Saturday, November 29, 2008

台北

Alight, everyone is now all together safely for a weekend in Taipei, Taiwan...

As Emily had mentioned, she and Tina took the ferry from Xiamen over to the Taiwanese island of Kinmen and then flew over to Taipei on Thursday afternoon.

I had been down in the southern part of Taiwan all week, so Friday evening I hopped on the high speed rail and headed up to Taipei to meet up with Tina and Emily. The train is nice, it reminded me of the bullet train in Japan. The trip from the Kaohsiung to Taipei only takes 90 minutes with the train being able to go up to 300 km/hr (186mph), but the fastest I saw it at was 269 km/h.

Tina and Emily spend the day touring, and just general fun stuff - I'll let Emily fill you all in once she resumes guest blogging. Today we have more of the same general strolling and touring planned.

It's chilly up here, I hadn't expected that. Tina and Emily have jackets - I may need to buy one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I made it!!

Tina's got me on blog duty again... so hello everyone! This is guest blogger Emily here. Each time I visit the Wichmann's on vacation, they go on "blog vacation."

I'm so happy to be in Xiamen today! I left Chicago Tuesday, 11/25 at 7am CT and arrived in Xiamen last night (Wednesday) at 9pm local time. I'm not sure how long the entire trip was because of the time change; it felt long, but everything went smoothly.

Tina picked me up at the airport. It was so great to see her after such a long day of traveling. She looks fabulous -- she doesn't have the pastey-office-cube glow that many of us are suffering from back home in Chicago. Her hair is also much longer; I'll admit I have a little hair envy. Hopefully she will divulge all the Chinese hair treatments she's been using. She took me home and in Wichmann fashion, we had a couple glasses of red wine before turning in for the night.

It's a gorgeous, sunny morning today! We woke up slowly, ate local fruit: tangerines and bananas. We are now going to lunch with one of Tina's friends, Siew. Then we head to Taipei this afternoon via a ferry to Jinnmen and then a short flight from there to Taipei.

To those reading from the office: 听不懂, "Ting bu dong!" -- I used this phrase a lot yesterday while traveling... Tina's translation for this: "I can hear you, but I don't know what the hell you are saying!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One of the last requests....

As with our friends that have now moved on, our little sister, Siew will be moving back to Malaysia with her children in the next few weeks, and as we have done in the past, our questions are "what to do you want to see/do/eat before you leave China. She responded with a few things she would like to do, and one of them was to have brunch at the Sofitel.

So last Sunday, was brunch day at the Sofitel, which included champagne. Siew was quite excited as Ipoh doesn't offer brunches as they do here, and she knows that it may be a long time before she has a Sunday brunch again. During the meal, a couple of Siew's friends stopped by, one giving her a necklace as a good bye present, and Jackie, who is the F&B director, came by and chatted with us for awhile. We told him we were still talking about his dessert he made for us last time, the Banana flambe. He decided to surprise us yet again, and made Crepe Suzette. Siew was in heaven.

Mom and Daniel

Mark teaching Dan some geography

Siew enjoying Crepe Suzette

Ben and Daniel enjoying their desert

Meanwhile, Ben, and Daniel were having their own fun playing in the children's area, running from one toy to the next, so we didn't see much of those two, or should I say three. Mark went missing for awhile as well. What's that saying? "Boys will be boys". So true, so true. A good time was had by all!

Oh, to be young again!

On another note, our dear friend Emily, will be returning to China today. She enjoyed her trip last year, that she is coming back again. We are looking forward to seeing our friend again, and oh yea, write the blog!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's next?

This morning while having my taijiquan lesson, my instructor, Yang, was telling me about his baby boy and the encounter he had with another Chinese woman.

The Chinese woman asked if Yang had by chance starting teaching his children to take things from other children. No, was his response. "Why would I do that?" "Oh, we are teaching our child to take things from other children", was her response. Apparently, the reason behind this is that when the child starts attending kindergarten, they have learned to be quick at taking other people's possessions, this way, the child does not cry. Oh, and apparently learns to become selfish. When Yang attempted to explain that if every child does this, there will be many children crying and one may just be hers. She clearly didn't care.

