It has been awhile since I last wrote anything, but truthfully, not much has been happening around here lately. It has been so hot outside that we have been spending a lot of time either inside in the air conditioning or at the pool. Our seasons are a little strange here because April and May are the hottest months with temperatures above 100. Then, the rains come in June and July and cool things off. We are fortunate that the rains started this week because the high heat and lack of rain was causing a severe drought in this region of Asia. I think our city was trying to conserve water because during May they were shutting everyone’s water off during random parts of the day. My Chinese teacher even said that the government was making it rain to help the farmers in this area. I didn’t believe her, but after a brief internet search, she may be right. It is called “cloud seeding.” Either ground generators or planes can disperse a variety of substances such as silver iodine in the air which causes rain to fall. That was news to my born-in-the big-city ears.
Lately, I have continued helping our house helper, Sarah, with her baking business. Recently, someone asked her to make a cake with a dragon on top, and I reluctantly agreed to help her with it. I had serious doubts it would turn out right, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.
Even though I don’t mind teaching Sarah Western baking skills, the differences in Western and Chinese cooking styles definitely present a challenge. In Western baking, recipes need to be followed rather precisely. When a recipe says to put in a cup of flour, it is important to measure carefully to ensure that the proper amount is added. In contrast, no Chinese person I know has ever looked at a recipe to cook a Chinese dish. They simply chop vegetables and meat and throw it in the wok with whatever seasonings they think might taste good. Sarah sometimes reverts back to this extremely flexible way of cooking when she is baking Western goods. For example, the other day she was making buttercream icing for the dragon cake, but she didn’t have any butter or Crisco on hand (the two main ingredients in buttercream icing). Therefore, she improvised and made icing out of only milk and powdered sugar. She tried to persuade me that it might be possible to make the dragon out of this strange, rubbery, icing she had made, but I convinced her it was best to just use the butter and Crisco in my cabinet and make the icing again. I am sure she thinks it is odd that I am so rigid with my baking.
In recent weeks I have also continued with my Chinese lessons. This year I noticed a big improvement in my fluency. I used to be very embarrassed to speak because I talked so slow as I thought about each word I wanted to say. Now, I just start talking and only pause occasionally to think of a word. My next goal is to reach a more advanced level of vocabulary so I can start talking to Chinese people about deeper issues. My Chinese teacher comes to our house twice a week to teach me Chinese, and it has been such a blessing. She is a funny lady who is so patient and doesn’t mind Chloe crawling all over me while we study together. Randomly, my teacher has recently started bringing Chloe entire husks of corn to eat for breakfast. Steamed corn-on-the-cob is a very common breakfast food here, but something I am definitely not used to feeding my toddler for breakfast. I end up spending a good thirty minutes of our class picking up bits of corn off the floor and chasing Chloe while she runs around with a husk of corn in her hand.
This past weekend we all made a short trip to our old city of Tianjin. Cameron needed to go for some meetings, and we decided it would be fun for all of us to go see the place we lived for three years when we first came to China. On our flight to Tianjin, it seemed that we received even more attention from local people than we usually do. I wasn’t too bothered, but this one woman on the plane was pushing my limits. Before we could even sit down, she was leaning over our seats taking pictures of the kids with her phone. She then spent the entire flight staring at us with a huge smile on her face (see picture below if you don’t believe me). At one point, Cameron got up to go to the bathroom and she immediately hopped up and sat right next to me in his seat. She wanted to hold Chloe, but naturally Chloe got upset when she tried. I told myself not to get too annoyed with this lady because I knew that if we needed anything during the flight, she would be the first one to try to help. Besides, I would much rather have her riding next to me than some mean person who gets annoyed at small children.
Being in Tianjin was a lot of fun. It brought back many memories of first coming to China, riding our bikes to class every day, hanging out with tons of local and foreign friends, and feeling like everything was a big adventure! We got to see our old house helper and spend some time with her. She was so excited to see Claire who she had grown extremely fond of during her time working for us. While we were there, I couldn’t help but notice the extreme differences in Tianjin and Banna. Tianjin is huge with a population of 15.5 million people compared to Banna with 500,000. There is a ton of wealthy people in Tianjin and everything is so much more expensive! Also Banna is very much a foreign world compared to Tianjin. Banna is full of diversity and people from every different minority group one can think of. I have a hard time understanding how two such different places are part of the same country!
We just got back from Tianjin yesterday and are taking a day to catch up. Sadly, our electricity was turned off while we were gone because we still don’t understand how to pay our bill. We lost some food in our refrigerator and freezer, so we are trying to sort through and throw things away. It doesn’t matter how long we live here, we are still reminded that we are the lost foreigners who don’t know how to pay a utility bill!