Friday, September 14, 2012

Rabies And Z

You'll recall that Z was bit by a dog last year out in the Chinese countryside, with the payoff being the receipt of something like ten rabies shots in various parts of his body.

Given all of that backdrop, we couldn't resist chuckling when we came upon this sign in the Beijing metro system. Working together to make rabies history, indeed!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eating Lotus

For years now, we have been eating lotus root, which is a common item to dip into hot pot or season up in a spicy gan guo. But we've always wondered about all of the lotus we seen being sold on the streets of Beijing during the summer.

What we're talking about are those two cone-shaped parts of lotus that are located at the very tops of the stems in the accompanying photograph. (Not the flowers or leaves or anything like that.)

You will see merchants on the streets with bunches of these parts of lotus, advertising them as good to eat. But how do you eat them?

One day, while walking with a friend through an area where there is a lotus pond, this very issue came up, as our friend was extolling the virtues of eating lotus. What followed was a lesson that finally cracked the code for us.

What you do is literally crack open the cone. Inside are green seeds, lots of them. These are what you eat.

I found these lotus seeds to be not all that exciting. Nothing offensive or anything like that. There was a bitterness to them that was kind of nice. But the overall taste was nothing that I would want to search out on a regular basis.

One less mystery out on the streets, though!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Julie's Qipao, Part I

For years, Desi and I have promised Julie that we would buy her a qipao, the traditional patterned, fitted dresses that Chinese women have been wearing for centuries. This summer, we finally made good on that promise.

Part one of the process entailed finding a tailor with world-class materials and the skills to take all of the measurements that are needed to put together a piece of clothing that is meant to hug the body.

Unfortunately, this meant a trip to Yashow Market. I say unfortunately because this is a place I try to avoid at all costs. The prices are pretty high, designed to hit up all of the domestic and foreign tourists. The staff have been taught enough English so that it is like running a gauntlet.

Hello! Jacket! North Face! Canada Goose!

Hello! Want to make something?

Oh, well! Yashow Market does have some good tailors, so we decided to do business with a young woman who was very low key. And our choice turned out to be a good one.

That first visit was all about picking out a fabric and a style for things like the sleeves and the collar, as well as all of those aforementioned measurements. Good stuff, except for the fact that we were going to have to go back to Yashaow to pick up the qipao when it was completed.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Holy Cross Mixer, One Last Time

It never ceases to amaze me how many high school students squeeze into the mixer at Holy Cross. All I can say is that, after chaperoning four of these events during Julie's tenure at the Academy, Desi and I are done. Sure, there are Winter Ball, After-Prom, and other events to come. But, compared to that mosh-pit of teenagers, the rest of the dances are a piece of cake!


Photo Of The Day

A picture I snapped this summer, and reported about before, is photo of the day over at China Digital Times.

I had to work a little to get this one. I wandered into position to capture the entire scene, from the top of Winnie the Pooh's head to the seller's sandals. Then, just as I snapped, another vendor, who was selling cheap, Chinese-style musical instruments, came right in front of the camera and whistled some melodies right in my face. A cool picture in its own right, but not the one I was looking for.

Right after I finally got this one, a foreign family strolled up, and the parents purchased a balloon for their little child.


Penetrating the Hutongs

For most of us, most of the time, the Beijing hutongs stand there as a kind of mystery to be admired and saddened about. Admired as a traditional alleyway style of living that has defined everyday life in both imperial China and the People's Republic of China. Saddened about because of the ongoing destruction of these courtyard homes in the quest for modernization.

This is not a post about the pros and cons of the disappearing hutongs. Rather, it is about an experience that took us into the hutong home (actually a one-room residence, two rooms if you are really generous in how you count) of an elderly woman who has called the hutongs her home for her entire life. This was a powerful experience for us, as we have meandered through the alleyways of the hutongs on countless occasions over the past several years. But walking through one of the doors that we are passing by, that has proven elusive. And I don't mean the doors of some courtyard that has been renovated into a vegetarian restaurant or coffee house (we have been in those kinds of tourisn-oriented places more than our fair share). I'm talking about an actual residence of a lao Beijingren (an "old Beijinger").

Julie will not like this part of the story, for reasons that will quickly become apparent.