Okay, that seems a little wrong!

Monday, November 24, 2008

My last cooking class..

Well today was the last of my cooking classes held by Chef Siew. We had the added pleasure of her son Daniel's company today, as he was feeling a little under the weather.

We met up at 9am to go to the market, where Siew scattered around looking for items that we needed to make our dishes, and I kept Daniel from harassing the fish that kept flopping around.

We made stir fried rice, along with chicken in black bean sauce, and some soup for Daniel. We had pork chops that were made previously, so we just cooked those up to have with our rice. We were going to make lemon chicken the way Mark liked, however, we had too many dishes and decided to make it another time.

Stir-fried Rice

Chicken with peppers in black bean sauce

I had a lot of fun cooking with Siew and learning the Chinese/Malaysian dishes. I'm very thankful of her patience and time while attempting to pass on her knowledge onto a novice cook. I'm not sure how well my dishes will taste without my teacher, but I do know that she is a phone call away. Assuming of course she answers the phone.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Construction update

It's been a while since we've updated you about the construction going on outside our apartment, so here's a quick update....

Not much is happening.

When we returned from Mongolia the constant noise had stopped, and all of the equipment was moved out of the construction site. Since then they've moved in a few backhoes and they are digging out the entire site.
In some places we can see where they spent all those months making noise digging holes into the ground to fill with cement, and in other places we can't figure out what happened.
All we know is that it's quiet now, and we like that. I slept until 14:00 yesterday and 11:00 today, who could really ask for more?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chinese Living...

Not that long ago one of the older apartment buildings that I go by on the way to work was suddenly empty - all of the tenants moved out somewhere, presumably to some of the newer better housing that is being built all around us. So Tina and I, being who we are, decided that we would wander over to the old building and get a few photos...
The front of the building, almost all of the windows had been removed. Most of these type of complexes have a storefront on the ground floor with a family living behind the store and then more apartments on the upper floors, when we were there there were people going around inside scavenging through the remaining items so of course Tina and I decided to explore a little and go inside.
Someones old main living area, Tina is at the storefront at the road then there is a small hallway that runs the length of the building and then the living area and a smaller room of the back of that for the bedroom. The first floors appear to have had their kitchens stuffed in the back of the house, about a quarter of the size of our tiny kitchen. The upper floors had the kitchen in the front, across the hall from the apartment - above where the shop was located on the ground floor.
Above you can see where someone has ripped the wiring out of the wall, there was still furniture, dishes, pictures, and all sorts of items laying around but people we taking all of the items that they would be able to sell of for recycling.

The rooms weren't that small, but it was hard to imagine a whole family living in what appeared to be two room apartments. It may have been fine for a couple and their one child, but quite often one set of the parents moves in to help with raising their child. That would get a bit cramped.
The other item that we thought would be tough was that these apartments all shared community bathrooms and washing sinks. In the stairwells on both ends of the building there were three tiny little bathroom/shower stalls.

There are still a lot of these old apartment buildings in Xiamen, but they are slowly tearing them down and moving the residents into the newer apartment complexes like the ones that Tina and I live in. We aren't sure how the government compensates or moves people, but the tenants of this old building must really love it when they move into a new place - we presume that now they will at least have their own bathroom...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tour Guide

The day Siew and I were cooking, I received a call from a lady named Barbara, who has been reading our blog once she discovered her daughter, Amber ,was moving here to Xiamen for a short stint. Barbara had called as we had corresponded via email regarding general information about Xiamen, for when she came over to visit. She and her sister wanted to visit Gu Lang Yu, and as I was giving her some ideas, it occurred to me to help our guests out as Apple Travel wanted to charge approx 100 USD for a tour of the island. Okay, that's a little crazy, so I offered my services.

We met up at the Marco Polo hotel and headed out. Since her sister wasn't well, we decided to give Barbara a cliff's notes version of the tour since she would be coming back with her sister and Amber on another day. We take the ferry over and head to the stores that may have some interest for her. First it was off to Yogi to buy some paintings, where I meet another newbie and give him some tips about Xiamen as well. Then it was off to Pearl World to buy some jade and pearls. This store is always a hit with the women, good pearls for a very good price. As we were looking at pearls we ran into some other expat women, who were also introducing new residents to this little shop. Small island, or rather tiny island off of the small island.

