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Entries about living abroad

Mooncake

overcast 88 °F

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is a celebration of harvest and abundance. Though dancing, feasting, and moon-gazing are important aspecst of the festival, the sharing and giving of mooncakes is perhaps the most notable practice.

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The most common type of mooncake is filled with lotus seed paste, though more contemporary versions may hold icecream, cream cheese, or even ham at their core. Since mooncakes are generally high in calories, some companies have even created fat-free versions of the traditional cake.

In the past, mooncake production could take as long as four weeks, though production is considerably quicker in modern times. It has become increasingly popular to present mooncakes as gifts to relatives and even business clients, sparking a desire for more high-end mooncake variations. On average, a box of four mooncakes may range from 10USD to 50USD, though those sold by prestigious hotels or restaurants exceed this range.

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Mooncakes are meant to be cut diagonally, into quarters, and then shared. Many include a salty egg yolk center symbolizing the full moon.

There are many legends surrounding the mooncake's history, though I will describe only two here.

The first folk tale is one rooted in history, during the Yuan Dynasty. According to legend, mooncakes were used by Ming revolutionaries to overthrow their Mongolian rulers. To spread word of their rebellion, special mooncakes were created with secret messages baked within. On the night of the festival, the attack took place and the rebels were victorious.

Another legend, as described by chinavoc.com, says, "Another legend explained the role of the Old Man on the Moon, the Divine Match-maker. The Chinese believed that marriages were made in Heaven but prepared on the moon. The Old Man on the Moon tied the feet of young men and women with red cords for marriage. Thus a maiden made offerings and prayed to him during the Mid-Autumn Festival, hoping that some day she would ride in the red bridal sedan chair."

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Jake and I recieved five boxes of mooncake throughout the course of the festival. Needless to say, we have consumed enough mooncake to last us at least until next autumn.

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In celebration of the festival, every teacher at our school received a large box stuffed with apples, oranges and grapes. Since there are two of us, we received two of these boxes. Our fridge has been filled with nothing but fruit for weeks.

To our readers, we wish you all a Happy Mid-Autumn!

Posted by rovingduo 21:52 Archived in China Tagged china living_abroad mid_autumn_festival moon_cake zhuhai Comments (4)

Mountain Quest

"I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. And find someplace quiet where I can finish my book..." - Lord of the Rings

sunny 94 °F

The alarm goes off. Grogginess leaves us quickly, for we know what awaits us this day: The top of a mountain.

We dress quickly after splashing cold water on our faces. Stuffing Chinese kiwis, apples, and oranges into our packs, along with bottled water, we head for the door and the peak. Outside, we face another hot Zhuhai day, but with our heads held high, for the breeze on top of Ban Zhan Mountain is cool and refreshing.

After hailing a cab, we jump into the backseat and give the driver directions in American-accented Chinese. "Wo men yao Qu ban zhan shan." The driver understands, thankfully, and sets out immediately. Weaving through the insanity that is also called traffic in Southern China, we arrive about twenty minutes later at the foot of Ban Zhan Shan(Shan means "mountain"). Shouldering our packs, we set out.

Ban Zhan Shan is a small mountain, but it is quite high, taller than almost, if not, all of the skyscrapers in Zhuhai. The main path to the top is made of 1999 stairs. However, it has many many small trails that break away along the way, giving any curious hiker plenty of exploring to do.

Becky and I started the daunting steps as soon as we completed a quick stretching routine for our legs. The first 500 are easy every time, but after that your body is drenched in sweat, your legs are on fire, and the benches every two hundred steps or so look very inviting.

We persisted up to about 1,000 Steps, where we took our breakfast of apples and water. Rested, and invigorated, we leapt up and continued on our way up. We finished the full 1,999 steps in about forty minutes or so, including our short breakfast. On the top, a long sidewalk stretches through several platforms where benches sit next to the low cement rails that serve as barrier between you and a long fall.

The view is incredible from the top. You can see for miles in every direction, and different landscapes find your gaze with each new way you look. The ocean rests to the south and east, and mountains bigger than ban zhan shan rest to the far southwest, outside of the city. Just under Ban zhan Shan to the South is Gong Bei Area, a tourist area in Zhuhai, and also the area from where we begin climbing Ban Zhan Shan. On the other side of the mountain lies the other areas of Zhuhai, streching out to the North and the East, sprawling over many miles. Beyond the edge of the city lies yet more mountains, surrounding the beautiful coastal city in green. Becky and I take many many pictures, before heading back down the path and the steps, where we plan on heading down a side trail to explore.

We eventually find the trail we want, and start down it immediately. No longer stone stairs, this trail is dirt, and is hedged in by tropical plants and trees. The Forest itself is not deciduous in any way, and even the dirt itself seems strange.

We follow the trail up and down, up and down, running through many valleys that stem from the heights of Ban Zhan Shan. We walked for about an hour, taking in beautiful gorges and little streams before turning back and heading back to the stairwell.

