Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Really, Really Where I'm Going To

Pashuparti Temple
Kathmandu is an assault on the senses. Smells from the bazaars fill the nose - curry, turmeric, tandoori species - while mud oozes from the loose street stones, squishing beneath shoes and making the narrow streets a slippery obstacle course. Sacred cows, with their long, flirtatious lashes, wander about, undeterred by the numerous card, motorbikes, and tuk tuks that show little regard for pedestrians. Low in the Himalayan Valley, the smog is too thick to revere any of the nature and the rain is too heavy to avoid it.

Kathmandu is a strange convergence of China (Tibet) and India, where the red marks of water blessings adorn the foreheads of most and where dumplings are filled with curried chicken and tandoori seasonings. 

The tourists here tend toward the earthy crunchy, with hemp bags, dreadlocks, and apparently something to find that I'm not convinced is still available in this overcrowded, touristic, once-untouched Mecca for the followers of peace, love, and understanding.

Goats living in the Himalayas
I came to Kathmandu for Krishna. He has a bike shop and a figurine and other things available to purchase that don't bring me any closer to this mysterious, androgynous God. Judging by all the reviews online, I'm one of the only visitors who left unimpressed and unmoved by all that is offered in this Valley. Most of the comments I read feature phrases like "blown away," "purification," and "breathtaking" and I wonder what these people saw, experienced, felt that I couldn't or didn't or wouldn't. And I kick myself for sounding so jaded and unappreciative of what I have been so blessed to have been able to see. On the ground, the touts followed us, selling tours, blankets, prayer bowls, knick-knacks, hashish, knives, tea, anything to make a dollar. A firm, "No, thank you," was rarely an adequate deterrent. For me, the highlight of Kathmandu was the tip of Everest seen from the plane, white rock cutting through the gossamer clouds, 30,000 feet in the air.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Summer Food Challenge on. It's mostly a challenge for me. And anybody else with a Farm Share.

My dad and Stephanie have very generously once again put me on their Farm Share and, as always happens, there seems to be an excess of fresh fruit, veg, and herbs. Here's what I got this week:

•2 pints of strawberries
•1 pint of snap peas
•1 head of broccoli
•1/2 head of green cabbage
•3 zucchinis
•2 cucumbers
•1/3 of a large bag of leafy greens (I chose mostly spinach and a handful of arugula)
•1 head of bok choy
•10 smallish carrots
•generous handful of dill

A significant amount of what I got this week was consumed as is due to my post-China detox. I ate the majority of the strawberries and snap peas, both of the cucumbers, and some of the carrots and dill. Now I have the rest of it.

Here is this week's Summer Food Challenge Menu
If anybody has bok choy ideas, let me know!

Chinese Cabbage Stir Fry
Serves: A lot. Time: <10 minutes

•1/2 head of green cabbage
•3-5 pieces of garlic
•chopped carrots (optional)
•2 tbsp. EVOO
•2 tsp. soy sauce
•3 tsp. vinegar (any kind is fine)
•1-2 tsp. sugar


Finely chop the garlic and put it and the oil in a medium to large sauce pan over medium-high heat for two to three minutes. Add in chopped cabbage, carrots, liquids, and sugar. Cook until cabbage is slightly wilted.

Zucchini Bread
Serves: 2 loaves. Time: 10 - 15 minute prep., 1 hour to cook, 20 minutes to cool


Freshly baked
zucchini bread

3 cups flour
•1 tsp. salt
•1 tsp. baking soda
•1 tsp. baking powder
•3 eggs
•1 cup oil
•2 1/4 cups sugar
•3 tsp. vanilla
•2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium-sized zucchinis)
•1 cup of chopped nuts (I used cashews)


Grease to 4" x 8" pans. Preheat oven to 325°. Sift flour, salt, baking power, and baking soda together in a bowl. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until combined. Stir in zucchini and nuts until fully integrated. Pour batter into prepared pans (about half way full). Bake for 40 - 60 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.

Leafy Green Nachos
Serves: 2 - 3 Time: >10 minutes
Not yet broiled leafy green nachos

•1/3 - 1/2 bag of tortilla chips
•1/2 - 1 cup grated cheese (depending on cheese level preference)
•chopped tomatoes
•significant amount of leafy greens, chopped
•1 small onion, chopped (optional)
•1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
•1/4 cup sour cream
•generous handful dill

Spread tortilla chips out evenly on a cookie sheet. Cover with leafy greens, tomato, onion, and pepper. Spread cheese over that. Broil until cheese is melted. While broiling, add dill to sour cream. Stir well. Use as dipping sauce.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Things That Go Bump in the Night

It started with a squeak. You know the kind I'm talking about: unlpleasant; unwelcome.  The high pitched call sounded three times in succession - squeak, squeak, squeak - and I bolted upright as I am inclined to do when such a noise occurs.

