How to Manage a Writer’s Retreat in Your Hometown

I am more tea than man now.

I am more tea than man now.

How times flies! It seems like only yesterday I was announcing my writer’s retreat and here it is all over and done with. It was the first time I have attempted one of these in the place I live, and I was  successful I thought I’d share my strategy with you.

Make it Public

I made a big to-do on all my social media accounts, especially WeChat, the chat app I use the most. This was good for several reasons.

One – I’m a big chatter and announcing I would be focusing on my writing and chatting only at night, stopped a lot of people from contacting me, or they waited until night when I was free.

Two – It forced me to be accountable. When I would meet my friends they would always ask, “How’s the writing?” It gave me a weird sense of duty and since I had made such a big fuss of it, I felt like I had to show something for my efforts.

Three – Encouragement! I put constant updates on my Wechat and Facebook and people were really nice and encouraging me to continue. I wasn’t raring to go everyday. In fact someday I had to drag myself out the door (more on that in a second) and getting encouragement from people was really helpful on the cranky, tired days.

Some people also said I had inspired them to focus on writing and several former and current students asked me how they could start writing too. Thinking that someones article or story wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t made a big deal out of my writing is one of the best motivations ever.

Get out of the House

My place is waaay too full of distractions (damn you internet!) so getting out was essential. I like going to new places and going to new coffee shops and this served a few purposes. It gave me a new environment to write in and I got to explore this city. I am now master of the bus system.

Know Your Creative Times

I’m not one of those writers that wakes up at 5:30am and writes until noon. Neither am I a night owl, scribbling away by candle light. I’m an afternoon writer. Starting around noon is perfect for me. So everyday I would wake up slowly, shower, eat breakfast, check the internet and by 10:30-11 I was ready to go out.

I get antsy and sitting down for 2 to 3 hours is about my limit. I have a built in body timer: my bladder. I’d pee before sitting down, and after drinking tea the whole time I’d usually have to pee in less than 3 hours. So I’d pack up, pee, and take a long walk to clear my head before sitting down at another cafe for awhile. When dinner time would roll around, I’d call it a day and head back home.

The best part of this kind of schedule is that I could get lunch out. I have a few nice cafes that I liked to go to for lunch. Writing on a full stomach was always a way to get a lot done. Which brings me to my next point….

I found a cafe with a bagel with cream cheese and lox! (Thought it's not that good.) Also a bratwurst with sauerkraut. These are rare delicacies in China.

I found a cafe with a bagel with cream cheese and lox! (Thought it’s not that good.) Also a bratwurst with sauerkraut. These are rare delicacies in China.

Don’t be Above Bribing Yourself

Some days getting out the door was tough. I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to pack up my bag, and I just wanted to stay inside watching movies. I’d have to bribe myself. “How about a sushi lunch? Let’s get a sushi lunch and then you can go to the Starbucks nearby and write.” or “If you go to Ma’an Coffee, I’ll let you buy anything you want. A giant waffle with ice cream? Sure, not a problem.”

I’m not above treating myself like a whiny 6-year-old child. And it totally worked.

Don't judge me.

Don’t judge me.

Track Your Progress

I had a little book in which I wrote the day number, the place(s) I went and how much I wrote. This also had a few purposes (I like things with lots of purposes).

One – I could track my progress and see how I improved over time. The first week I started writing about 3,000-4,000 words a day and then I progressed to a point I was writing 7,000+ words everyday. (In the same amount of time.) By charting myself I could see that action begets action, and the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.

My friend was in the area and stopped by while I was writing. He also has notebooks so I showed off my little notebook I tracked my daily writing.

My friend was in the area and stopped by while I was writing. He also has notebooks so I showed off my little notebook I tracked my daily writing. I know I look batshit crazy in this pic, but just go with it.

Two – I have a competitive streak. Seeing those numbers grow everyday just wanted me to make then grow more. If I had written 4,000 words the day before I always wanted to beat that. And then 5,000 words I wanted to beat, then 6,000 and so on. I ended up averaging 5,617 words a day. My highest day was right near the end. I wrote 8, 438 words in one day.

