Monday, October 31, 2005

Hot Pot the Cuisine of Sichuan!


Hot Pot with Chicken Broth and a very Spicy Broth.

I am doing a bit of back posting as we have been very busy with the move. A week ago I was able to try Hot Pot, a very famous cooking style in the Sichuan Province. Reed's cousin Molly was on her last night in Chengdu and wanted to try this delicious delight. They heat the broth/oil in a pot in the center of your table and add whatever you order to the pot, similar to fondue with more intense flavors. Reed, our professional orderer, ordered mushrooms, two types of tofu (one was this fabulous spongy type), chicken, lamb, beef, and some greens. It was so yummy! I haven't tasted anything quite like it.


Jonny with Molly and Reed.


Here is a family shot for the folks back home!


Here we all are after a fine meal!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Girls Nights Out and Chinese Food 101

I forgot to mention in my last post that I attended book club. We read the book My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult. I rated the book about a 7 out of 10. It was very sad and I could really relate to the character of the Mother and Father. I really thought that they were so much like my own parents. It was very nice to talk about the book, but I did miss the banter of my old book club at home where we would talk about the book for about 2 minutes and then get down to more serious things like our love lives and kids. There were about 15 women, mostly Americans, 2 Canadians, 1 German, and 1 Estonian. The funny thing was that one of the Canadians has a house in Scottsdale, Arizona!

On Friday I got to enjoy another evening with girls. A couple of the wives of husbands from Jonny's company went out for a yummy Chinese dinner. I thought I would make you salivate and take a few shots of our meal. Unfortunately my favorite dish, which was cold cucumber in a scrummy garlic sauce was not one of my snapshots, but check these dishes out!


This is a scallion pancake and it is very yummy!!! They prepare it on a grill right in the middle of the restaurant.


I think the veggies are the best part of the meal.


They all have amazing flavor!


This veggie had a nice soy-tasting sauce.

ma po dofu_1

Here is a very famous Sichuan dish, Ma Po Dofu (we call it Tofu at home). It is very spicy and very yummy.

kung pao chicken_1

This is what we call in the U.S. Kung Pao Chicken. It doesn't have waterchest nuts like home, but it does have this numbing spice called 'star anise', which I think is very cool. It makes your mouth feel like you have had a few shots of Novocain.

With our dinner we also enjoyed a dish called Bo Bo Ji, which is a chilled, cooked chicken in a sesame sauce, this great dessert which was taro root dipped in a batter and deep fried with sesame seed on the ends, and we had this warm, yellow liquor that is very similar to port, but lots more alcohol that perfectly tied the meal together. It was the best meal we have had so far since we moved to China and it cost us less than $8 a piece!!!

After dinner we headed to the local Irish pub for a change.


The girls having a few drinks.

Part of the reason we were all out is because the husbands had a work party. They really whooped it up and joined us for a drink after their festivities ended.


Jonny and Rock looking very cute with their mask on from the masquerade party.


Jonny, David (the Australian owner of the Shamrock), and Brad. Brad had a little mishap at the party and has a gash above one of his eyes. We are not sure what eye it is because David was a little 'band-aid happy'.


Rock, Sadie and Costa Rica Antonio.


Molly and Reed waving their 'pinkies' at the camera.


Here is my lovely husband with me after a night with the boys.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chengdu in pictures


Last night Jonny and I went out without the kids to meet some friends at the local Chengdu Irish Pub. We had a great time visiting with friends and learning more and more about life in Chengdu.


Jonny and myself enjoying our night out. (Yes, I am in desperate need of a haircut!)


Rock and Sadie who moved to Chengdu about 3 weeks ago. I recently found out that Sadie is a hairdresser! Just my luck!


Molly, Reed, and Bruce. Molly is Reed's cousin visiting from Chicago, Illinois.


This is Joseph, our Driver. He is a very nice man and excellent with Gemma and Angus. Gemma calls him JoJo for short, which just so happens to mean uncle in Chinese.


