Sunday, February 20, 2011

Putting things back together

Future plans? There are a lot of things to do at the moment and following that, some big decisions to make.

One day at a time - at the moment I'm just absorbing the fact that I'm not in China anymore, and trying to find where I packed/stashed all my things. My suitcases got rained on at the airport, so I had to unpack them immediately when I got home as they are soft sided, allowing water to soak through. My stuff is in chaotic piles and stacks all over the room, ugh. At least knocking it all over gives the cat something exciting to do.

I'm happy that I could get my PC put back together and it works. It will probably take the rest of the evening to update all my software, and once that is done, I will want to transfer my "new" data over from my laptop.

Last night I went to bed around 8:30PM and woke up around 1:30AM. Those five hours I slept really well, and I felt fine today, if a little sleepier than usual. It seems that jet lag usually affects me more when flying westward than eastward.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

There's no place like home!

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home!
I'm back in the USA! Yay California, where people speak English and the weather is warm and the trees are green. My parents were there to greet me at the airport. I'm so glad I have such a good family.

My poor cat is traumatized and horribly needy right now, after spending 20 hours in a pet carrier (he behaved perfectly on the trip), followed by yet another change of environment. He is exploring the room, but not comfortable. When I leave the room he howls, so will just sit quietly here for a while to give him time to get used to it. He is starting to show an interest in looking out the window at the trees and birds.

Almost There

Made it to San Francisco and passed the customs inspection and had to go through security again... and the connecting flight is delayed. Fine with me, it's a long way to that gate and I don't want to run.

My little cat did really well on the flight, only a couple more hours... we will both be glad when it's over.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Heading Home

Have had a whirlwind time in Beijing, there is so much to see here. I couldn't keep up with the blogging and still have time to see it all! Will have to upload more photos after I get home.

I'm leaving China tomorrow... wish me luck. I've got the proper paperwork for the cat now, but since not a lot of people fly with pets here, I expect to get the runaround at the airport, am planning to get there three hours early just to get the cat sorted.

So sorry for my poor cat, he is just starting to forgive me for the six hour car ride to Beijing and the several visits to vets and administrative agencies and the change in his environment and so on... He is really terrified of people (he doesn't realize that I am one), so when he has to go somewhere in the carrier, he just curls up in a little ball inside it and trembles quietly. Spending twenty-plus hours in a carrier will be hell for him, especially if they can't figure things out and he ends up having to go as "cargo" instead of in cabin with me. The United customer service rep said it would be no problem and I reserved the space and blablabla, but the rep was in the US and everything is different in China.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Great Wall

Went to the Great Wall today with a tour. I will comment these later, am too tired now.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Making Chinese Dumplings

The Templeside Guest House, like many other hostels, hosts some entertaining activities for the guests. This evening was dumpling making night. Because of the time of year, there were only three guests participating tonight - a couple from the UK and myself.

Tonight's dumplings are a thin-skinned variety called jiaozi. The hostel staff prepared the filling and the dough in advance, then called us to come downstairs to the sitting room adjacent to the kitchen, where they had set up an assembly line.
The owner rolled out the dough, with her five year old daugher assisting. There is a special technique for rolling the dumpling wrappers to leave the center a little thicker than the edges, to keep the filling from bursting out when they are cooked. It looked like a small bubble in the center of each dough round. Watch how she holds the dumpling in the center and turns it as she rolls out the edges.
The filling was a mixture of ground pork, garlic, ginger, scallions and seasonings. It was really difficult to judge the right amount of filling to put on each dumpling so that it wouldn't be too empty, yet not so full that the edges would be hard to seal.
This is not the first dumpling that I made, but the first one I made that looked halfway decent. The pretty crescent-shaped one on the right below was made by the owner, the one that looks like a little dinosaur by me.The misshapen dumplings we clumsy newbies made were placed on one tray, and the perfect half-moon shaped ones made by the staff on the other tray. The reason for this is that boiled dumplings must be sealed perfectly or they will burst open in the pot and the filling leak out. Pan-frying is more forgiving and even the dumplings that had filling hanging out of them held together when fried. Pan-fried dumplings are called guotie.

We had a good time making fun of our odd, lumpy, leaky dumplings, and took great pride when we made one that might be "boil-worthy".
My goodness, we made quite a lot of them!After we made two full platters, the staff cooked them up and we all sat down to eat the dumplings, served with a dip of vinegar and soy sauce. (There were more than this, we had already eaten some at this point and more were still cooking!)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cylon birds and other random things

While walking in the hutong neighborhoods, I heard a strange mechanical whistling sound that reminded me of a jet or a Cylon raider. I wondered if someone was flying a remote controlled plane or something. Looking up, I saw a small flock of pigeons or doves flying around, and as I watched them and walked around, it became quite clear from the Doppler effect that the sound was coming from the birds. I've never heard anything like it. I couldn't catch them for a still photo since I was down in an alley, only managed this awful shot:

Luckily, I did manage to catch them on video and you can hear the odd sound in the recording. Can anyone out there tell me what kind of bird this is and why they make the sound? I did search Google, but all I came up with was the whistling sound made by the wings of doves when they take off, which is nothing like the sound from these birds, which was constant while they were flying around.
Speaking of birds, this is obviously not made by the same kind of birds, but I thought it made a pretty winter photo.
Snow graffiti, Chinese style:
Perhaps it is because I'm from an eqrthquake prone place that I found these almost-touching buildings so disturbing:
In the feminine hygiene section of the supermarket, I found this odd product.
"Men's feminine nursing wipes" for "dedicated men"... say what? (O.o)

Guang Ji Temple

Today I was tired, so I had a quiet morning here at the hostel and didn't venture out until the afternoon.

