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.

Categories: China, Chinese Food | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

My First “Kid” Got Married!

Chinese weddingOn the last class with my darling graduated students we played a game. “Who’s gonna be the first…?” Things like, get married, have a baby, become a millionaire, live abroad, etc.

Well, one of those questions have been answered because at the end of December, about 6-months after graduation, my first baby got married.

Judy had a wedding in Ningbo that I was unfortunately unable to attend. But thanks to modern technology I was still able to “attend” via phone. One of my students, Silmon, called me on his phone and was a dutiful guardian carrying me around everywhere so I could see everything.

In China the wedding is more of a symbol then a legal thing. Legally, they have to go to the government office to get their marriage certificate (which they can do weeks and even years before a party), but symbolically a wedding party is the real declaration of their relationship. They don’t have legal vows or an officiant leading things, but they often give their own speeches and have a DJ or host leading the entire wedding party the whole night.

The wedding was a swanky affair.

The wedding was a swanky affair.

Thanks to Silmon I got an upfront and personal view of the speeches. I couldn’t really hear clearly, but thanks to him standing next to the stage I could see Judy crying when her husband was speaking to her, and I saw them kiss. I also saw her throw her bouquet and one of my other darling students, May, caught it! (In class many people guessed that May was going to get married first since she and her boyfriend have been together a long time. Now everyone thinks she’ll be next as it was foretold by the flowers.)

The vows.

The vows.

Then Silmon ran around the room so I could see everyone who had attended. There was more than a dozen of my babies there and I got to wave to all of them (It was too loud to talk.) One of the funniest bits was May had video called another student who is in England studying so they held up the two phones to face each other and me and the girl in England got to wave at each other. (Afterwards we texted to each other about how funny it was.)

Chinese Wedding

On another students phone was Sophia who is in England right now!

On another students phone was Sophia who is in England right now!

Chinese Wedding

It was thanks to Silmon I got to participate.

It was thanks to Silmon I got to watch it.

You might think that a mere 6-months after graduation college is a bit too early to get married. I do. But apparently I am the only one. “It’s normal in China,” I was told by several students when I expressed my hesitation. In China you generally date to get married and they were together for years, so why wait? (I have a few reasons, but that’s why I’m not a traditional Chinese girl.)

So I was glad that while I wasn’t physically able to be there, technology enabled me to at least see it happening in real time and at least feel like a little part of it. Although I have to admit, watching your babies get married sure makes you feel old.

Chinese Wedding

Happy wedding to my dear Judy!

 

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Guest Post; Asian Man Speaks Out (Part 2)

Tatum plays American football in Hangzhou.

Tatum playing American football in Hangzhou.

This is part two of a guest post written by my Thai friend Tatum. Yesterday he told the story of how he met his western girlfriend but I wanted to know how he felt about the Asian male stereotypes and any obstacles he’s had dating western women in China.  And yes, I did ask him to talk about the most pervasive stereotype of them all. The, errm, “small stature” stereotype. Cause, hey, I know you want to know.

Chapter 3 : Stereotypes questions

To be honest, I have never really encountered those kind of obstacles because if I was ever shot or made fun of with those stereotypical questions I would just roll over them like a Boss casually. You cannot just be shot down by those stereotypes, pondering these questions as a practical joke please. I don’t take them seriously ever anyways. Plus, those things will not keep you in the cage always, you got to break free out of those chains, getting out of your comfort zone is one of the crucial points also. You will gain much much more confident when you have actually experienced all those failures and mistakes you have made, executing all your moves out in the field practicing maneuvers smoothly. The things that people say about you is not true, well maybe some of them are, people judge all the time, everyone does, a common instinct of human nature. What makes you… YOU is just what kind of person you are and how you response to certain stressing situations.

Preconceived notions are quite significant factors as well, but you can always, however, change those who are willing to change. If they still hate you before they even know you tell them ‘go screw themselves.’ There’s literally no point in convincing them to accept what’s actually existing anyway, narrow minded people are just going to be that way because they are stubborn. The point is trust me “you don’t care” what other people think. What matters the most if what you truly think of yourself, considering all of your beliefs perspectives and all that makes you YOU, a very cool person. I don’t even flinch now when someone insults or jokes as me, just simple mock that individual back with a more hurtful way hahaha. They don’t even know you, you are wayyy more awesome than that, not knowing what you have been through is just immature. In fact, these people would say only if they were jealous. Jealousy is a curse, which means only jelly people would talk trash, making them haters.