Having been to the top already, we take the stairs, very wobbily, back down to the foot where we go home to rest.

This we have done many times since arriving in Zhuhai. Ban Zhan Shan is amazing, and it refreshes us every time we climb it. We have returned to take pictures of the sunset, and will soon be going to try for a sunrise shot. I will post along with this blog many photos from BanZhan Shan below. Enjoy!

Jake Adams

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Posted by rovingduo 06:49 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains trees living_abroad Comments (4)

Pulled

″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings" - Moslih Eddin Saadi

sunny 95 °F

"The main problem is the wet," Allen said.

As Dr. Lee kneaded her knuckles deep into my neck, I pondered the meaning of this statement. With my face buried in the bedspread, I couldn't see Allen's face. Perhaps if permitted a glimpse, I would have discovered upon it some clue as to the riddle of his words.

Did he mean my neck was wet? Well, it was covered in some traditional Chinese medicine used by Dr. Lee. But, by all accounts, the medicine was the problem’s solution, not its cause.

Had my apartment flooded, unbeknownst to me, as I lay there mid-massage? That was possible and had actually happened once before. Such a scenario would indeed be "wet," but seemed to have little connection to the current situation.

Just as I was about to call "uncle," Allen offered another clue. "Wet. The air is wet."

How this related to the pulled muscle in my neck, I couldn't say. The pain was ebbing, but my befuddlement was as prevalent as before.

"Ah, you mean the humidity," came Jake's voice, from somewhere on my right. At this, some of the clouds of confusion began to shift, but any relationship between moist air and neck muscles remained shrouded in darkness.

Unconcerned with the current riddle volleying around her, Dr. Lee sprayed more of her spice and mint-scented oil, following the path of the pulled muscle with her fingertips, from neck to lower back.

Allen gave a sound of acknowledgement and swiveled into view, rolling by on a wheeled desk chair.

Dr. Lee helped to turn my head sideways, eliciting a groan of agony as the muscles shrieked in defiance, and rattled away in fluent Chinese.

"Many foreigners are not used to the humidity," Allen translated. "And so this can happen."

Not for the first time since arriving in China two months prior, I marveled at the medical differences between this culture and my own. In America, a doctor would have attributed a sore neck to the physical stresses of my job, not to any sort of climate condition. As an English instructor at a local Chinese kindergarten, I lift, tote, chase and wrestle 2 and 3 year olds each day. Jake, Allen and Dr. Lee are employees of the same school. Jake is an English instructor like myself, Allen is a Chinese English teacher, and Dr. Lee (aka: Chocolate) is the school's doctor.

Earlier in the week I had pulled a neck muscle, and the pain had since become unbearable. Upon learning of my condition, the doctor and Allen had accompanied Jake on an impromptu house call. After shoving open the balcony doors in my bedroom to let fresh air pour in, Dr. Lee had motioned for me to lie, facedown, on the bed. Eying her stash of traditional medicine, I remembered a prior experience at her mercy.

Weeks previous, I had gone to work with a migraine gift-wrapped and FedEx'd straight from Hades. With no pain killers of my own, and feeling like H. Potter with his scar ablaze, I visited Dr. Lee. As the doctor urged me toward a stool, I surveyed her medicine cabinet, hoping for some familiar sight: Advil, Tylenol, or perhaps my dearest ally, Ibuprofen.

Dr. Lee flitted around, grabbing a thermometer, flashlight, and small foil packet from her cabinet. She stowed the thermometer under my armpit, tested my forehead for warmth, and scanned my throat with the aid of her flashlight. Then she mixed the packet’s contents with warm water, creating some unknown tea-hued brew, and urged me to drink.

As she plucked a green box from her stores, I thought, “Ah, serenity at last.” But, relief twisted into confusion as she slipped not a bottle of pills, but a glass, oil-filled container from inside. She dabbed a bit of the substance onto her hands and rubbed her palms together vigorously, as if attempting to start a fire on some desolate, frozen tundra. She placed her warm palms against my temples, and the tingly scent of peppermint tickled my nostrils. Her magician’s hands kneaded skillfully, siphoning out pain as if in ribbons.

Under Dr. Lee’s care for a second time, I marveled at the continued absence of pain medicine. Instead, she used her own hands for pain relief. If I’d pulled a muscle in America, I likely would have taken something for the pain, rubbed it a bit, and waited for the healing to begin.

“Becky,” she said, breaking my contented haze. Tugging gently on my arm, she directed me into a sitting position. She carefully turned my head to the left, then to the right, to stretch the sore muscles.

Some Chinese words flowed between the doctor and Allen before Allen asked, “Does your neck feel cooler?”

At my affirmation, he nodded and said, “Okay, then the doctor’s nearly finished.”

Looking at me worriedly, Allen said, “You must have a good rest. Even if your neck hurts, you must sleep. If you feel worse later, then you must go to the traditional Chinese hospital. If you feel better, then the doctor will come back this afternoon.”