As we were coming to the end of my little tour we talked to the drivers to figure out how the electric cars work, so that they would be able to enjoy a little island tour when they came back to the island. The cost is RMB 40. We also talked to one of the little tour guide and she advised us that the cost of a walking tour was RMB 50 for three people.

The total for a walking tour, and a tour on the electric car was RMB 90, compared to the tour that Apple would have arranged for 100USD per person. Thinking I may have a new career here in Xiamen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No rest for the weary........

So, I thought after Sunday's marathon, I would have a day off, but nope, Siew and I met first thing Monday morning to head back to the market to purchase foods for our next dishes.

Today's cooking class was the spicy pork, vegetarian noodles, beef brisket or stew, and spicy pork with aubergine.

After cutting up all the vegetables, garlic and I still can't believe how much garlic that woman needs to cook with, chopping the pork and cutting up the beef we were ready to start. First was the stew since it takes the longest. We threw in the vegetables and the meat and let that do it's job while we started the spicy pork with aubergine, the came the spicy pork with onion and leek.

No room on the counter - so the floor was used.

Afterwards Chef Hong announces I would have to make the noodles on my own, if I want to pass the test. This, I think, shouldn't be difficult since I tried this one on Mark and he seemed to live through it. I was doing great for the first minute, and as I was about to add the noodles, Chef Hong stops me, almost failing my test. The mushrooms have to go in first she screams. Hey, I protest, we didn't have mushrooms the first time, we cooked this dish, how was I to know. She let that minor incident slide, so then I added the rest of the vegetables and finished my dish. The Chef added a bit of dark soy to give my noodle dish a bit of colour and the spicy stir fry noodle was done.

The Chef passed me, probably because she knew we wouldn't buy any more wine if she failed me. She's no fool!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dinner Party

Since we met Mark and Siew, we had promised to cook one of our favorite dishes for them. It's a Meditarrean pasta dish which, to us, is very yummy. Had she stayed in Xiamen, I'm sure we would have pushed this off to next year, but time is of the essence at the moment.

As we invite her and tell her what we're making, she suggests that we need more food, and our cooking class will now be Sunday night. The menu will now consist of my pasta dish, garlic prawns, lemon chicken, and steamed fish. The invitees were Siew, along with her two little critics, Ben and Daniel, Yih, Siew's sister, and Allen.

I started earlier in the day since I know how chaotic it will be in our kitchen. It's quite small, in fact most bathrooms are bigger than our kitchen. My dish was done, so I met up with Siew and off we go to the market to purchase vegetables, ginger, chicken and prawns.

We start off with the lemon chicken first, while Mark is entertaining Daniel and Ben. Both eager to eat..NOW! Daniel kept asking his mother to cook quicker.
Later Yih and Allen come over, and pasta is served along with the chicken. Mark, though enjoying it, prefers to have the chicken in bread crumbs. Mark wants to know if Siew can teach me how to do this. And you wonder why he and Daniel get along so well.

Later the prawns, and then the steamed fish. The food was outstanding. Daniel who has quite the adult palate was impressed with my pasta dish and really that's all that mattered.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Amusement Park

We had yet another opportunity to babysit our little friends, Ben and Daniel on Saturday.

As usual, we met at Temptations, had lunch with mom, and off we went to have a fun day at the amusement park. We arrived at our destination, Ben smiling, and Daniel hopping up and down like a kangaroo. We decided to check it out first before attacking any rides or games.

It's not a large place, but it did provide quite a few rides, including rollercoasters, bumpercars, swing ride, pirate ship and a host of other rides for younger children.
After our quick tour, we decided to go on the bumper cars. Mark and Ben in one car, and Daniel and I in another. They both enjoyed that ride, so off to the next ride. Daniel wanted to play in the play room which provided a host of small tunnels, balls that shoot out from guns, and all sort of other things to climb on or in. While I watched him, Mark thought it was a good opportunity to take Ben, the bigger of the two, to the rides that Daniel wouldn't be able to take part in.