I walked around the local hutong neighborhoods some more, found the local farmers' market, sampled a local dumpling shop that was recommended, and visited Guang Ji Temple, which is about fifteen minutes' walk from the hostel. Guang Ji a still working temple, not a museum; visitors are allowed, as long as they are respectful and do not disrupt the temple life.

The dumpling shop/restaurant serves delicious dumplings and a handful of other items. The room where they make the dumplings had plate glass windows on the street side and also on the inner side so that you can watch them working.
It snowed last night, making everything look more wintry and picturesque today. The beauty of the snow makes up for the barrenness of the trees in winter.

Most of the temples here seem to be laid out in a similar fashion - a long rectangle in which each successive building is more important as you progress from one end to the other. Usually starting with a gate (no pic), then a drum/bell tower on either side,
then the first building, in this case housing the first buddha statue.

Passing the first building one comes to a courtyard between the buildings.
In the courtyard is a large incense burner for the first set of prayers.
Behind the incense burner is a bronze pagoda statue.

Mounting the steps takes one up to the main building of this temple, the worship hall. Because it's the Chinese new year, there was a stream of people coming to offer prayers on the kneeling bench in front of the hall.
I was extremely fortunate to arrive just before the beginning of the buddhist worship service. These three lamas (monks) are about to enter the temple.
There was a monk who walked several times around the building hitting this wooden plank with the hammer at intervals as a call to worship. He set them here on a ledge before he entered the hall.
The chanting was lovely and the service drew participants and observers both in and out of the hall. Everyone maintained a respectful silence, while some continued with their personal prayers. I took a short video from where I stood.

This lama was offering a special prayer at the building behind the main hall, presumably holding a different buddha, for someone who had been talking with him. I would have liked this picture better without that woman's backside, but there wasn't time to get a better angle.
Another shot of the rear building, along with the side buildings which may be offices or study areas.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Templeside Hutong Guest House in Beijing

The Templeside Hutong Guest House is not your typical hostel. The neighborhood is in an old traditional district of narrow alleyways and courtyard style houses called hutong. Having seen very little in the way of historical lifestyle in Jinan, I couldn't have chosen better for the end of my trip, as the hutong provide a peek into an older China. Here are some photos of the guesthouse.

The Templeside consists of three houses in the neighborhood. House 1 is in the oldest hutong, as you can see from the exterior. I didn't get a look inside.
House 2 and House 3 are about five minutes' walk away, in a hutong that is also old but slightly better kept, as you can see from the exterior of House 2. I got a peek inside and it is in the traditional style; the gate opens into a smaller alley, which the rooms appeared to line the sides of.
The front door of House 3, aka the "deluxe" house, in which I'm staying, gives a hint of how lovely it is inside. House 3 has been recently rebuilt and looks splendid.
Two views of the inner courtyard. The guest rooms surround the courtyard behind the red-framed windows. My room is at the far left in the second photo, behind the tree.

Traditionally, the courtyards didn't have a roof, but this rebuilt siheyuan has a roof; it's still pretty cold inside in winter, but way better than an outdoor courtyard, and easier to keep clean.
Climbing the handmade bamboo staircase seen in the picture above takes one to the small rooftop area, from which there is a view of the surrounding hutong neighborhood. These two photos show how old the buildings are by the rooftops - this hostel is rebuilt, but most are tenanted by the poor and quarters are cramped. One photo shows the Miaoying or White Pagoda Temple, which I will visit on Wednesday because when admission is free for the first 200 people.
The other photo shows what a hutong house looks like without a roof and you can see how they have added shack-like rooms in the central courtyard.
Here is my room. Notice the lower right corner of the picture! :)
The room has beautiful furniture - love these twin beds. The linens are good quality and the pillows and duvets are real down.
There is a magnificent wardrobe decorated with carved lotus flowers.
Even the porcelain is fancy!
There is no pub/restaurant as there was in the other hostels I stayed in, but there is food served to order or brought in if requested, and there is a room downstairs in the added on basement for watching TV, socializing or eating. This is the cleanest building I've seen in China; the bathroom is spotless, and the floors are clean enough for stocking feet, even in the courtyard. Given the all-pervasive clay dust/dirt in Chinese cities, this is extremely impressive. The owner, Bobby, is very friendly and helpful, and speaks good English.