If you have ever encountered with western or any kind of woman who is stuck with stereotypes, well, you can of course change their minds if that means she’s pretty cool. If not you just gotta move on, there’s nothing you can do much about it. There are so many fish in the sea, but it will be so empty without me. She’s not worth the effort anyways, unless you are super rich then you won’t have problems in the first place. If they think that you penis is too small, tell her that you have no idea until you actually see or feel it #winkwink. Meanwhile reaching into your wallet would help a whole lot. I, quite frankly, get these jokes from my male good buddies instead. I would just either play along or retaliate with “Is that what your mom told you?” or “That’s not what she said” on the other hand, they don’t joke me, as in insulting me to hurt my unflinching feelings. They have seen my junk and what I can do with my bad boy, the incredible hulk. Yes, that’s absolutely true lol. What has 148 teeth and it holds back the incredible Hulk…….. My Zipperrrrr #winkwink. My homies would just gotta step aside, but that’s also a whole lot of another yet to come captivating stories.

Dressed as a gladiator for halloween.

Dressed as a gladiator for Halloween.

Tatum is actually super happy to answer anyone’s questions so please feel free to ask him in the comments below. Actually he wrote a chapter 4 all about his likes and dislikes (fav movie: Shawshank Redemption. Fav holiday: Halloween. Sports fanatic) but it wasn’t quite relevant to the topic at hand so I didn’t add it here. So he’s happy to answer any questions you might have. (And when I say happy, I mean “chomping at the bit.” As you can tell from his writing, Tatum is an enthusiastic guy.) So please make his day and ask inthe comments below or e-mail me. 

Categories: China, Dating | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post:Asian Man Speaks Out!

Tatum and I at my going away party last June.

Tatum and I at my going away party last June.

I hardly ever have guest posts but I’ve been wanting to change that. This blog features a lot of articles about asian men and western women from a western woman’s point of view (me), but what about from the guys point-of-view?

Enter Tatum, my Thai friend that lives in China. Before meeting his current girlfriend he dated several foreign women so he’s a good authority on the subject. Although you should know something about Tatum; the guy has more confidence then anyone I know. Although he doesn’t smack you in the face about it, he operates from a place of pure confidence which helps explain some of dating techniques and how he doesn’t think being asian is any sort of a boundary. 

Section 1 : Pilot, Becky and Tatum

Well, how do I start? First of all let me tell you something interesting about myself, getting to know what kind of person I am by this introduction. My name is Thanapon Tatum Napawan, aka “Boss of Bangkok”, this name has just become official a couple years back, I will feel like I should tell y’all this now, which it also involves our superstar Becky, of course.  She was just backpacking all over my home country Thailand during Chinese New Year which is right around February every year, trust me its cold. Hence she escaped the cold weather to Thailand, an absolute best choice, one of the best decisions she has ever made. Simply put, I was with Becky at legendary Khaosan road Bangkok, I call it Columbian street, but that’s another story. Anyways I feel like I’m drifting away from the main topic here. So, while we were just strolling around the street eating delicious thai noodle ‘Pad thai ’with shrimps, we happened to come across this t-shirts selling store, selling a summer tank top for guys about 150 baht. I was like “Becky, I can totally get 2 t-shirts for 200 baht, cuz I’m the boss here, I was born here, and I’m going to show you how it’s done right around here” In the end, I could not get the price I first told her I would get, but, still, I was bargaining my ass off, discounting some amount of money. Becky, despite my effort of being the boss, admits it yes ‘Ok, whatever you are not really Boss of Bangkok, I’ll never call you that because you could not pull the deal off.’

However, when I first met Becky, it was in Ellen’s bar Hangzhou, China though the year was 2013, just chilling chatting about the concert of “Wang Li Hom singer” she was there, I believe if I’m not mistaken.

Wang leehom concert

Tatum’s right. I met him the night of Wang Leehom’s concert. I have this picture to prove it.