After 30 minute or so, Daniel decided he was bored, since big brother Ben had no desire to go and play with him, so off to the next ride. We decided the Merry Go Round would be good for both. Daniel thought otherwise. He thought the ride was too fast, but Uncle Mark persuaded him to go. I took a Giraffe, Ben a unicorn, Mark stayed next to Daniel who opted for a horse. Daniel ended up enjoying the ride, though cautious at first.



Following this ride, Daniel wanted to go on to the Pirate Ship ride. We explained that this ride would be much quicker, and you don't have the option of getting out, once it starts going. He decided it was better not to go on it.

Then it was off to the Haunted House. I took Daniel and Mark took Ben. It took a mere 3 seconds if that for Daniel to decide, this wasn't going to be fun, and as quickly as we went in, we came right back out. Meanwhile, Mark and Ben went into the Haunted house, only to get stuck and couldn't find there way out, so they backtracked to find there way out of the Haunted House. Okay, that was pretty much a bust, so we decided to play some games.

Ben wanted to do shoot, so he tried his luck with a gun, and some balloons. He did very well, so much so Mark and I figured we couldn't hit as many balloons as Ben had. He won a prize, a watergun, which of course Daniel wanted.


Ben, the sharpshooter

Then it was off to the next game where Daniel and Ben could try their luck. It was a small version of Whac-A-Mole, only with tiny mice to hit on the head with a mallot. They were both good enough to win a prize.



Later, we went to the small children's ride similiar to a roller coaster, without the rolls. Ben wanted to go on the Pirates Ship, so Mark offered to look after Daniel and I would take Ben. Okay, that didn't bode well for Daniel. While Ben and I enjoyed the ride, Daniel cried, and pouted. Well, you knew it wouldn't be the same without Daniel crying at least once while we are looking after him.




The ride that started it all!

After the ride, Daniel continued crying and pouting. We gave him a couple of options, but chose not to say anything, so we decided to go home. We're starting to get good at this. We knew he was tired and needed sleep more than anything. As soon as Mark carried him into the taxi, he was asleep. When we got to Temptations, Mark put him upstairs for his afternoon nap.

The image of Daniel we have come to know and love

We on the other hand opened a bottle of wine.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Nachos - a second attempt...

Friday night we wandered back over to Temptations - I know, shocking right? This time once again we were there to make nachos, and this time we were prepared with the correct cheese and we planned to also take some photos of our creation, you know to use as filler material for this blog....

Well, we did manage to get some photos of me in their cramped little kitchen preparing the beans and working on the nachos, but when we finished them and delivered them downstairs somehow we just got to eating them and we forgot to take some photos. But they looked good, again trust us on this.
The only problem this time, was that the only tortilla chips we could find were lime flavored chips and the lime on these was unbelievably strong. Almost too overpowering with lime flavor, and that took away from the overall nacho enjoyment.

All was not lost, as the wine was still good and we got to meet up with our friend George who is generally too busy now a days to spend time over at Temptations. Back when we first moved here and started going to Temptations George was probably over there visiting Siew and Mark a few times a week.
A nice evening, and then to top it off Tina and I went over to the night market for some fried squid and corn on the cob.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cupping

The other day we allowed our friend Siew Hong to take us to the spa for the traditional Chinese health remedy of cupping. Sounds fun doesn't it?

Cupping is supposed to be a great way to help remove toxins from your body and apparently fix a whole list of other ailments. Basically, it's just a bunch of cups stuck to your back with a slight vacuum so that it pulls your skin up into the cup, this leaves some nice marks on your back that they tell you will take about a week to fade away.

Me having the first round of cups removed.Tina with the first round of cups on her back.
Tina getting her second round of cups added to her back.
Me getting my second round of cups.

So they tell you that the darker red the spots are the more toxins that are in your body. Tina was the healthiest of the three of us. The girl told us that was probably because Tina is always doing the TaiChi and that helps to keep the body clean.

