mentioned she was going to bake a cake, and I am going to make baked ziti. One big problem this time though is I didn't get a chance to go to Shanghai to get some ricotta cheese. A friend of mine, another teacher at this school here, goes to Shanghai every weekend. A couple weeks ago she offered to grab something from Shanghai for me if I ever needed anything, so I asked her if she could nab mozzarella and ricotta. She did find the mozz, easily the more important of the two, but she couldn't find the ricotta. So, that means I'm gonna have to try to make the baked ziti without ricotta cheese, OR... try and make a ricotta substitute from milk on my own... We will see...