Strolling through the hutongs, an older section that has not been rehabilitated, Julie had to go to the bathroom. Traditional hutongs do not have in-residence bathrooms, so the alleyways are lined with public facilities that people use for their everyday needs. These are public inside and out, with little-to-no privacy inside. No stalls separating squat toilets or anything like that.

So there was Julie, going into the public toilet, with Z and I waiting outside in the alleyway. The two of us started cracking up in a puzzled way when we heard voices coming out from inside. Julie was apparently involved in conversation as she was taking care of business.

And, sure enough, coming out of the toilet were Julie and an older woman. This woman, who had no hesitance in engaging Julie in conversation, looked pretty delighted. In just a few moments, she was going to invite us into her home.

It turns out that this woman started talking in simple terms with Julie, not deterred by the business that was going on. As she discovered Julie's strong command of Mandarin, the conversation turned from simple topics ("Where are you from?") to more matters ("What religion are you?"). Religion became the point that connected us. Our new friend became a convert to Catholicism late in life, just three years ago on June 4, 2009 (Julie's birthday).

"We are one family!" was what our friend (let's call her ayi, or "auntie") kept exclaiming about the situation. Wanting to continue the conversation, ayi told us to follow her, and there we were, turning right and then left and then right again, penetrating deep into the usually hidden, narrow residential alleyways of the hutongs. Finally, after all of these years!

Ayi's home is a simple room, with a bed that also serves as a place to sit. There are some stools. But ayi is not living in desperate poverty, as there was also a television and computer. And there was a little side room with a small kitchen, complete with a sink and refrigerator. So ayi has electricity and running water.

Ayi's granddaughter, it turns out, attends a university in Europe. So this simple woman is the matriarch of a global family. It was a family that we had the chance to spend time together with on a number of subsequent occasions.

Wanting Desi to meet ayi, we made a return trip once Desi had arrived in Beijing. (Z had drawn a map so we could retrace out steps through the maze.)

On that return trip, ayi called her daughter and granddaughter on the phone and summoned them. And so we had the chance to meet three generations of this Beijing family. Ayi's granddaughter was encouraged to speak English with Julie (after all, she attends school overseas), but she was pretty hesitant, and so the conversation rolled along in Mandarin.

The conversation at one point point took us back to Catholicism, where the connection between the families had started. It turns out that ayi's daughter and granddaughter live very near (within walking distance, actually) of the West Cathedral, which we recently had discovered and had been treating as our home church for Sunday Mass.

(If all of this "daughter and granddaughter" stuff sounds kind of weird, it is because most people in China do not start by calling one another by their given names. Ayi is a term a middle-age guy like me would use call a woman of my mother's generation. Ayi's daughter I would call jiejie [older sister] or meimei [younger sister], depending on whether she was younger or older than me. Of course, as I write, I can't remember which of the two she is! We did, pretty much immediately, ask one another our age's so we could figure out these honorifics. Punch line...Don't come to China if you don't want to tell people your age!)

Plans were made and the four of us met up that next Sunday with daughter and granddaughter at the West Cathedral, where we all sat together during evening Mass. One family, indeed!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Men's Group Outing

The men's group at St. Andrew's that I am a part of had a nice outing yesterday for the guys and their families. A trip to the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, MD. Playing ball on the lawn of the Mt. Saint Mary's Seminary, as well as a tour of the seminary itself. Dinner at Cozy Inn.

Good, old-fashioned family fun!


The Concubine Tombs

A few years back, we visited the tombs of a few eunuchs of the Qing Dynasty court. This time around, while at the Eastern Qing Tombs, we took a pass through an expansive, little-visited area that is the final resting place of dozens of concubines of the Emperor Qianlong.

The tombs of the concubines were arranged, front to back, in terms of their importance to the emperor. There were also significant differences in sizes between the tombs of the different concubines. Up at the front, the emperor's favorite concubine was afforded an imperial-style presentation not all that different from the ones we have been documenting in the case of Cixi and Qianlong himself. Other concubines were given much simpler and smaller markers, many of which are in significant decay and disrepair.

A truly unusual, kind of sad place, which we had all to ourselves, making it all the more creepy, except that as we were walking around, I was getting constant test messages from a friend. A most welcome distraction and connection back to the present!