Hangzhou and other stuff.

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Tea plantation just out of Hangzhou city

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Here the kids are using an apparatus formally used to twist tea leaves in the production of oolong tea.

As mother-in-law is with us, we decided to do a little travel, this time to Hangzhou (3-4hours south of Shanghai and once the capital of China).  My own mother actually lived in this city for a number of years as a young child.

The first thing we did was enjoy the green hills surrounding the city and visited Dragon Well Village (with a water well that we didn’t feel courageous enough to drink from) and the National Tea Museum situated within a tea plantation.  It was really very interesting to learn about the different teas, their production and their medicinal properties.

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Crispy cucumber – just the thing on a hot day.

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We then headed into town whose big attraction is the beautiful West Lake.  We spent the next day riding  bikes around much of it and visiting some of the attractions including the Yue Fei Temple built in honor of Yue Fei – a general of the Southern Song dynasty – as-well-as stopping for a picnic along the way.

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Figs are in season! There has definitely been a change in temperature this last week. Much less sweat.

‘Shanghighs’:  Eating Cai Rou Hun Tun (pork, shrimp and vegetable wonton soup) – another of my favorite dishes, visiting Gongqing Forest Part (a forest in Shanghai! – not without the annoying amusement-park-style rides tucked into one corner)

‘Shanglows’:  My husband ‘Seb’ working extremely long hours, the children not wanting to speak in French which is upsetting  mother-in-law no end, the neighbors (below us on the 1st floor) complaining about the kids running around the house….. fortunately they are requesting a ‘no run’ policy just in one room of our house and so we’re trying very hard (not always successfully) to please them.

‘Shangunusuals’:  I WAS warned to expect that many things would take longer to do here…. but when I left the house to get a couple of passport photos taken I really didn’t expect it to take 2 hours.

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Paddle-boating in Gongqing Park with Manou (French Grandma)

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Wondering if this could be a good option for transporting the kids to school?

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Me taking a photo of complete strangers taking a photo of the kids. I am still finding this a very strange behavior.

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Not happy to walk, but boy can he scoot!

Feeding ourselves… like locals….. well almost

I saw someone in the supermarket put a box of seeds/grains in her trolley and I was curious.  I simply had to buy a box of it too.  They were labelled coix seeds which I’ve since discovered are also known as job’s tears or Chinese barley.   What to do with them?  A quick search on-line and after a couple of on-line discussions with some locals who’ve spent time abroad, I discovered that they are particularly good to use with either azuki or mung beans  to make tea or soups (as well as to substitute rice in ‘risotto’).

I decided to make a congee (rice porridge/soup) style dish for breakfast.   “Congee is a thick soup that is made from grains. There are various ways of making and serving congee, and no special skill is required. Congee can be sweet or salty, thick or thin, with many or few ingredients, it all depends on your own personal taste.”  (http://yang-sheng.com/?p=3439)

A  box of cereal typically costs around $10.00 here in Shanghai and given that I’ve been trying to remove boxed breakfasts from our diet anyway, this was the perfect occasion to experiment in the kitchen.  I soaked some coix seeds and mung beans in water overnight and in the morning cooked them for around 30minutes (adding water as needed).  I had some homemade pesto left-over so added this with some extra olive oil to serve.  The kids loved it (and incidentally, a local on-line food delivery company called ‘Fields’ also liked the recipe and offered me a gift voucher for it!)

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Chinese barley + mung beans = breakfast

Next time I added Chinese dates to the soaking grains and once cooked I added coconut oil and chopped banana for a sweet version.

Some traditional additions for future versions:  black rice, millet,  black beans, dried lotus seeds, goji berries, walnuts, peanuts, black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hard-boiled eggs  (but I’ll need to study Traditional Chinese Medicine in order to combine the right ingredients for the desired effect on the body) and some not so traditional additions might be : dried fruit (raisins, apricots), fresh fruit (mango, apple..), spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, cloves, turmeric),  miso, cabbage, fresh herbs, sweet potato … I’m open to other suggestions and am interested to know what you are eating for breakfast these days….. drop me a message…

I heard that Lilly bulbs have a very short season so I grabbed a few and stir-fried them with some snow peas.  Very nice, slightly bitter, creamy and crunchy at the same time.

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I’ve tried some of the numerous gourds available at the moment: bitter melon, winter melon, fuzzy melon..

We’ve been enjoying sliced lotus root as an addition to salads (a good replacement for jicama which is a Mexican ingredient that I enjoyed in salads in California).  I also tried it stuffed with sticky rice with a sweet syrup (a little too sweet) which is a typical Shanghai dish.

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Another typical Summer ingredient is chrysanthemum tea – below is a cup with goji berries added.

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And perhaps my favorite dish so far: hunanese eggplant originating from the west of China (About.com = ‘Both Hunan and Szechuan cuisine make extensive use of chiles, …. while Szechuan recipes frequently call for chile bean paste, Hunan dishes are normally made with fresh chile peppers’)

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We also tried some traditional Chinese ‘ice-creams’ made from sugar and red beans and mung beans

‘Shanghighs’:  Not sure where to put this but mother-in-law arrived for 3  weeks.