Now, one day later, I am feeling better than I have in days. Last night and again this morning I massaged my neck with the medicine left by Dr. Lee. Though still sore, most of the ache is gone. And I haven’t had to take anything for the pain.

Medicine used by Dr. Lee

Medicine used by Dr. Lee

Posted by rovingduo 02:13 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad chinese_medicine Comments (8)

You Know You're in China When...

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable" - Clifton Fadiman

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When packing for a trip abroad, you might as well leave the comfort zone behind. Life in a foreign country ensures the exotic will spring from even the most mundane activities.

Below is a compilation of daily novelties which have colored our experience in southern China so far.

1.) Clothes dryers do not exist, only clothes lines.
2.) Children greet your face with either open-mouthed awe or open-mouthed terror.
3.) B.Y.O.T.P (bring your own toilet paper) is an unspoken rule, because public bathrooms won't have it.
4.) Umbrellas pop up everywhere, rain or shine.
5.) Water coolers take the place of water fountains.
6.) The supermarket includes a magnetized escalator ramp (when you wheel your cart onto it, the wheels magnetize to the ramp - ensuring a safe-non-cart-toppling journey).
7.) Your washing machine greets you with a cheery version of "Jingle Bells" when you press "start."
8.) The shaving cream you purchased has a scent remarkably akin to lime sherbert.
9.) Local drink stands sells delicious, fresh drinks for the equivalent of 50 cents.
10.) The iced drink you ordered arrives at your table...with the ice already melted.
11.) Your employee information form includes questions about your use of birth control (whether you use it & how often).
12.) Quality time with coworkers means an evening spent singing at a KTV (karaoke joint).
13.) When ordering a class of water, don't expect it to be iced or even cold - most likely it'll still be boiling.
14.) A honk from behind you on a sidewalk is a signal to either move or be run down by a : bike, scooter, bike-driven hackney or car.
15.) Items at the local shopping plaza are either purposefully overpriced or not priced at all, because bartering is both expected & encouraged.
16.) The beauty aisle at the local supermarket includes "skin whitening" products (whereas, in America, shelves are stocked with tanning products).
17.) Your foreign face causes a riot wherever you go (supermarket, post office, restaurant, bathroom...). People stop to stare, take a photo, or nearly wreck their scooters while struggling to a get a look.
18.) A two-seat scooter can seat as many as 5 people at a time (plus a dog, potted plant, or package of toilet paper).
19.) The overflow from your water heater drips into a bucket.
20.) Dvds sell for about 50 cents each.
21.) Every time you successfully complete a barter, you wonder who got ripped off in the end (you or the vendor).
22.) Splurging on a meal means spending $3 - $7.
23.) Smacking & slurping loudly while eating is not rude.
24.) Meat is rarely de-boned (eat slow & carefully).
25.) Buffalo wings are eaten with chopsticks (quite a feat).
26.) Most restaurant meals are eaten in a family-dinner style. Dishes are set in the middle of the table & shared by everyone present.
27.) Meat dishes often include the animal's head.
28.) Central air conditiong & heating don't exist.
29.) Incorrect English appears everywhere (especially on t-shirts, buildings, & notebooks).
30.) Cough drops are found in the candy aisle.
31.) You don't know what you've been served, but you eat it anyways.
32.) Drivers flash their brights to signal, "I'm not stopping, stay out of the way."
33.) Mob dance sessions are the norm each evening, where hundreds of people meet to perform synchronized dancing in various outdoor venues.
34.) Following traffic rules WILL get you into an accident.
35.) Most of the webpages you try to visit are blocked.
36.) Your kitchen appliances include a water-boiling device, for making tap water drinkable.

At the local shopping plaza

At the local shopping plaza


Zhuhai

Zhuhai


Local coffee shop

Local coffee shop


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Posted by rovingduo 07:07 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (5)

Home Sweet (Away From) Home

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson

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We offer buckets of apologies for our lack of blogs this past month! Since arriving in Zhuhai, we have been extremely busy getting acquainted with our new jobs, new home, and new lives. Also, Internet access has been rare at best. To make up for our neglect, here are some much overdue photos of our Zhuhai apartment.

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Entryway.

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View from living room balcony. What you see is Yien Kindergarten (aka: our place of work).

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Living room.

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Living room.

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Bathroom (without western toilet).

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Bathroom (with western toilet - this is the one we use :))

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View from our bedroom balcony. What you see is the courtyard of our apartment complex.

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Our bedroom.

Our apartment (fortunately) is about a 30 second walk from the kindergarten we work at. Technically, I suppose it should be called a "dormitory" (or at least that's what everyone refers to it as), since it has 3 other bedrooms meant to house future foreign teachers. For now, though, Jake and I are the only foreign teachers, & so we have the place to ourselves.

As always, thanks for reading. :) More to come!

Posted by rovingduo 05:39 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (6)

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