And to my delight today I found a yarn shop that actually had yarn that didn't look like thread. I found some nice, bulky weight yarn that was about 7 RMB a ball, which is less than $1 dollar. Are my knitting friends jealous or what!


I also found an adorable little boy who had his crotchless pant on. You can kind of see them, but it is a little difficult. He did appear to have a cloth inside his pant, which I have not seen most babies where.


I commented on one of my post about when I was furniture shopping the agent fell asleep on the job. Apparently that is very common around here.


I also took a picture of children at a school today. It was really cool, the kids all had metallic pom-poms and they were doing drill team type routines. A woman came up to me as I was snapping my shots, but I walked away before she could say anything. I got in the van and they chased us down and asked Joseph if I was with the media. Very odd. I would share the pictures, but it makes me a little nervous.

And last, but definitely not least a picture of the front of our new pad.


I went over to the house to see if they were still painting today and to try and take a few pictures of the inside, but they had already gone for the day. I will try and drop by again tomorrow to take interior pictures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Yeah! My laptop is fixed!!!!!

I was so happy today when I found out that the computer guy would be delivering my laptop. I could have kissed him! It took them over 4 weeks to fix, but it is finally working. That means I can post pictures! The sad part is that I haven't taken very many since we have been here, but starting tomorrow I will be on tourist mode. I do have a few pictures of us to prove we are alive and well.


Jonny, Gemma and Angus walking down the street outside our hotel after we first arrived in Chengdu.


Gemma on her first day of school at QSI.


Gemma, Angus (snoozing) and me enjoying our coffee at one of the new Starbuck's in Chengdu.


Angus being his cute self!


Angus and Gemma with our ayi, Xiou Yang. (Taken today)


Gemma and Angus before bed tonight.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Furniture shopping, part deux

I didn't really want to mention this before now for fear I might jinx us, but you probably have figured out from my previous post that we have found a house. We found it a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to wait until we had a signed contract. Sure enough the contract was signed and we have been shopping for furniture with our agent and the landlord's agent (the one who sleeps on the job).
We were able to get the furniture budget upped to a more reasonable price and also have the landlord pay for the painting. We were able to buy new living room furniture, master bedroom furniture and dining room furniture. It was pretty fun spending someone else's money. I didn't find something that was totally my style, but I am able to try a new style.

After our shopping trip we went to the house to see how many new light fixtures we will need. It looked so much better without the furniture that was in it before. Some of the furniture was nice, so we kept it. There is decent furniture for Gemma's room and the guest room (hint, hint, who will be our first visitors!!!). It is a spacious space and I definitely think it will be fine for the next 2 years.

We should be in the house by the 25th of October. Our new furniture will not arrive until 10 days after that, but we will have our mattress to sleep on and will probably continue to eat out since we won't have a table. Then we have to wait for 4 more weeks to get our shipment from Arizona. So we should feel more at home in the next month. The waiting game has been very hard, but it will pay off in the end.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

If I only had my camera!

Today is one of those days that I wished I had my computer fixed and my digital camera with me. I went out with the real estate agent furniture shopping for our new place. Jonny's company provides us with fully furnished apartments because they do not pay shipping for all of our things to come with us on assignment. The place we are moving in has pretty bad looking furniture, so the landlord agreed for us to buy new furniture for the living room, dining room, master bedroom, and new mattresses throughout. I had asked the agent for a budget, which she refused to give me, so I just picked out a few thing that I liked.

I have to say that I am not a big fan of Chinese furniture style. There is a lot of pleather couches and love seats in shades of peach and cream, white lacquered, high gloss tables with faux jade stones in the back of the chairs, beds with plushly cushioned head boards, coffee tables with aquariums of fish in the bottom, and the list goes on. I was able to find some furniture that would pass. It is very contemporary and kind of Ikeaish. While we were shopping in the store the real estate agent decided to take a 1/2 hour nap on the table we were going to purchase while Joseph, my new friend Sophie and I tried to figure out how much everything was going to be. They totaled the furniture up, gave us a discount, and threw in a free mattress. I went and woke up our agent and gave her the total. She had the nerve to tell me it was too high!