My first thought, of course, was that the cats were chasing my arch nemesis: the mouse. So i waited breathless for more squeaks that never came. All I heard were intermittent thus of one of the cats jumping on and off something in the living room. My second thought was that it was from outside. With the windows open, sometimes those bits of nature that I'd rather not encounter sound too close for comfort. My third thought was that I'd I walked into the kitchen,  which is right off the bedroom, and the cats followed me, then I had nothing to worry about.  This, of course,  is always risky. But I gathered my nerves and took the six steps into the kitchen where I blasted the light - because that's safety - and no cats followed me.

I stepped into the hallway to see where they were, still within darting distance of the bedroom, to see Emily perche'd on the credenza and Desmond on the flior, both staring intently at the ceiling,  their heads swaying, swooping almost. I followed their entranced gazes. There in the dim light of the living room was a bat flying around.

Not knowing what else to do, I did thd only sensible thing and screamed "Oh my god,  oh my god" over and over and ran into the well-lit kitchen. Jake comes storming into the kitchen in a panic convinced that ghete a somebody in the house, grabs me by the shoulsers, and just keeps asking, "What is it? What is it? "

When we finally got on the same page that there was a bat, not an armed robber, in our hiuse, Jake shooed me into the bedroom and then stood in the hallway where he, every once in a while, saud, "Shit. "

I could offer no possible productivity outside the bedroom, and for the first time, I was glad to have a Smartphone.  I looked up what to do (and more importantly,  what NOT to do) and why the bat is in my house. Unfortunately,  now I'm convinced that we have a feisty bay colony living in our collapsed eaves along with the recently decimated mice colony that I'm positive is just laying in wait to return with a vengeance. It's terminator time. And then get someone in to fix the eaves time.

Anyway,  after about an hour,  Jake managed to isolate the bat to the porch where it currently is residing.  Looks like we have a date with animal control this morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hellos, Goodbyes

Our lovely 1:1s
On my last day of teaching a student serenaded me. Unsure of the appropriate reaction, I started to dance - awkwardly, but with definite enthusiasm. She had brought me a bag of chili-infused oil earlier, remembering m penchant for Silver Bowl, and, as class was ending, she announced, "I would like to sing you a song. You must know it." I didn't. Adding to the awkwardness was the I deniable fact that it was a love song. Bu I don't think my student really picked up on the nuances about loving me despite the distance. Plus, I had to announce when the song changed keys by shouting, "Key change!" much too emphatically.

Following that, Jake asked me to play and do songs for the last hour of a young group class. We love working with music and often opt to take songs and have the kids up in their own information. We did, "If I Had $1,000,000." Turns out, these students would buy us a bed, a lamp, and pants. (I would buy you some pants.) 

My favorite group class.
In the last five minutes of each group class, Helen forced the kids to go around and say goodbye to us individually. One class only offered a brief, mumbled "bye,"'which was appropriate as they're about as exciting as one small grey rock in an expansive grey rock garden, but most groups were more prolific. One student, Andy, blew us a kiss and said, "I will miss you a lot!" Joanna told me she loved me. Keven told me I was beautiful and that Jake was handsome so therefore he would miss us. The majority of my one to ones lingered after or 3 hour class had finished and admitted they didn't want to leave. Amy advised me to dress in layers because the plane would be cold but the air would be warm. Rachel asked me a lot about Facebook. And, as I mentioned, Diana sang. 

On the plane to Chengdu (where we had a long layover before continuing on to Kathmandu, which was really, really where we're going to), he guy next to me hocked up six loogies over the course of the two and a he hour flight and spit them into the barf bag. So, I feel like my time in China is complete.

On a similar but somewhat separate note, Jake and I made up a version to "The Wheels on the Bus" that's still called "The Wheels on the Bus" but as it pertains to Chinese busses. We promise to perform it for you.


"Twincest" was a term I first heard at Smith College where it was used to describe couples who were attracted to each other based on similar physical characteristics. I cod see it there: girls with pixie haircuts holding hands outside of Neilson Library; ultra-femmes with long, silky hair sharing a shake at the Campus Center. But in China, the term took on an even more literal meaning.

A couple in matching monster shirts in Beidaihe.
Predominately in crowded public spaces, but also daily life, couples and friends wear corresponding or identical outfits. We've asked our foreign friends, our students, and some Chinese adults we've met and are entertaining several of their theories regarding this simultaneously awkward and amusing tendency. One Chinese adult told me that she and her friends do this to show everybody else how important they are to each other. Several of my students suggested that it was just so cute. Our Chinese boss' Chinese son hopped on the racism train and suggested that "we can't tell each other apart either."

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that this has been an endless source of entertainment over the past year,
Three friends proving that it takes
 more than trust to make a lasting friendship.
particularly as I'd assumed that, outside the demographic of middle school girls, everybody actively sought not to dress identically in public. 

What people wear ranges from matching or complementary shirts to whole identical outfits down to the shoes, and I'm assuming, he underwear. The outfits (underwear, too) are available for purchase as a set for men and women and for the Chinese nuclear family. As far as I can tell, twinning is considered pretty normal. Until white people do it.

