Friday, September 30, 2011

Chinese Pack and Play

While access to the American version of modern conveniences for child rearing is limited in China, creativity is definitely not. Take this contraption (definitely not approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission!) that was set up by a yeye (grandpa) outside his daughter's tailor shop.

While it's certainly not pretty, it is effective. Both shady and fun, yeye's granddaughter appeared to be very comfortable. She could see her mom through the doorway and entertain herself in apparent "safety."

Not to worry if baby made a peep, though, as yeye was never out of sight. This phenomenon is fairly typical in many Chinese families nowadays as the retirement age for men is 60 and for women, 55. As a result, many grandparents can be seen with their grandchild in parks, courtyards, or other open spaces, especially during the parts to the day that the weather is best (8:00a.m.-10:00a.m. and after 4:00p.m.). The child's parents are, of course, working to support the family.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

With Or Without You...Chinese Karaoke Style!

Here's the scene...An American family of four, led by Z through an spot-on (yeah, right!) version of one of U2's greatest hits, in a Beijing karaoke club where pretty much everyone else is a Chinese college student.

Ever since my Beida students introduced us to 17-Mile (the name always makes me think I'm in an Eminem movie or something), a karaoke joint just down the road from the university, the four of us have graduated from singing in the shower to grabbing our own private room and belting out English-language favorites from the Beatles to Taylor Swift. If you think this is weird, you should see the bemused and puzzled looks we get from the staff when we walk in and ask to be set up. (The three-and-a-half hour package deal sounds like way too much time to spend in room singing, but trust us, the time just flies by, especially when I insist on working my way through long songs like "Hotel California.")

We all have to say that the videos (many of them presumably "unofficial") accompanying the songs are really weird, and sometimes downright creepy. There's the girl desperately trying to flag a ride during "Eleanor Rigby." The exaggerated moves of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." And Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and company are nowhere to be found in "We Are the World."

The granddaddy of them all, however, is "With Or Without You." I really can't do it justice with words. (The accompanying still shot at least gives a rough idea of the visual.) A young couple on a mountain covered in snow, sledding, frolicking, acting bizarre...It is the epitome of the indescribable, wacky fun that can be had when an American family walks into a Chinese karaoke club and sings the greatest hits of the West.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Kao Nang On The Street

This is the story of one of the coolest (and tastiest!) street foods we have ever encountered in years of sampling the best Beijing and the rest of China has to offer.

Right across the street from our apartment this summer, there was this strange looking food cart that would appear most every morning. (It took us, by the way, some close up investigation to establish that this was indeed a mobile food shop, as opposed to any number of other kinds of street establishments it might plausibly have been.)

With two guys manning the cart, Z's dreams became reality when we realized that this was a little operation specializing in the production of a single food item...Muslim-style flat bread. For years, Z has been living off this stuff, eating kao nang everywhere from the Muslim Quarter in Xi'an to Xinjiang restaurants across Beijing.

This, however, was taking it to a whole other level...First thing in the morning...On our way back into the apartment after a day of trekking around the capital city...Pretty much any time there was a hole in Z's stomach, it was kao nang to the rescue! (That includes, by the way, on our way to the airport when we were moving back to the US!)

The operation really is simple...One guy works with the dough, pulling it out of a huge ball into small pieces, working it into shape, adding oil and seasonings. His partner, meanwhile, mans this crazy-looking roundish oven that has coals at the bottom. (Click on the attached photo to get a better look at the whole scene.) When the dough is ready, the ovenmaster slaps the bread onto the inside of the contraption. A couple of minutes later, he uses a long metal device to extract the now-cooked bread from its perch, bringing out kao nang that is immediately ready to be eaten and enjoyed.

Man, that's some good stuff!