We also received 2 days of Cultural training which was excellent (thanks mother-in-law for babysitting!): it was useful to have this training as the presenter was able to answer the questions that we’d been collecting over the last 2 months.

‘Shanglows’: My son saying ‘when are we going to our real home in Santa Barbara?’

Life in our neighborhood…..

I thought I’d share with you a brief description and some images of our new neighborhood. We live in the Former French Concession (which is also known as Xu hui).  It has tree-lined avenues and some 1920’s French-influenced architecture.  It’s a very  attractive area where modern meets old.  Below is a classic example of this….. a hip modern cafe just down the street from a traditional yummy steamed bun (baozi) vendor

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We live in a house which has it’s own courtyard down a tree-lined lane.   To access the house you need to walk through the kitchen and eating areas of the neighbors which is awkward and quaint at the same time.   It is very typical here for the kitchen to be separate from the living quarters and for several families to share the same cooking area/sink.  Below is the courtyard which serves the 6 families (mainly elderly couples – all Chinese) plus the entrance gate to the courtyard.  There are some other expatriates living in the lane I believe – distinguishable by satellite dishes attached to their outside walls.  Although we do have a TV with satellite dish provided the children haven’t turned it on once since we arrived (unlike the 2 long months we spent in the hotel!)

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Above is the entrance to the lane (with one of the 3 guardians who….. well….. ‘guard’ the lane in their own manner on a rotational basis.  One of them has taken it upon himself to improve my Chinese pronunciation – good luck to him!) plus a photo of the street which the lane runs off – Yueyang Rd.  There are some subway/metro stations close by and the metro system is really very simple, clean, cheap and efficient (but to be avoided during peak period).  Although we have a driver (Ben) and a car at our disposal  I’m looking forward to exploring this part of the city on foot, taxi and subway (and just asking Ben to help us get to far-off destinations – in any case we have to give Ben an hours notice if ever we want to go somewhere which is often not very practical)

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Below is our local corner store where we pay our gas and electricity bills and buy water if we’ve run out and also the local ‘recyler’ who arrives early and seems to have a large collection of cardboard and plastic and other miscellaneous items by 9am.

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Below is the entrance to the local market and some of the stalls within – meat stored at 40degrees celsius, pickled vegetables and fresh noodles.  We also have a less-fascinating, more ‘modern’ supermarket 5 minutes away on foot.

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And if we’re hungry, there are plenty of options for street food just down the road.

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Da Bing (or shao bing) .

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When school starts in September it will be a 15-25 minute walk away – depending on enthusiasm.  The outdoor pool is also about a 15-25 minute walk, which is where we spent this morning.

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Shanghighs‘: More experimenting with local ingredients (more on this next week)…

Shanglows‘: stepping on a cockroach barefooted (ahh the pleasures of humid climate).  Worse than this (if that’s possible) was saying goodbye to our dear friends who are returning to the USA.  I have a feeling this won’t be the first teary farewell over the next few years.

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Setting-up home

Well, we are finally in our new home.

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Now I awake to the sound of bird song rather than traffic ‘hum’.  I never thought that this could happen in the heart of Shanghai!  I also look out onto trees from practically every window because there’s a communal garden to share with the other 6 families living here.  Such pleasures don’t come without some difficulties of course: we had to frantically furnish the 2-floor apartment ourselves (a work in progress) and now we’re being confronted with the famous Chinese quality (or lack thereof) with 2 cupboard doors (newly renovated mind you) having fallen off already!

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I had to make a visit to the local police station to register the family at our new address ….. 45 minutes later, we had our official temporary residence documents.    With these documents we were able to visit the doctor and complete the school registration.

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Just had to take of photo of the number of assistants required to pay for the vaccum cleaner.

I also had to buy some items that we couldn’t send over in our shipment.  Buying electrical appliances is complicated at the best of times, but with at least 4 sales people explaining in Mandarin the features of over 30 different vacuum cleaners it was pure confusion.  Actually, many locals speak a local dialect which is really frustrating when I’m SURE that I’m using the right word and people look at me blankly… but that could also be due to my inability to produce the correct tone on the vowels (of which there are 4)

Shanghighs‘:   Having my own kitchen equipment again after the arrival of our shipment and the children having their books, toys and bikes;  Having enthusiastic interns from a  toy company come to our garden with lots of water toys so that the kids could test them (a great source of entertainment if not a little bemusing for our Chinese neighbors);  Meeting more sympathetic expatriates – all of whom assured me that my very mixed bag of emotions was completely normal for a newcomer in Shanghai especially in July-August when many people leave the city for the Summer.

Shanglows‘:  Indeed, I’ve been feeling quite down these last few weeks …. I’m craving routine and a sense of being centered/grounded….. so over the coming week I aim to reintroduce a daily meditation practice into my life and to enjoy simply ‘being’ in my new home and garden.   Other ‘lows: include the movers not reassembling the bikes very well and having a pedal fall off in the street, My husband losing a bag of items very dear to me (photo albums, CD’s, and perhaps most seriously a big jar of Vegemite),  and the general disorder of moving into a new home.

Shangunusuals‘:  The children were so happy that their ‘stuff’ arrived in the shipment from the US that they wore their rediscovered wooly hats at dinner time – despite Shanghai currently experiencing the hottest Summer for decades.

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