It's nice, a little painful at points but nothing worse then a deep massage. It's relatively quick taking only about 30 minutes and inexpensive at 30元 (4.50 USD), and you do actually feel better once it's finished.
Yep, that's how unhealthy I am.

And for added fun you get a video of the cupping process.

video

Friday, November 14, 2008

Xiamen BRT

A while back we talked about when construction started on a raised highway for buses, and back in September they had mostly completed it and open it up for customers. It's called the Xiamen BRT which stands for Bus Rapid Transit -don't ask why they use an acronym in English.

At first we thought it was just a big waste of money, as it hasn't really helped to ease the traffic congestion below it, but it does help you to get across the island and over to the main land fairly quickly.

One thing that is nice, is that I can take it to and from work, as there are lower connector bus routes and at both ends I am no more than a five minute walk from a station. This helps a lot coming home in the evenings because for only 2.50 ( 0.40 USD) I can take the BRT an be home in exactly 1 hour. The work shuttle bus generally takes 1:15, and now with the raised roadway for the BRT the lower road jams up pretty bad with people trying to do u-turns, which often extended the trip home.

I put up with the shuttle for a while until Eric, I guy I work with, showed me which bus to catch and how to make the transfers. None of the signs are in English, well other then the meaning of BRT.

It's a nice set-up and I like it. I've been told that the government is subsidizing most of the cost and that they're losing money with the fares as low as they are. But there are always people on them, and there are enough so that you're never waiting more the 2-3 minutes for the next on to come along. Eric had informed me that you never want to get onto them after 17:30 as they would just be far too crowded.

Well, tonight I ended up working a little late and got to see first hand what Eric meant by a little crowded. I got on the bus around 18:15, and the loop connector bus was jammed with probably 10 people more then it should ever hold, but we've learned here how to deal with that and I just pushed my way on. Once you get up to the raised, bus only, section it's just a mob of people and a little guard that is trying to get people to line up in a queue. This would be fun to watch - most times people kind of listen, but then there's only 4 or 5 of us. Tonight it wasn't going to happen, everyone mobbed to the doors when the bus pulls up, myself included, and tried to force their way on once the sliding doors on the platform open. At the same time people are trying to get off the bus, it's a hectic mess just like us trying to get off of our elevator some evenings.

But the one nice thing is that it still only took one hour to get home. It was a little tough since I was standing the whole time and pressed in between a whole mass of other commuters. Overall, as I said, I like it just because it does give me slightly more options when getting home from work....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another food post....

Now that Tina's getting cooking lessons from Siew Hong, it's a wonderful happy place here. It seems that we always have extra food in the house, and good food not the kind of stuff that I used to cook up...

Last Sunday Tina decided that she would do some of her homework and cook up some noodles so that if things went horribly wrong she could get help in her class the next day. Nothing went wrong and we enjoyed an excellent vegetarian noodle dish.

Monday was class so when I arrived home we got to try the food that Hong showed Tina how to cook. As she mentioned in our last post - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday was even more great food, first a chicken and mushroom dish and after we devoured that we moved onto finishing up the spicy pork and vegetable dish. Ahhh.....

Last night, Wednesday, I get a text while on the bus coming home letting me know that Tina is over at Temptations with Hong going over Tina's cooking notes. Ok, that's actually good timing as this happens to be a Wednesday night where I don't have a conference call, so I go straight over to Temptations instead of heading home.

Tina and Hong are about a third of the way into a bottle of good wine and deep into food discussions. Actually they could have been talking about anything, all I was paying attention to was setting down my computer and picking up a glass of wine and relaxing with them. At some point Tina and I were going to go out to dinner, but Hong convinced us to order in from a local restaurant that they really like.

So, last night we sat over at our second home and enjoyed some really, really spicy fish, some squid and beef barbecued on sticks, sweet and sour octopus, and some fried rice.

Tonight Tina's cooking up one of her old western standbys - pasta in a homemade meat sauce. Mmmm, good food...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cooking with Hong

This is week two of "Cooking with Hong". Sounds like a good name for a cooking show, no? She has stepped it up a bit, and has gone from beginner lesson to intermediate, in one quick week. I feel like I'm learning Chinese again. It starts off slow, and the accelerates to the speed of light.