 

Let’s get back to me, as you should know by now I’m from Bangkok, Thailand, the land of smiles. Luckily I’m from the Capital, which I can boast about, and that’s my trademark also whenever somebody asks me where I’m from. At the moment I’m about 21 years old, living life in China having a blast, but I will turn 22 next year February, feel free to congratulate me with presents. Although everyone seems to be celebrating their birthdays crazily, I’d rather be spending time with my mom the most because on the day I was born she was there with me, before me, giving birth to me, and having to go through excruciating pain on that day, so I would like to show my love to her always on my birthday. I got an older brother also, he’s my nemesis my bro, my cool brah, my mentor, he’s about a year or 2 older than me. Don’t get me wrong, I still would like to party on my birthday J.

I’m a currently 5th year medical student at Zhejiang University Hangzhou, China, which is ranked one of the most classic and famous universities among the Great China.

Section : 2 My Romance Anna and Tatum

Becky has implored me to do this, so okay I’m going to do this for charity and the sake of god. Just kidding, I’m willing to do this not even against my will. Frankly, Becky probably thinks I’m arrogant prick, with unshakable, unflinching, awesome mad confidence.  She asks me to write something about my romance, and yes of course I’m absolutely romantic and I got stories so why not?

I’ve been legitimately dating together together with this a…..mazing girl from Ukraine, modeling in Hangzhou, China where we met. She is about 26 now, we have just celebrated it quite recently with our friends at Amigo’s restaurant & bar as a starter then we move on to a club name G plus. What would you like to know; the usual questions I get would definitely be how long have you been together? Where did you first 2 met? How was she/he at first sight? Whoa what did you like about this individual?

Tatum and Anna at the top of Yellow Mountain.

Tatum and Anna at the top of Yellow Mountain.

We have officially been together for almost 7 months now. I first time met her was in a club name G plus, she was totally having a good time. How did I figure this out? Didn’t matter whether I was drunk or she or tipsy or not. It was her smile and dancing move that caught my attention, where I was just like “wow, I would really really like to get to know this girl.” She‘s got the best curve ever on her face. It clicked I’m attracted to her, I was completely drawn into her. Perhaps she did not realize it just yet because she doesn’t take a club seriously, which is a place where you just go have fun and that’s pretty much it with loud music, you can barely communicate. Beauty is a very common thing, you can find it anywhere, but you know what’s rare? …. 3 things  1. A good energy 2. Great outlook and 3. Beautiful personality and character making a beauty an actual unique beauty. She’s got more than just these 3 basic things that I’m attracted to, hence there’s much more quality in her that I don’t even know yet from gazing at her creepily. I would always tell her you are beautiful yet the most from the inside out.

Her name was ‘Anna’ I finally got to introduce myself because I was wearing this ‘Hello I’m awesome’, which the WWE superstar ‘the Miz’ wears on Monday night RAW. She was really friendly, but I knew to had to express myself that this is more than that I had to create a tension in that situation. It was pretty loud and noisy as I have mentioned earlier, so I grabbed her hand walking her into the quieter area around a huge lounge of restroom. We talked, understanding each other more vividly now, and exchanged our WeChat, an application like what’s app, tango, LINE, or skype in the end. We didn’t really start talking through text messages just yet. Because to me, personally, I would rather be communicate face to face in person, that way I really excel, expressing my emotions and my random hand gestures.

Tatum and Anna at a pool party. Feel free to hate them and their beautiful bodies. lol.

Tatum and Anna at a pool party. Feel free to hate them and their beautiful bodies. lol.

By the first time we kissed, I pulled out this move “If you remember my name you gotta kiss me” and she did. “Tatum” was my name, so we kissed, I could really feel the adrenaline rushing through my body, tingling sensation all over my torso. It was just “WOW” this is like Christmas. We also connected through a French friend “Correntin” he was being such a supportive and good friend. Anna had her guardian protecting her looking out for her is this gay dude name “German” from Argentina; his name is pronounced Herman in Spanish. In the meantime we were hanging out with lots of friends Joonas and Louise.

Our first date date was the time we went to fake Paris in Hangzhou with the replica of Eiffel tower around Wenze station of subway station. Even though we were pretty tired already, but this is something else; it’s not just a thing you do normally. My feelings started developing towards her, spending a lot of time together; we got to know each other more and more empirically. She could be such a fragile and sensitive girl, yet she has proved that she’s one tough girl also since I’ve known her. I didn’t feel a sassy vibe from her at all, she was utterly different from any other individual I have ever encountered I’m glad, whenever she smiles, it would just simply brighten my day always. That’s the story of how we met.