Know When to Take a Break

My plan was to write monday-friday and not see any friends or chat at all, then take a break on the weekends. I didn’t strictly follow that. I went out to dinner with friends some weeknights, and I wrote on some weekends. But as the time progressed, I began to feel a but burnt out. One powerhouse of a day, with over 8,000 words written, was followed by a sluggish day with only 2,000 something words. I knew I was close to burn-out and the next weekend I didn’t do a stitch of writing.

Sometimes even whike writing you need to take a beak, like the time I caught my stretched out reflection on the teapot. I took several selfies before getting back to work.

Sometimes even while writing you need to take a break, like the time I caught my stretched out reflection on the teapot. I took several selfies before getting back to work.

My writers Retreat by the numbers:

Days of writers retreat: 28

Actual days of writing: 20

Money spent at cafes: $163 (!!) Those $5 tea lattes add up quick

Amount of words written: 101,100 — that’s 458 pages. That’s more than 22 pages a day. Phew!

The “official” writers retreat is over, but actually I really liked it. So I’m gonna keep it up for the rest of the holiday (though less strictly) and once I’m working again I’ll dedicate a day or two every week totally to writing.

As the well-known mantra goes: your destiny is made up of your habits. I made writing a habit, and I noticed a real shift in my thinking and way of writing. In fact, I think this is one of my favorite holidays since living in China. I know I say it every holiday but this time I mean it! (Okay, I always mean it, hahaha.) But I feel like I really accomplished something more than just writing a book. I feel an entire shift in perception. And I had a really good time! I made new friends, got closer to some old friends, tried new things and explored new places. If that’s not a win for a holiday, I don’t know what is.

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Uncivilized Foreign Tourists Running Rampant in China

Some things are too funny to let pass unremarked upon. One of the latest gems comes from the People’s Daily, a government run newspaper.

Lately, and with very good reason, Chinese tourists have been in the news. In 2013 a teenager grafffit’d a 3,500 year old Egyptian temple. Then there was the family that let their child poop in the aisle of an airplane instead of bringing him to the toilet. Chinese people littered the Maldives so much that President Xi Jiping had to ask them to stop eating so many ramen noodles and littering. And who can forget the Chinese traveler who opened the emergency door on the plane to “get some fresh air,” and then another one, and another.

Truth is Chinese tourists are so notoriously misbehaved that the government is making it a priority to teach travelers manners, and even other countries, like Thailand, are taking their own steps to ensure Chinese tourists act better. (Thailand has printed up pamphlets in Mandarin to tell tourists not to pee or poop on the street, follow traffic laws, and don’t touch things in a museum.)

So, that’s not the funny part. (For the record, average Chinese people are just as shocked by these behaviors as we are. It’s not at all condoned and yet they keep happening.) The funny part is apparently, someone got sick of Chinese tourists being the bad guys, so they turned the tables.

The People’s Daily published this info graph showing foreign tourists behaving badly in China, and all the uncultured things they have been caught doing. I’ll explain it below.

People's Daily Inforgrapg

I’m the last one to defend the idiot Americans and Europeans that come here, but the examples they picked for the infograph are just so hilariously bad. The first one is about girls in Cambodia who got busted for taking pics of them mooning in Ankor Wat. It’s a temple, and so disrespectful to be naked that the women immediately got deported. But c’mon China, it happened in another country.

The second picture shows tourists camping on the Great Wall (from 2009! Couldn’t they get a newer incidence?). It’s verboten to camp on the Great Wall, but anyone who has been there knows, it is done openly by many people–including Chinese. The locals have a whole market going on for renting sleeping bags and tents to people that want to do it.