We head back to the market, where this time, for the very first time we actually bought meat. Yup, the meat we keep saying that we will pass on, since we don't know where it came from, nor how long it's been sitting on the table. Ah, poor Mark, I hope he has a good stomach. I figure if it's good for Hong and her kids, we should be able to survive, just make sure you get to the market early while the meat still fresh.

After picking up the meat, vegetables, and fruit we were off to cook. Instead of one or two dishes, it turned out to be a marathon of cooking. Yea, she expects me to remember all of this. Good luck.

First we start off with sweet and sour pork, and apparently only a dish for Laowai's since most Chinese and Malaysians actually don't eat this dish. Mark, feel privileged. Again, Hong shows me how to prepare and cook the meat, and then onto the sauce.




Since we have enough meat, we make a nice spicy pork dish, a typical dish for Chinese, and then another dish which will be used for pork chops. We also made soup, for Ben, who was feeling under the weather, and a quick chicken and mushroom dish. This time the chef allowed me to marinate the meat and of course, insisted that I sing to the meat. According to her, it tastes better.

The poor little kitchen couldn't handle all the dishes, the the chef and the little helper bee, so, I did what I do best and stepped aside to let the chef prepare her creations, periodically stepping in to see how the food is prepared. I took notes. Hey, she's the expert!


Spicy Pork with vegetables

Sweet and Sour pork
Ben's Pork Soup

After a couple of hours of cooking, Hong's creations were ready for the food critic.
It came from a 7 year old boy, her son, Ben. The verdict? Yup, Ben loved it!

The food critic, Ben

Later that night, the other 7 year old, Mark, had the opportunity to taste our dishes. Like the first critic, also loved it. I think it had something to do with my singing voice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday market photos....

Another Sunday filled with running a few errands and strolling through the market taking photos...

Overall we had an incredibly relaxing weekend which was much needed after what seems like two very hectic months. Not a lot more to say, so enjoy some photos -
Recycling at it's finest - notice the office chair?
Cleaning the market during the lunchtime slow down/nap time.

Oh, and this time at the market we saw something that we've never seen. This is why we go almost every week with our cameras....
Do you see that? The man with the computer bag over his shoulder? Not only had we never seen this, most of the market hadn't either based on the way people looked at him.

Unfortunately, we don't have a photo of the front of him. I had my zoom lens on, so when we saw him he was too close and Tina decided that the image burnt into her head was enough and she didn't want to document it....

When he got further away I tried to get a photo for all of you, but he never turned just quite right so the photo above is the best we could do. But I have enlarged the photo and highlighted what it was that so shocked us and others in the market. If you can't tell - those are rats. He was walking home with two dead rats that he had strung up on fishing line. Mmmm, tasty....

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saturday Night Nachos...

Saturday night and we wander back to our second home - Temptations. Last time we were there, for Lilita's Spanish/Mexican themed birthday party, we had shown up planning to make nachos. Ever since the time that the Mexican talked about how well we make nachos - he even asked us to teach his wife - Siew Hong has bugged us to make nachos for her. Strange, the cook that's teaching Tina asking us - but the theme party was the perfect chance.

But, as parties thrown by Siew often do, there was too much food and then after a few margaritas it seems more important to just keep talking then for me to slip away into the kitchen to cook for people that were already full...

One week later and we returned to furfill our promise and cook up a tray of nachos. They were great - not as good as our normal ones as the cheese wasn't exactly what we wanted- and it was fun for me to be in their cramped kitchen with the staff all watching me wondering exactly what I was doing....

Unfortunately we have no photos of me cooking or of the final product. We do however have photos of us with Siew Hong....
This one was for Siew, for she often comments that we don't have any photos of us without a wine glass in our hands. Sometimes I think that she forgets that we visit her in a wine shop...
See? Photos of Siew with the wine that makes her happy....
Well, the wine that makes all of us happy. It was another relaxing night, although out, but just the three of us sat and enjoyed wone and talked about all sorts of important topics....

And as an added bonus - we took photos for our Christmas cards.