There are much much more stories but I’m saving the best for last. I’m not even sure I can say that because we are just gonna create more  memorable stories every day. There’ll be some trips we go together and what we do what ‘s it like being with her? Any Questions would be appreciated, and I would love to answer them with proper answers.

I asked Tatum to write a little something and within 2 hours he ended up writing 18 pages which is obviously too long for one post. Tomorrow I’ll publish the part on his thoughts about dating western women in general and dealing with stereotypes. 

Categories: China, Dating | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Travel Destinations

The winter holidays have begun and my itchy feet need to move. In fact, as you read this I’ve already started my winter travels (I’m in Shanghai and Hangzhou for a few weeks to see all my friends.)

But my main travel destination is what is probably the most dangerous place to fly to in the world right now: Singapore and Malaysia.

My destination this winter holiday. While Malyasia covers to different islands I'll stick to the main one (the one with Singapore).

My destination this winter holiday. While Malyasia covers to different islands I’ll stick to the main one (the one with Singapore).

No they aren’t the hot bed of political unrest or terrorist activity and the countries themselves are quite safe. It’s just getting there that seems the dangerous part. The 3 most publicized and talked about plane crashes the past year have all revolved around both Singapore and Malaysia. (First the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, the the shooting down of Malaysian airlines over the Ukraine and finally the most recent crash of AirAsia’s flight to Singapore.)

But bad things happen in three’s right?! So I should be safe? And anyway, 3 plane crashes in thethousands that have flown this month alone isn’t enough to deter me. (I’m thinking I won’t take Malaysian Airlines though.)

Singapore has long been on my list of places to see, but besides Kuala Lampur I don’t know much about Malaysia. Turns out it has crystal white beaches, blue clear water and world class diving and snorkeling. But as I discovered in Thailand I’m not the biggest beach person. But that’s okay because Malaysia is covered with a thick, dense jungle. Like, poisonous snakes, tropical heat, copious amounts of wildlife jungle. I’ve never really hiked in a real jungle so I’m looking forward to it.

And the food, oh the food! Singapore is famous for delicious and cheap street food (as it is a blend of all cultures the cuisine is equally mixed from all parts of asia.) But apparently malaysia has some tasty food too. In addition to some asian specialties like rice and noodle dishes they have a combo of Indian flavors as well. I’m looking forward to trying some pan meen, a thick wheat noodle with pork and soy. Or some kerabu beehoon, a vermicelli type noodle mixed with some meats and fresh herbs.

Whatever I eat and whatever creepy crawlies I encounter on my way I’ll be sure to document it so I can report back to you, dear reader!

 

 

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In Which I Get a Little Deep

I started 2014 in Thailand. At this temple I had a unexpected experience that connected my past and futures self in a profound way.

I started 2014 in Thailand. At this temple I had a unexpected experience that connected my past and futures self in a profound way.

What a fucking year. More than any other I have felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows these past 12 months. I knew leaving Hangzhou and moving to Xiamen would be difficult, and I accepted that. I accepted the lonely days and night in the beginning before I met anyone. I accepted the new routines and way of doing things in a new city. Big changes? I LOVE big changes! (It’s stagnancy I am afraid of, not changes) Six-months in I can say that this move was one of the best decisions I could have made. But despite the strides I’ve made and accomplishments I’ve achieved, something has been tugging at me ever since I’ve arrived.

These past few years I have been on an elevator ride to the stars. Anything I have set out to accomplish, I’ve accomplished. I’ve met amazing people and done amazing things. I’ve learned not to judge so harshly and how to love people and let them in. I’ve learned to let things go, see the joy in all things, and how to ride through life like I’m surfing the big wave—a bit dangerous, a bit exhilarating and totally worth it. I don’t just want to live life, I want to roll around in it and absorb it for everything that there is.

Much of these past changes are a result of my divorce. I was finally free to become who I always wanted to be, and as cliche as it sounds, I really did find myself. And I had so much success. As egotistical as this may sound I really love the person I became. (Although I wish we could all say that and feel that and it wouldn’t be egotistical at all.)

I only met these girls a few months ago, but now I can't imagine my life without them.