The family outfits on store mannequins. 
Jake and our friend Jess have twin birthdays, so, as a joke and a tribute to where we are, I bought the three of us corresponding shirts; different colors, same handsome monkey. Over the course of about 20 minutes, we had to pose for three pictures (not including our own), one in which we had to pose with a baby.

A couple walking down the street in QHD.
Having our photographs taken isn't new; we're local celebrities and people snap photos of us frequently, some more blatantly than others. But I have to wonder what becomes of these photos. I can only imagine that the one of three white people in matching monkey shirts and a Chinese baby is going to end up in some family photo album with the caption, "White people do the darnedest things."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

IELTS Task 1: Hillary Style

My full time students are all preparing their IELTS test. Part 1 of the IELTS writing test asks them to analyze a graph or two and write about the information presented. Their job is to make comparisons and summarize information. They have model answers to follow, and I'm hoping mine will make it into the next IELTS book. Each answer must be at least 150 words and cannot diverge from the information given in the charts. 

The two graphs depict various actions Meatloaf would do to show someone he loved them. Both charts are remarkably conclusive in regards to Meatloaf's actions.

In the first chart, a bar chart, we can see that there are five different things Meatloaf might do for love. It is notable, however, that only four are actions that he would actually complete. According to the graph, Meatloaf is one hundred percent likely to do any of the following: get the person he loves out of an undefined but horrible town; make everything a little less tedious; build an emerald city using grains of sand; use sacred water to cool the woman he loves down if she overheats. Although he does not specify how he will do any of these things, as aforementioned, the bar graph states that he will definitely do any of those four things. On the other hand, he is not likely at all (0%) to do the unspecified "that."

The data in the pie chart fully supports the information given in the bar graph. Despite not having specific categories, the pie graph alleges that Meatloaf is 100% likely to do "anything" for love, but, once again, 0% to do "that."

In summary, both the bar graph and the pie chart conclude that is highly implausible that Meatloaf will do an undetermined "that" for love whereas it is quite feasible that he will do anything else. 

The bar graph depicts how sexy various articles of clothing, places, and other effects are up to 100%.

It is notable that hats are the sexiest item according to this chart, coming in at just over 90%. Slightly lower than this is Japan, which is a hair shy of 90%. Both hats and Japan are nearly four times more appealing than shirts, which, at around 22%, are the trough of this graph. 

At roughly 72% and 67% respectively, Milan and cats have similar rates of sexiness. So, too, do love and New York, with almost identical statistics that come in about 30% lower than Milan, and represent the median of sexiness according to this graph. For cars, their sexiness is marginally higher than average, and nearly twice as sexy as shirts.

To sum up, this graph suggests that hats and Japan are by far the most provocative things, while shirts are least appealing. 

The Gao Kao

Don't be confused by the cute rhyming name: the Gao Kao is anything but cute. The Gao Kao is China's grueling university entrance exam, which only 60% of students pass with a high enough score to get into one of China's universities.

It's Gao Kao time again here and, although we don't live near a high school, we've heard stories. First of all, I should explain how the test is regionally scored. There are five municipalities in China - Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Shangdong, and Chongqing - and students in these testing areas need lower scores than students in other areas due to factors like population and economy, which directly relate to student demographic in and financial dependence from China's universities, and, most importantly, on the quota set by an individual university's admissions office that dictates how many students they will accept from any province, with the highest number always allotted to the home province. Smaller cities tend to require higher scores because their populations are fewer and generally the money they send into the government in less. A passing score in Qinhuangdao, for instance, is 600; 100 points higher than needed in the municipalities. With the fixed admissions quota comes a few problems, namely with the uneven distributional of educational resources.

Before you start thinking that this is like the SATs with some regional discrimination, I must assure you, it's not. This test requires 2-3 days and most students spend the entire year preparing for it. I've heard stories that some students even get an IV drip so as not to interrupt their studying and to have enough energy to maintain testing. Students are subject to a thorough security check because the temptation to cheat is so sweet, and it is common to have ambulances and emergency workers on standby.

Beyond this, the Gao Kao, quite frankly, favors rich students. Wealthier students' parents can pay for top schools, tutors, extra classes, and, even to transfer their child to a school in a municipality where the required scores aren't so high. The uber-rich often seek to avoid the Gao Kao entirely by sending their kids abroad for high school where they aren't subject to this all-important test that stymies all creativity and puts all who are in its wake on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Yes, all. Parents worry for their children's futures: a top university is thought to be key to obtaining an elite job. Students must fret and toil over the test. Many teachers' salaries are tied to their students' performances on the Gao Kao and estimates that 10% of Chinese teachers quit due to the pressure. To top it off, a student is only permitted to take this test once in any given year.

Top performers receive national recognition and their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, but to what end? Employers care somewhat about what college prospective employees attended but, even in China, there's not a box where you can fill your standardized test score in on a job application.

So, really, what's the point? Beyond this being a sadistic right of passage, I can't see the silver the lining.