The third one is the funniest one to me. It’s a few foreign guys who got off the bus and peed on the street.  That is the kettle calling the pot black. Or more like the color black calling a pot black. You cannot walk the streets of China for more than 5 minutes without seeing someone pee on the street. Actually you can’t even walk the stores of China without seeing someone pee. I’ve seen two, count ‘em, two kids pee on the floor in Walmart. With their parents encouraging them. And if you have ever taken a bus ride and got caught in traffic, you will see the entire male population of the bus pissing on the side of the road, and about half the females. If you’ve been unlucky, and I have, you’ll even see numerous people pissing on the stairwell of a moving bus because they have nowhere else to go and the driver won’t stop.

The next picture shows a foreigner from way back in 2007 swimming where he is not supposed to be swimming. That’s quite common in China. So one tourist who did it? Almost 7 years ago? A stretch.

The last bit is just “gotcha” pictures of tourists doing such atrocities as taking up too much space on a bench, sitting in a tree, doing dangerous things like standing on a railing for a picture and the father and son who dare, dare, to drop a bunch of popcorn on the ground.

I’m the first one to rail against arrogant tourist, and if the Chinese Government actually called some out, I’d be behind them. But these examples? These slightest infraction spanning years? It’s just too hilarious to take serious. I’ve seen foreign tourists do way worse things with my own eyes. (Like being abusive to Chinese people because they don’t speak English, or saying and doing openly racist things, or drunk shenanigans.) Either this newspaper didn’t look very hard to find bad examples or foreigners have been very lucky to not have pics taken of them when they are being dicks.

And really, I’m just disappointing in the government. Then can do propaganda waaay better than this. They must be too busy cracking down on the internet and keeping 50 Shades of Grey off download sites they let this one slip through their fingers.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Nominated! Help a Girl Out!

So I was nominated for the lotus blossom award! It’s for bloggers who write about Chinese love, given by Jeff over at my-new-chinese-love.com.

Please, please, PLEASE vote for me.

It’s super easy, no registration or e-mail required. Just go to this website and click “Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.” and hit submit. It should take you like 1 second. And if you want to use your cell phone, ipad and work computer to vote for me several times I wouldn’t complain. (I’m guessing you could clear your cookies and vote again as well, if you are really dedicated.)

I was nominated last year, but lost to the rock star who also blogs and is married to a Chinese guy. The other nominees include my friends like Jocelyn, Jo and Sara. All awesome people with awesome blogs. But there are no friends in awards and I wanna beat them! Bwahaha.

Thank you for voting and helping me!

IMG_3953

Every time you vote for me, a new Chinglish is born. Do it for the chinglish!

 

 

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Awwww F*&@k It’s Chinese New Years Again

Red is the new black during Spring Festival.

Red is the new black during Spring Festival.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: being in China for Chinese New years (more aptly named Spring Festival) is a nightmare. It’s the largest human migration and more than a billion people travel to see their family. Of course they can’t all travel on one day, so there is actually a two-week migration period in which it sucks to even travel in your own city.

Two days ago I was stuck on a local bus, for TWO AND A HALF HOURS!!!! I live near the airport (and there is a train station there too) and with so many idiots going around that area, there were several accidents that completely blocked traffic. Then, because hundreds of people were trying to squeeze into one lane, MY bus got in an accident. (A small fender bender. We weren’t going at any speed for real trouble.) My friend and I bailed from our bus, which now had to wait for the cops, and we slowly walked through the dead traffic picking a bus at our leisure. The road was filled with them, just sitting there.

And that’s just me, in the normal city I live in. I haven’t even actually been to a train or airport this year, where, I’ve heard, it is a nightmare. They’ve estimated 2.8 billion trips will be made in this period. Imagine the day before Thanksgiving everyday for 2 weeks. Then you’ll begin to understand.