I only met these girls a few months ago, but now I can’t imagine my life without them.

But now I feel like change is in the air again.

I’m a firm believer in fate. That some people are put in your path to teach you lessons, make you think about things you haven’t thought of before and help make you think of new things in a new way. I can tell when these people arrive in my life because I start questioning myself, my assumptions and beliefs. And that has been happening more often to me these days…

I feel like I was so successful at “climbing the mountain of happiness and satisfaction” that now I’m at the summit. There is nowhere left to go but down. But if I squint my eyes and look into the distance I can see another mountain, which is even higher. But how do I get there? I need others to show me and guide me and the people that have come into my life recently have been doing just that. (Though they don’t know it. Lesson? You never know how you affect others.)

From 'my boys' who I have known for years....

From ‘my boys’ who I have known for years….

...to this big group of people who have entered my life recently, I feel so grateful for all of them for accompanying me on my journey,

…to this big group of people who have entered my life recently, I feel so grateful for all of them for accompanying me and helping me on my journey.

Five years ago I wrote reflections about the ‘00’s. How unhappy I was before and how coming to China really freed me and changed me for the better. When I wrote it I remember being so happy, but when I read it now I see how unhappy I was back then. It was only five years ago, but I want to tell that girl to not worry, and things are going to get better. Or to continue my metaphor, I want to tell that girl she is only at the top of a tiny hill, and to start climbing that mountain in front of her, even if it looks too scary. (I’m not worried though, I know she’ll climb it.)

New Year’s is a good time for reflection, but for most of us I don’t think it’s enough. I think we have to keep these thoughts and ideas in our head longer than a week. We don’t change quickly and immediately, but slowly over time. We need to deliberately face our mountains and start climbing them before an avalanche comes down and buries us. We need to step with purpose into each and every day.

And on that slightly somber note I wish you a very good 2015, and I hope to see you on the mountainside fellow hikers!

 

Categories: China, Writing | 2 Comments

Book Review — Secret of a Thousand Beauties

SecretofRecently Mingmei Yip contacted me and asked if i was willing to do a book review for her most recent novel Secret of a Thousand Beauties. I can never refuse a book, especially one about China, so I was happy to review it.

This is the plot is a bit complex so I’m just gonna steal the publishers description which is more concise then I could write it:

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip’s enthralling novel explores one woman’s defiant pursuit of independence.

Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother’s belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws’ protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a “bad-luck woman,” Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.

In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor’s love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting–a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete–betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman’s story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.

I’m all for reading books about China, and I like that the fictional story is set in the historical context. I found all the stuff about embroidery and the historical time period fascinating. Also, women were really forced to “marry” dead husbands and they virtually became slaves to his family and I enjoyed reading about that.

What didn’t impress me was the dialogue or the plot. The dialogue seemed overly simplified and reminded me of my students writing; direct with no subtly and too formal for speech. The plot also moved along at a break-neck speed and was a bit too contrived to be believable. For instance on the night of her wedding she runs away to Suzhou (called soochow in the book based on the former english spelling of the name) and the first person she sees and talks to is nice and has a place for her to live. And in some of the “high stakes” part of the book I didn’t feel very much tension.

But the worst of it is in the beginning and the more you read it, the more you get into it. I almost put it down after the first bit, but I’m glad I didn’t. The book gets better and either the dialogue improves or you stop noticing it, because in the second half I didn’t think about it much and plowed right through eager to see what would happen next.

Also, I liked how the book portrays the struggles of women living at that time. From her infancy of being promised to a dead guy, through her marriage with a revolutionary, her bosses son and finally an ex-priest her struggle is representative of women in the past. That a woman couldn’t really live and take care of herself back then without a husband to protect her. (The publishers description says its about a woman’s “defiant pursuit of independence” but I think that’s a bit inaccurate. Her pursuit is to find a decent man to marry which isn’t my definition of freedom, but perhaps was for women in the 30’s.)

So this isn’t the best book about China I could recommend but it is a good one. If you are interested in ancient china, especially from a woman’s point-of-view I definitely recommend this book. (And I could see it as a great movie too.) So check it out! 

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First Christmas in Xiamen

In a class Christmas party a student caught me looking particularly grinchy.

In a class Christmas party a student caught me looking particularly grinchy.