I was really pissed off to say it mildly. I just spent the afternoon away from my kids to go furniture shopping with someone who was useless. I called our representative and asked them to have a talk with the other agent. I felt like today was a colossal waste of my time and that the thought of looking at another turquoise pleather couch with Dalmatian print cushions would turn my stomach! I will let you know the outcome.

My Chengdu of the day is do bring your own furniture if you have a choice in the matter.

My Chengdon't is don't be surprised if you see a Chinese person taking a nap on the job. (At home you might get fired, here it is normal and acceptable.)

Babies in Crotchless Pants, part 2

Seems that I have been censored. I am going to try and post the article from the NY Times below, please let me know if you can see it.

October 9, 2005
A Fast Track to Toilet Training for Those at the Crawling Stage
Hannah Rothstein, 7 months old, has double thighs and a dimpled bottom, but very svelte German underwear. She can still fit into her birth-to-3-month-old clothes because she lacks her peers' familiar bulge in the rear. She can sleep all night without a diaper. And during the day, every so often, after her mother, Melinda, of Newton, Mass., places her on a plastic potty and makes a little "pss-wss-wss" sound like the one used to call a cat, Hannah uses the toilet.

For many parents in the United States, the idea of potty training before a baby is able to walk, or even before age 2, is not just horrifying but reprehensible - a sure nightmare for parents and baby, not to mention a direct route from the crib to the psychiatrist's couch. But a growing number of parents are experimenting with infant potty training, seeing it as more sanitary, ecologically correct and likely to strengthen bonds between parent and child.

About 2,000 people across the country have joined Internet groups and e-mail lists to learn more about the techniques of encouraging a baby - a child too young to walk or talk - to go in a toilet, a sink or a pot. Through a nonprofit group, Diaper Free Baby (, 77 local groups have formed in 35 states to encourage the practice. One author's how-to books on the subject have sold about 50,000 copies.

"It's just so simple," said Lamelle Ryman, who recently attended a support meeting at an apartment on the Upper West Side. Ms. Ryman, the mother of 7-month-old Neshama, added, "I feel like it's been such a gift in our relationship."

Adoption of the approach in the West is in its infant stage, so to speak. Moreover, the philosophy behind it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Dr. Benjamin Spock, the last word in child rearing for many American families through much of the 20th century, recommended against any training in the first year, believing that it could lead to rebellion later through bedwetting.

Once, however, breastfeeding also was a rarity.

With early toilet training, there is a broad body of knowledge and experience to draw on. Parents in at least 75 countries, including India, Kenya and Greenland, embrace the practice, with Chinese babies often wearing pants with split bottoms for easy squatting (available for $1 in Chinatown, according to savvy mothers in New York).

Some parents who adopt children from other countries say they are startled to find that their babies arrive ready to use the toilet. More than 50 percent of the world's children are toilet trained by the time they turn 1, according to Contemporary Pediatrics magazine.

From birth, the reasoning goes, infants are aware of their needs to eliminate, and although their muscles are not developed, they can soon learn to go on cue. Conversely, by relying on disposable diapers, modern parents are in effect teaching babies to ignore the signs that they have to go, making potty training at a later age more difficult.

Ingrid Bauer, author of "Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene" (Natural Wisdom Press, 2001), believes it is easiest to begin toilet training in the first six months. To start, parents are taught to hold the baby by the thighs in a seated position against their stomachs and to make an encouraging hiss or grunt. With practice, parents learn their child's rhythms; some parents sleep next to their children and keep a potty at arm's reach, or diaper their babies overnight.