And then there is the preparation. Many westerner think Chinese New Year, like January 1st, is one day. Nooooooooo. It’s a week-long holiday with virtually every person in China not working. Cafe’s, supermarkets, restaurants will all be closed. Spring Festival traditions still trump the all mighty dollar and even places owned by foreigners will close from somewhere between 4-8 days. No Starbucks, no cute cafes. (Though I’ve heard Walmarts will stay open the whole holiday. I guess they are just as big dicks to their Chinese workers as American.) So finding food and supplies will be a little difficult for at least 4 days. In Lin’an it was virtually impossible. I’m hoping in Xiamen it will be a bit easier to buy a bottle of water. In any case I’ve stocked up. I spent over $100 making sure I have enough food, mostly frozen. ($100 worth of groceries is more my monthly budget, not weekly.)

I got some hong bao, or lucky money. It's a tradition to give people money in the red envelopes. I usually never get any, so I was psyched to get one!

Xiao He and I with our hong bao, or lucky money. It’s a tradition to give people money in the red envelopes. I usually never get any, so I was psyched to get one!

In case you haven’t heard, this is the year of the Sheep/Ram/Goat. It’s hard to know actually. For some reason, western media has really picked up on the lack of a clear translation this go around. The problem lies in the language. In Chinese sheep is 绵羊, goat is 山羊 and ram is 公羊. You can see, in all three words, the second character is 羊. And the animal for the new year? It’s just 羊. That’s the reason.

And Chinese people are just finding this confusion hilarious. Being Chinese they intrinsically understand. Or do they? Because the decorations for this holiday are a mix of goats, rams a sheep as well. It seems like when it is something cute, it’s a fuzzy little sheep. When it’s kind of a cool design, it’s a goat. And when it’s a mix of cute and cool, it has extra big horns, I guess indicating a ram?

At a mall in an area for kids. Definitely sheep.

At a mall in an area for kids. Definitely sheep.

These look like mountain goats to me.

These look like goats, of the mountain variety. 

A ram, right? All three of these were right next to each other in the mall. Confusing.

I’m thinking ram here.  All three of these were right next to each other in the mall. Confusing.

As there is no consensus, I’m gonna go with sheep. Why? Because this is actually the lamest sign in the zodiac. Way lamers than the dragon (which is mine) and even way lamer than the lame ones like rabbit or pig. It’s because people born under this sign are seem as a bit weak. To put it nicely, they are known to be considerate and try to make other people happy. To put it mean, they are milksops. In English, when we refer to people as sheep, it’s not complimentary. It’s the same in China. Rams, on the other hand, are bad ass. So that’s why I think the sheep is more of a fit for this zodiac sign as people born under the sheep are known as quiet, sensitive, and eager to please. The years of the sheep are: 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003 and 2015.

The year of the sheep is also not an auspicious one to do something major in, like get married or have a kid. In fact, there is even a saying in Chinese that only one out of 10 people born the year of the sheep, will find happiness. Ouch. I read one article (but I can’t find it again, sorry) that said women were choosing c-section just so they could be sure their babies weren’t going to be born after the New Year. And marriages are expected to be lower than normal this upcoming year.

As for me, I’m just gonna hide in my house for a few days, eating my frozen food and staying away from the madness outside. (The government has announced that Xiamen is the second most popular place in China for tourists this holiday. The big cities, like Beijing, actually clear out during Spring Festival.) Luckily I live far away from the maddening crowd, so I can avoid them.

Happy Spring Festival everyone! And Happy Year of the Sheep (ram, goat). May it be a prosperous one!

It's tradition to hang duilian, or rhyming couplets on your door. It will bring me luck!

It’s tradition to hang duilian, or rhyming couplets on your door. It will bring me luck!

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Bucking the Trend Yet Again

A new report was released regarding expats in China. According to UniGroup Relocation, a moving company, twice as many expats are leaving China as entering. The largest group of expats leaving China? Americans.

This has been starting conversations on all sorts of expat message boards and blogs. (I personally feel the survey is a bit flawed as only the business population was considered and not people, like me, who have come on my own.) But I get the point.

Things have changed in my six years here. Regulations have gotten much stricter. (Not just for foreigners, but Chinese people as well. And when they tighten a regulation for a Chinese person, such as needing your ID to buy a train ticket, it becomes a million times harder for a foreigner.)