Last year I had a great Christmas with my friends. We made cookies, lit candles, watched Christmas specials and just had a really awesome day. (You can read about it here.)

This year though, I’m just not feeling it. First off, it’s because of the weather. Sunny, clear, and a temperature hovering in the 60’s. I wear a light jacket to class and I take it off because it’s too warm. So, for a New England girl, this Florida-style weather isn’t putting me in the mood.

Second, my mind is already onto New Years. Most of my classes are already finished, but I have one class the day after Christmas. So as soon as it’s over I’m taking off and heading to Shanghai and Hangzhou to see my friends. I’m so excited. I miss them a lot more than I expected and bonus! My best friend Color will be in Hangzhou too, so we will spend New Years Eve together.

I mean, I’m not totally grinching out. My co-workers and I went out for a roasted lamb leg dinner. (It’s the closest thing we could think of to a Christmas style dinner.) And on Christmas eve I have a fancy potluck party to go to as well. But one of the things I like about China is that I can skip Christmas if I want to. I was so tired of it back in America, the pressures, the stress, even the eating. I love Christmas snacks and food, but the year before I came to China I spent the month of December feeling full and sick everyday with the overloads of treats.

Our BBQ lamb leg.

Our BBQ lamb leg.

The lam leg was served on a spit on a BBQ grill so it continued to cook as we cut it. It felt very primal and I acted the part of carnivore.

The lamb leg was served on a spit on a BBQ grill so it continued to cook as we cut it. It felt very primal and I acted the part of carnivore.

While I’m not sure Christmas will ever be an official holiday here, it is getting bigger and bigger. When I first arrived in China holiday decorations were tacky and left up all year long. But the times they are a’changin and now every mall, shop and public area has some sort of Christmas decorations. Also, I was hearing Christmas music pump from Starbucks and malls beginning in late November, and not creepy weird Christmas music but the legit Dean Martin and John Lennon stuff.

Some mall decorations.

Some mall decorations.

A french bakery set up a Christmas Eiffel Tower.

A french bakery set up a Christmas Eiffel Tower.

And Xiamen is a much more interesting place than Hangzhou for the holiday. Besides the fancy mall decorations, the Christmas spirit is slowly blending into daily life. There was a small craft fair here, with some homemade crochet ornaments, sea salts made by a foreign entrepreneur, homemade cookies and all sorts of snack and even mulled wine!

Homemade cookies!

Homemade cookies!

Homemade preserves are hard to find here in China, but the cute little craft fair sold them.

Homemade preserves are hard to find here in China, but the cute little craft fair sold them.

I even ran into some friends who were selling some items at the craft fair. Even though I'm new here, and I don't know a lot of people, the people I do know are really interesting and active so I run into them in the craziest places.

I ran into some friends who were selling some items at the craft fair. Even though I’m new here, and I don’t know a lot of people, the people I do know are really interesting and active so I run into them in the craziest places.

But it hasn’t taken over every aspect of life, like it does in America, and if I wanna check out for a year and just let it pass, so be it. It’s been a big year for me, and I’m sure bigger things are in my future, so I don’t care if I’m being a bad American, I’m done with Christmas this year. Bah humbug.

With blue skies and flowers blooming in the trees how am I expected to get into the Christmas mood?!

With blue skies and flowers blooming in the trees how am I expected to get into the Christmas mood?!

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

For Your Entertainment

There have been a flux of interesting asian/china themes videos recently and I thought I should gather them in one place. (Fire up your VPN’s China friends, these are all embedded from youtube.)

Tai chi basketball 

This badass was featured on CCTV (China national news). Basketball is huge here, and tai chi is a traditional exercise. Put them together and you have a new sport/performance called Fancy Basketball. Despite the stupid name, its awesome to watch.

Being an Oversea Asian (as told by a white guy)

This group, called mamahuhu, has been coming out with a lot of videos lately which are only getting better. This one is what it is like for an ABC, CBC etc living in China. I’ve seen a few of these reactions first hand when I’ve been with some Asian American friends.

Awkward Moments Only Asians Will Understand

This has nothing to do with China persay, rather asians living in western countries. Anyway, it made me laugh.

And last but not least….

Things Chinese People are Tired of Hearing

Anther video from the mamahuhu crowd. I may or may not be guilty of a few of these…..

 

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