For families who practice the technique, the advantages are many: savings in the cost of diapers, which can reach $3,000 a child; less guilt about contributing to the 22 billion disposable diapers that end up in landfills every year; no diaper rash, and a nursery that doesn't reek of diaper pail. They also note that age 2, a common age for toilet training, is a time of notorious willfulness and a terrible age to start teaching any child anything.

Most important, they say, is an increased emotional bond with the baby, forged by the need for the parent to pick up on subtle signs and act on them quickly. Proponents of the practice use the phrase "elimination communication."

"It is enhancing that interaction and closeness, the intimacy between baby and mother," said Thomas Ball, a psychologist in California who is helping develop a documentary about the technique. Unquestionably, in a child-rearing culture that thrives on sanitation and parental convenience, the prospect of supervising 20 deposits a day in the first busy months of infancy is daunting.

"It doesn't sound like anything I would ever even attempt to try," said Erinn Marchetti, who has two preschool-age children and was shopping recently at Toys "R" Us in Times Square. "It's hard enough when they're 2 and 3."

Another mother in Toys "R" Us, who offered her opinion but wanted to remain anonymous, was aghast at the notion. "Have you read Freud?" she asked, worrying about the method's long-term effects. "I imagine it's going to come out in sexual ways."

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the renowned child-rearing expert, said parents need not worry about psychologically damaging their child. Dr. Brazelton, author of "Toilet Training: The Brazelton Way" (Da Capo Press, 2004), has always advocated a child-centered approach to training: do it when a child is ready, without too much pushing or even encouraging.

"I'm all for it, except I don't think many people can do it," he said of elimination communication. "The thing that bothers me about it is today, probably 80 percent of women don't have that kind of availability."

As with breastfeeding, a turn toward infant potty training would represent a leap into the past. Before the 1800's, babies in Western societies were swaddled, which restrained them and contained their wastes, Laurie Boucke said in "Infant Potty Training" (White-Boucke Publishing, 2002), one of several books she has written that advocate the technique. When cleanliness became a virtue in the 19th century, Ms. Boucke wrote, infants were regularly held over a chamber pot until they learned the habit of using it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its current "Toilet Training" pamphlet, says children have no control over bladder or bowel movements when they are younger than a year and little control for six months afterwards.

"Even if you're getting them to go in a pot as a young infant, I don't know if it will have any long-term impact for all the effort you have to go through," said Dr. Mark Wolraich, author of the academy's "Guide to Toilet Training" (Bantam Books, 2003). "The risk is, if it's not working and the parents are frustrated, they're creating more negative interactions with their child."

But parents of diaper-free babies said working with a child's signals is a rewarding experience.

A mother in Medford, Mass., Sarabeth Matilsky, said elimination communication helped strengthen her bond with her son, Ben, who began using a potty when he was about 10 weeks old and who was colicky as an infant.

"When I started doing this, I got to start seeing him as a little person with abilities," she said.

At two recent meetings of support groups, mothers and one father shared signals their babies gave: kicking, nose-rubbing, getting loud, getting quiet, hiccupping, feeling warm to the touch, shivering.

Ms. Boucke, the author, noted that many fathers enjoy infant potty training. "They can't breast-feed, but they can work on the other end," she said.

She knows it can be challenging, she said. "I tell people, you cannot be a perfectionist with this," Ms. Boucke said. "No one is going to be there all the time. They won't have a life."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Babies in Crotchless Pants

I have mentioned in previous post that I am having trouble getting used to seeing the backsides of little babies in their crotchless pant. I see them in the supermarket and on the street. I really couldn't get a grasp of this concept until I found this

Monday, October 10, 2005

Massages, Shopping, Nightlife

Friday Jonny took part of the day off and we went for massages. I had a milk rose foot massage for 1 1/2 hours and Jonny had a full body massage for 2 hours. I think my massage was a whopping $6 and Jonny's was $12.50. Massages in China are a bit different from our fancy spas or in home massages back home. They have a TV in every room and you are the controller of the TV. I flipped through the stations and found only 2 English channels and ended up switching between world news and the Sponge Bob Squarepants movie. I had a male masseuse and it was a very interesting massage that involved lots of feet rubbing, soaking, and leg stretching. You also get a short back and shoulder massage, which I could have done without because it was pretty rough. Jonny on the other hand managed to fall asleep for a half an hour while he was rubbed and walked on by a very small Chinese woman. Next time I think I will have the whole body massage.