And not just regulations but crack downs too. In the big cities police have started raiding foreign-favorite bars. No one can leave until they show their passport and legal visa. And there have even been some stings. (Like the fake “casting call” for models. Anyone without a proper visa was deported.)

Then there is just general government shenanigans which get more and more tiring the longer you live here. The recent campaign against western values is laughably stupid. But things like the recent internet crackdown has made everything more of a hassle. And why oh why did they block instagram right when I started using it again?! *Le sigh*

Legally getting a job here had gotten worse in the past few years too. Besides the health check, you now need a criminal background check from your home country (which can take months if you aren’t actually in your home country), and some friends of mine had to submit their marriage license as well. And everything needs to be translated, and stamped by your embassy or consul.

And no article about China’s problem would be complete without talking about the pollution. I live in Xiamen, one of the cleanest major cities in China and the PMI in winter is between “unhealthy for sensitive people” and just “unhealthy” levels almost every day. I don’t even think of the health ramifications, I’m just tired of looking out into the haze all the time.

The actual PMI rating the minute I wrote that sentence above. Wintertime is always worse than summer, and the days are hazy and smoggy,

The actual PMI rating the minute I wrote that sentence above. Wintertime is always worse than summer, and the days are hazy and smoggy,

So I get why people are leaving. I can’t blame them. But I’m gonna buck the trend and stay here. Why?

The truth is, I like it here. A lot. Sure, things have changed over the years, sure there are more and more hassles than before. (I wait with baited breath everyday as I log into my VPN wondering if today is the day it will fail.) But who’s life isn’t filled with hassles and annoyances? America might have cleaner air and open internet, but then you’ve got GMO’s in everything and the nightmare that is election season. So if we have to pick our poison, I’ll take China.

And anyway, if the majority of Americans are doing something, I think it’s best to go the other way.

 

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A Fun Game for a Staycation

Archery in China

A little break from my writing found me at an archery place with my friends. Turns out I suck at archery.

So I’ve been KILLING it on my staycation writers retreat, (I’m averaging 6,000 written words a day!) but I wanted to talk about something else I’ve been doing that you can try in your own city.

See, I figured out that actually a big Starbucks is the best place for me to do my writing. It’s noisy, loud and I can focus like craaazy. (Quiet cafes on the other hand are terrible. If there is a couple talking, or a waiter watching a video on his phone it drives me CRAZY. I can’t block out just one noise, but I can block out a caucophany of noises. I think this is a trick I learned living in China.)

So just like any American City, there is a Starbucks on every corner. So, to make a game out of my writing I decided to get on a bus and just go. Since the weather isn’t horrifically hot, I want to go to parts of the city I have never explored before.

So, I get on the bus headed in some direction and get off when I want. Either because I’ve seen something interesting out the window, or because an unusual amount of people get off at a certain stop. (So there must be something good there, right?!)

In my wanderings I came across "cat street" a place totally kitted out with kitty cats. They have some cute cafes and shops too, but even just the key maker and the noodle shop are painted festively with cats.

In my wanderings I came across “cat street” a place totally kitted out with kitty cats. They have some cute cafes and shops too, but even just the key maker and the noodle shop are painted festively with cats.

On one walk I found my favorite snack food of Taiwan! (Two scoops or ice cream, crushed peanuts wrapped in a thin burrito). Sooooo goooood!

On one walk I found my favorite snack food of Taiwan! (Two scoops or ice cream, crushed peanuts wrapped in a thin burrito). Sooooo goooood!

It’s a crazy fun game. Once I decided to go all the way to the end of a bus line, over an hour away, and I ended up at the ocean! Another time I wandered around a park before sitting down to write. Once I found a weird side street with golden cows at the entrance.

Cow street

I’ve even found a 6kuai (about $1) for 2 pieces of sushi place. I’ve been back there several times (an no I haven’t gotten sick!)

My friends are on high alert that I won't see or hang out with them during the week. But once I went to a cafe and ran into one of my closest friends who was also there! We sat across from each other and didn't talk, haha.

My friends are on high alert that I won’t see or hang out with them during the week. But once I went to a cafe and ran into one of my closest friends. We sat across from each other and didn’t talk. She took this picture to prove to our other friends that I was still alive.

 

No matter where I end up I can find a Starbucks, or Pacific Coffee (or a small cafe) within 20 minutes of wanderings. And of course since I took the bus there, I can take the bus back. (I am now a bus master. Buses are kinda scary. Even in English the names of the stops are kinda incomprehensible, much less in Chinese. But now I’ve figured out a few hub stations that will always get me a bus back home.)

All Work and No Play

And of course I haven’t squirreled myself away totally. While I am avoiding friends (and missing out on a lot of dinners and activities) I decided that on weekends I can take a break from writing. I’ve done archery, eaten some new food and even got to hang out with an old friend!

Look at these girls, don't they look sweet and cute? Don't be fooled. They are stone cold killers and could shoot any of you with their lethal archery skills.

Look at these girls, don’t they look sweet and cute? Don’t be fooled. They are stone cold killers and could shoot any of you with their lethal archery skills.

Xiamen Seaside

I met Nick almost 3 years ago in Kunming. We haven’t seen each other in years, but you can see we had a good time.

We explored the Xiamen seaside and beaches.

We explored the Xiamen seaside and beaches.

I used his visit as an excuse to go to places I had never been before.

I used his visit as an excuse to go to places I had never been before.

So while you know I LOVE to travel, I’m having a good time exploring the new city I call home. Even if you’ve lived in your own city for years, there must be places you’ve never explored. So get on a bus and just ride until you see something that catches your eye. It’s a unique way to find some fun places in the place you call home!

Since I've been spending so much time on buses, I have a whole strategy for getting a seat. One way is to start your trip at the terminal station. Your choice of seats!

Since I’ve been spending so much time on buses, I have a whole strategy for getting a seat. One way is to start your trip at the terminal station. Your choice of seats!

Buses in Xiamen are rarely emoty though. This is the same bus, the same day, only 2 stops later...

Buses in Xiamen are rarely empty though. This is the same bus, the same day, only 2 stops later…

Categories: China, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chinglish Time

Long time, no chinglish. But I’ve still been documenting some of the funnier chinglish signs I’ve come across. Now that I can understand the chinese I find them even more funny at the way they mistranslate things.

Chinglish

The Chinese says: Friendly reminder. It’s gentle, be careful. Don’t put pressure or heavy things on it.” Clearly this was just run through a translation program and it kinda came up with the right idea, though wrong usage.

 

Chinglish

I only eat the highest-ranking raisins.

Chinglish

Besides the funny storage method, I particularly like: Production type: Refreshing. And Classification: Supreme.

Chinglish

Chinglish

This one is interesting from a linguistic point-of-view because if you translate each character separately, it is “caution, slippery floor.” (Which is the meaning in Chinese of course.) But, if you read the last 2 characters as one word, it is the Chinese for ‘landslide.’ So obviously again a translation program error. And another reason why you need to learn a language for yourself and not rely on translation apps on your phone to help you understand things.  

 

 

 

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The Most Epic Chinese Selfie Takers

This is not gonna be an “old lady Becky rants about technology,” because I’m sure you can tell I’m pretty down with things. I can out-text any young punk, and if there is a good selfie opportunity, I am one of the first to pull out my phone.

But I feel like I know when enough is enough, which “kids these days” don’t know.

Case in point? I was sitting at a cafe writing. It was a beautiful rooftop cafe with an amazing view of the ocean. Everyone was up there taking pics and selfies. No biggee. I had taken a few when I arrived then got to work writing.

I can block people out pretty easily when I’m writing, but my brain is still processing what is going on around me. At one point my brain woke me up to notice the people next to me. They were taking selfies and had been at it awhile. No biggee, back to work.