We went back to the hotel and picked up the kids and Xiou Yang and took them to lunch at Peter's. Our ayi doesn't speak very much English, so sometimes we communicate through Joseph our driver. We got to the restaurant and I wanted Xiou Yang to have lunch with us, but she didn't really know what to order off a Western menu even though it was written in Chinese characters too. I had Peter, the owner, tell Xiou Yang to please have lunch and he ended up picking something for her. She had her first western food and it was Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes, and green beans. She laughed when it arrived and after trying a bit she started picking the green chilies that I had left on my plate most likely to add a little spice to her dish.

Saturday we decided to check out the 2nd new Starbuck's in Chengdu. It was very nice and a little less busy than the one in Tianfu Square. While we were having coffee we were trying to decide where to go after the first of the year for Chinese New Year and we have a winner. We have decided to go back to Australia for two weeks. We are heading to Brisbane and Byron Bay hoping to catch up with Jonny's family and also having a little beach time around the Sunshine Coast.

We realized that there was a department store attached to Starbuck's and decided to explore. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of stuff for the kids. I didn't think I would be able to find them things for Christmas, but I found tons of toys and clothes. We also checked out the walking street where there were tons more shops.

Now an observation about the Chinese, they LOVE children, especially Western children. I thought it was just because of the blonde locks on Gemma, but they even love Angus more. As I was shopping I wasn't paying much attention to anyone else, but Jonny was being driven crazy by everyone's need to touch Gemma and Angus. He just kept getting more annoyed because they all had to touch Angus' face. He called Joseph and asked him to teach him in Chinese how to say: You can look, but you cannot touch!

Saturday night I decided it was my turn to go out and check out the nightlife of Chengdu. I called Izola, a colleague of Jonny's and we decided to go out on the town. We went to the Shamrock, the local Irish Pub and probably the most popular hang out for westerners. We met some characters. There was a woman, Kathy from Texas that was in Chengdu visiting her brother and his Chinese wife. She teaches Oral English at a University here in town. I had seen her before because she is one who stands out in a crowd, big, blonde hair and very voluptuous. She gave us all the gossip of Chengdu. We met Clive an English professor who is teaching biology and chemistry at a local university. He is always at the Shamrock every time we visit, so it was nice to hear his story. Then there was Sarah a potty-mouthed Chinese-Korean woman who recently graduated from University of Washington. For some reason it seems wrong to me for such petite, adorable woman should speak like a sailor. There was also a Russian woman, South African woman, and a crowd of Brits that we met. One of the Brits happened to be from Jonny's home country of Northern Ireland around Enniskillen. I swear the Irish are everywhere!

I also found out the hard way that there is no closing time at the pubs in China. I kept thinking it was last call, but when I finally asked some one when the pubs closed they told me around 7 or 8 in the morning! I looked at my watch and knew I would pay dearly the next day actually it was the next day!

My Chengdu of the day is do visit the Shamrock while in Chengdu.

My Chengdon't of the day is don't forget to set your watch alarm, so that you don't stay at the Shamrock until 3 a.m.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Date Day

Jonny took part of the day off yesterday and we left the kids with our Ayi, Xiou Yang for a few hours while we did a little exploring. I have done little exploring since we have arrived. I figure I will be here for a couple years, so I will take my time and needed some rest from my crazy life back in AZ.

We decided to head over to a bookstore that had English books. We were hoping to find a Mandarin phrase book written in the Roman alphabet versus Chinese characters. (One thing I didn't even think of before we moved: Not only will there be a language barrier, I won't be able to read anything.) After having no success except find most of the classics written in English, we decided to hit another bookstore later. Boy, do I miss Changing Hands!

We dropped by a place that specializes in bus tours and different types of classes like Maj Jong and Sichuan cooking classes. I definitely am going to try the cooking class! I am also going to have a go at maj jong as I have wanted to play for years! A lady from the International Woman's Club has offered to teach me for free!

After a little bit of exploring I took Jonny to this very nice restaurant called Del Mar Mediterranean Restaurant. It has a great menu, mostly Italian and the food was fabulous. I had risotto and Jonny had their chicken. We did start with a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad with pesto, but fresh was not what the mozzarella was. It was like regular mozzarella cut in circles like you would see on a caprese salad or sandwich. I guess I was hoping for Pane Bianco type mozzarella...oh well you can dream or I can have my friend Kelly eat an extra mozarella sandwich for me!

We went back to the hotel and picked up the kids to do a little more exploring. We found another book shop that had English books and Jonny was able to find an English-Mandarin dictionary. We went to another supermarket across town that was recommended to me by a French couple who have recently relocated here from Paris. Auchan is a French supermarket with quite a few Western type foods along with the local live seafood, fish, and turtles! It was an absolute zoo! I have never seen so many people in a supermarket at one time! The funny thing is only about half of them appeared to be shopping. It was like going to the supermarket was a day out. Gemma was pretty happy because she was able to get a kiddie cart. We tried to make it through the place, but the kids were getting droopy and there were just too many people.

We headed to dinner at our favorite Western restaurant Peter's Tex-Mex Grill and had dinner. While we were sitting waiting for our dinner hoards of Caucasian people started to show up. It was amazing! I haven't seen so many westerners since we arrived and it seemed like everyone was showing up at Peters. I saw a woman who I had met at Starbuck's and she said they were having their ice hockey kick-off party. Ice hockey in China, fabulous! I exchanged phone numbers with the woman and we are going to get together for coffee sometime. I have to tell you, it is so nice to see people who are similar to you even if you don't know them. There is just some kind of comfort in it. I think we will be alright here.

Today we are heading out for another date day. We are going for our first massage! Whoopee!!!!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Am I Raising a High Maintenance Girl???

Gemma has been off school this week, so I asked our ayi (domestic helper) to work 4 hours a day in hopes that I could get a little one on one time with Miss Gemma. Today we headed to a place across from the U.S. Consulate called Silk Tone to get our first manicure. I had heard it was cheap, so I told my girly girl that she could have her nails done too. We were very happy to see that they painted her fingers and toes for a cool dollar. That's right 1 US dollar! I was ecstatic! While I was getting my nails done and they were working on Gemma's toes, I thought to myself: Am I raising a high maintenance girl? Anyone that knows me knows I am a minimalist regarding my physical appearance, so where did this child come from??? Oh well, she might as well enjoy the manicures while they last.

My Chengdu of the day is do get a manicure every other day while you are in Chengdu! For a $1 who can beat it!

My Chengdon't of the day is don't be clean freak while at the manicure place; you get what you paid for!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chinese National Day

Today was Chinese National Day. It is a holiday celebrating 56 year of communist rule in China. Everyone headed down to Tianfu Square to have his or her photo with the massive statue of Mao Tse Tsung. I had heard there were 10 million in Chengdu, but I think today all of them were at Tianfu Square, which happens to be at the Starbucks that I went to today. Talk about a lot of people! Besides today being a national holiday next week everyone will be off work except of course Jonny. So most of our expat friends are out gallivanting around Asia while we are in our hotel for at least another week if not longer.

This evening we went out to dinner tonight at Peter's where we ran into 10 American teachers teaching English in Wahun. They were from Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Mexico and were as excited to see another American as I was.

Tomorrow we are going to have a lazy day. Our driver will be with his family for the holiday, so we are hoofing it tomorrow. Happy Chinese National Day!