But as I kept writing I couldn’t help but keep an eye on these two. 5 minutes went by…..then 10. And they were still at it. I gave up any pretense of writing and just stared at them dumfounded. 15 minutes passed….

Finally I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of them taking pictures of themselves. A little meta? Perhaps. These are the pics I took:

Selfies

Every hair had to be just right.

Every hair had to be just right.

Then they had to review the 5-6 selfies that had just taken, commented on them ("This is a good one of you," I heard the boyfriend say again and again.)

Then they had to review the 5-6 selfies that had just taken, commented on them (“This is a good one of you,” I heard the boyfriend say again and again. He knew the right way to get into her pants.)

The girl then realized that the lighting was better if she moved the phone to the other direction.

The girl then realized that the lighting was better if she moved the phone to the other direction.

But then she realized the background wasn't as good. She wanted to ocean in the background, not the building, so she flipped to the other side again.

But then she realized the background wasn’t as good. She wanted to ocean in the background, not the building, so she flipped to the other side again.

Back to more hair tossing.

Back to more hair tossing.

Then they sat in silence as they played with their phones. (I could see she was putting different filters and affects on the pics on her phone. I don't know what he was doing, but they didn't talk for a good 4-5 minutes. Just sat absorbed in their phones.)

Then they sat in silence as they played with their phones. (I could see she was putting different filters and affects on the selfies they had just taken. I don’t know what he was doing, but they didn’t talk for a good 4-5 minutes. Just sat absorbed in their phones.)

It went on for almost 25 minutes before they finally stopped taking selfies and sat and drank their coffee. (They never really put down their phones though.) I’ve seen a lot of stupid and silly selfies in my life, but this takes the cake as the most epic selfie session I have ever witness. I hope to god I never see another.

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Drool Time: Local Foods of Xiamen

It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Xiamen food. The specialty here is seafood, which is my least favorite kind of food in general. And the other food here, the common dishes like Japanese tofu, sweet and sour pork and others, just aren’t as good here as in Hangzhou. Truth is Hangzhou food is amazing. It’s not too spicy, not to sweet and just every dish packs a flavor that the dishes in Xiamen just don’t come close.

But there are some special foods here in Xiamen that have really grown on me, and they are not easy to find on other parts of China so I thought I’d show you them.

Fujian Rou Pian (Meat pieces) 福建肉片

Now it’s best to eat this dish the first time before you see it made because frankly, it looks kinda gross. You know the “pink slime” made fampus by McDonalds chicken nuggets? Well, it looks a lot like that. Each stall that sells these has a big tupperware of…well, meat paste. Honestly, I have no idea what it is, nor do I want to know. I’m going to assume that it is just finely ground pork with no bones or other nasty bits to make me feel better.

Fujian meat pieces paste

The cooker scoops a bunch of the paste onto a flat spatula type thing, and with a spoon, sweeps off little pieces of the meat paste into the awaiting boiling pot. I’m not gonna lie, it looks a lot like caulk or cement at this point.

Fujian special food

Meanwhile they have little to go boxes waiting with a plastic bag on the inside to contain the soup. They add a bunch of flavors such as dried seaweed, chopped onions, ginger, MSG and vinegar. (You can get some spicy peppers too if you want.)

Fujian rou pian

Then they add some of the boiling water to your awaiting bowl and scoop out the boiled meat pieces. Since they are quite small they take just a minute to boil and you never wait more than five minutes from start to finish. They then wrap the whole thing in another plastic bag, give you a little spoon and you’re on your way. The meat pieces are chewy but yummy and the flavor of the veggies and soup is thin, but warming. The best part is? The price! This is a street food and the biggest bowl of it, which is plenty for dinner, will set you back $1.20. A small bowl is less that .50 cents.

Fujian rou pian

Sha Cha Mian 沙茶面

Sha cha mian is a kind of peanut satay soup with noodles and other things in it. This is a very DIY kinda dish and you can choose whatever small foods you want to eat in it. Meatballs, or stuff like shrimp are a popular choice as well as different vegetables, tofu, eggs or thinly sliced meat pieces. If you get it from the street they will boil it all together for you, cooking whatever you’ve added in the soup. But if you order it at a restaurant they’ll serve it to you with a flame underneath to keep it boiling and you can add the food you want when you want it, almost like hot pot.

As a satay soup, it is peanutty flavor, but not thick like a peanut sauce and it’s not overwhelmingly sweet. It’s more like a peanut flavored broth and is delicious.

Sha cha mian

While I’ll never like Xiamen food as much as Hangzhou food, these dishes are growing on me.

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Change in Plans

Reading my book, sipping on a tea and looking out to the ocean. Not bad for a staycation.

Reading a book I wrote, sipping on a tea and looking out to the ocean. Not bad for a staycation.

So remember waaay back (10 days ago) when I announced my winter travel plans? Well, at the time I was in Shanghai and Hangzhou visiting my friends and having a lot of fun. Maybe a little too much fun.

Shanghai had always been a bit of a splurge destination for me. I usually went for 3-4 days at a time and blowing a wad of cash wasn’t a problem. Couldn’t do much damage in a few days. But for 2 weeks? Turns out you can. ( I regret nothing!!)

Which isn’t to say I’m a pauper. I managed to save a bunch of my salary this semester, but there was a reason and I need to save it.

So put those two things together and what have you got? A conflicted Becky. Technically I have enough money to travel, but I won’t have enough to travel and save. So I’m trying to be responsible here and do the right thing.

And I live in Xiamen, right? This is where people go for their holidays. Hell, even I came here 3 years ago during my winter holiday. The weather is 60’s and 70’s everyday and with the students gone the campus is nice and peaceful and the shops surrounding the school are actually usable now without the mobs.

But I don’t just want to waste my time. I have 9-weeks holiday this year (paid-yes, feel free to hate me) but I don’t want to waste it doing the same-old same-old. If I’m not traveling it needs to be for a purpose.

So, I decided I would go on a 4-week writers retreat. Everyday I will go out (home is too distracting) edit one book, and write a new one I have been thinking about. At night I will work on my freelance writing business, something I have been wanting to do for awhile.

No friends, no parties, everyday writing, writing, writing and solitude.

Actually I started this on Monday and I have to say it is going better than expected. Since writing at coffee shops is much easier for me (the slight buzz of noise and activity actually stimulates me and makes me feel more focused) I decided to go to new parts of town to work. After all, Starbucks is a perfect working environment for me and they are on every street corner even here in China. So while I prefer the cute little indie cafes I figured I could always find somewhere, no matter where I go.

So far, in two days I’ve written over 8,000 words (52 pages!), read the first draft of my book for the first time (I wrote it continuously without stopping an going back to read it, so it was the first time I read it actually), took notes so I’m ready to begin revising it, finished up 2 blogs posts and drafted out a third.

I’ve also explored some parts of Xiamen I haven’t been to yet (It was just too hot in the summer, and I was too busy in the fall) and managed to take long rambling walks around the city. (I need the walks to clear my head after writing for a few hours.) In fact, the biggest loser in all of this is my leg as it STILL hurts more than 2 months after I tore it. But that I can deal with. And saying no to friends has been hard too, but I’ve been strict (aka bitchy) about it and they support me, so it’s okay.)

So, I’m sorry for Singapore and Malaysia. I’m sorry that I’m not traveling, but I feel like this is really worthwhile and something I gotta do. Time to focus on my writing for a bit. The amazing people and places (and food) will still be there for me when I finally get there. But now it’s time for me to meet all the characters running around my head.

 

This is my "Shit, it's January and I'm sitting outside with no jacket looking at this beautiful view," face.

This is my “Shit, it’s January and I’m sitting outside with no jacket looking at this beautiful view,” face.

 

Categories: China, Traveling, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment