Top 10 Things I will Miss

Sunset-Last Night

Sunset in Dali Old Town our last night

As you may have noticed from my previous blog posting, we will be returning to the U.S. following our 2 year language and culture studies in China.  In fact, our departure date is today!

While it would be foolish to believe I can anticipate exactly how reverse culture-shock will impact me, there are several things I “think” will be true.  Here’s my best estimate for a Top 10 List of what I think I will miss and what I will enjoy about returning to the US after 2 years in SW China.

Obviously, I will miss the many special friends and relationships we have developed over the past 2 years.  This will be the hardest part of transitioning back to the US, and I am omitting this most important category to keep this article light and enjoyable (at least for me!).

I THINK I will miss:

  1. Noodle shops (especially “拉面/lamian” which means “hand-pulled” or hand-made noodles)
  2. LOTS of daily human interaction (the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle here includes interacting with people on the street, on the bus, in the vegetable market, shops, restaurants, etc…)
  3. Being able to practice Chinese (everywhere!)
  4. Weekly traditional Chinese massage (< $10/hr)
  5. Riding motorcycle in the crazy local traffic!
  6. Shopping/buying from local shop owners/vendors (not the self-check-out at “big box” stores)
  7. Creative, artsy culture of Dali
  8. Natural beauty of Dali (Cang Shan mountains, vibrant flowers/colors throughout the year, beautiful skyscapes with dramatic light from the clouds as they roll over the mountains near sunset…and of course, Lake Erhai!)
  9. Farmers working in their small village gardens/fields
  10. Time…for spending with friends and building relationships
Version 2

My favorite “egg lady” – How can buying eggs be so much fun?!

Version 2

My last bowl of hand-made noodles…couldn’t resist!

I THINK I will enjoy:

 

  1. No longer living behind the Great Firewall (see upcoming article for why this is #1 on the list!)
  2. Being closer to family
  3. Butterfingers
  4. Ability to communicate with majority of society!
  5. Steak (think Ribeye!)
  6. Riding motorcycle in more predictable traffic patterns
  7. Tacos, Chips, Salsa
  8. Central heating (or effective winter heat of any kind!)
  9. US “standard” height countertops, tables, chairs…even vehicles!
  10. Fewer fish bones and bone shards in meat!

I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises during the coming months (and even years) as we experience life in our previous culture, but one that is no longer our only culture.  So, I hope to share some of those surprises in this blog with those who might be interested.

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

Village New Year Preparation

YiManVillageEver wonder what life is like in a remote Chinese village?  We had the privilege of visiting a village in the mountains last week.  It was just a few days before the Chinese New Year and the day when most families in the village kill a pig in preparation for the new year.  Our host (George) is from this village and we were invited (along with several other friends) to share the annual event and meal with him and his family.

YiLady

Friendly Yi lady who seemed happy to visit with us during our walk.

George comes from the Yi (pronounced “Yee”) people.  The Yi are one of China’s ethnic minorities with their own culture and language.  Getting to his village requires driving up a steep mountain road (with no guard rails) to the very top of the mountain where his village is located.  Even after driving our own mountain road in Colorado hundreds of times, I must admit I found the occasional 1,000 ft + exposure a bit uncomfortable!  This village has about 2,000 residents.  Life here is very simple, and with the exception of electricity, smart phones, TV’s and several cars, life here does not appear to have changed much during the last hundred years.

PatronBoard

Village “patron board” recording family donations of as little as 15 Yuan (Approx. $2 USD).

After tasting some raw pork from the freshly killed pig (a local delicacy), we went out for a walk through town where we saw many other pigs being killed, burned and prepared for the special meal.  Our Buddhist friend, Jupiter, was not thrilled about all this animal killing, but he was a real trooper and never once complained – probably because he knew what he was signing up for in advance!

PigFace

Face from George’s family’s freshly killed pig (note the missing slices from the snout…a favorite delicacy for a special “raw” snack).

Pig-RawSnack

“Raw” slices of just-burned pig skin, complete with dipping sauce…yes, I had some!

PrayingPig

Another village pig being burned to remove the hair before butchering/eating.

Historically, this annual event provided the only pig to be eaten by the family for an entire year, making this celebration extremely significant, including elements of ancestor worship that are still practiced to this day.  Today’s increased affluence means that there should be plenty of meat throughout the year, so some of the freshly butchered pork is now shared with friends and family, while the rest of the meat is salted and dried for future use.

PorkCourtyard

George’s family home and courtyard, site of his pig burning, butchering and lunch!

During our walk around town, we strolled through blossoming plum and pear orchards, for which this particular village is well known.  These orchards provide the local villagers with a mechanism for generating revenue to purchase items beyond their immediate needs.  Mules are an important part of this community as they are needed to haul the fruit from the orchards to the village roads for transporting down the mountain to local markets.  Because the orchards are grown on mountain terraces, mules are much more practical than motorized vehicles for getting through narrow trails and gates to the source of the fruit.

Orchards

Plum orchard

OrchardBlossoms

Plum blossoms

Jupiter-Mule

Our friend, Jupiter (from Beijing) and his new friend, George’s mule!

Superstition and legend are still alive and well in this village.  While touring the village, George told us the story of his great grandfather (by marriage of an uncle).  His ancestor was a famous bandit and village leader.  Apparently, he was a bit of a “Robin Hood” and his legend is kept alive by his descendants who provide tours of his original home.  There is even a local spring that is said to have first bubbled up after his death and continues to flow to this day, evidence of the (good) dragon spirit they believe was very strong in him.  By contrast, he is reported to have had an evil brother who was a cannibal and threat to the village because of his (evil) wolf spirit.  After listening to George tell us the story of these ancestors, it was evident that their “presence” in the village is still being felt to this   day.

GeorgeBanditHouse

George in front of his “Robin Hood” ancestor’s home (photo courtesy of Jupiter).

In some ways, life in this village seems picturesque and idyllic.  On the other hand, the remoteness and harshness of the land and weather make these people very tough and resilient.  At the end of the day, we were thankful for the warmth and friendliness of George’s village and neighbors, and the comfort of our own bed back home!

Just for fun:  The following pic’s include some shots I found interesting re: the local architecture and village life:

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

What is it like living in China? – Part 2

LaMianNoodles

Hand-made noodles with beef…one of my favorites!

Remember that line “Life is just a bowl of cherries”?  Well, I beg to differ.  Living in China has taught me that “Life is really a bowl of Noodles”!

This is the second blog in what may become a mini-series that shares a few thoughts re: the question “What is it like living in China?”  This time, I thought I’d share a few Things I Really Like and a few Things I Find Different.

Yes, I’ve heard from some of you that these entries may seem a bit random…but that’s exactly what living cross-culturally is like much of the time.  Different experiences seem to come at you from all angles…unexpectedly!  You may also notice a lot of these entries have to do with food…what can I say?!

Things I Really Like:

  1. Hand-pulled Muslim (wheat) noodles with beef for less than $1.50
  2. Chinese (rice) noodles with pork for less than $1.50
    RiceNoodles

    Big, slippery, spongy rice noodles with pork…another favorite!

    RiceNoodleLady

    Chinese noodle shop owner getting my order ready…yum!

  3. College cafeteria noodles (wheat or rice) with something like pork for less than $1.00!

    DaliUNoodles

    Rice noodles at the University cafeteria…not the very best, but very convenient!

  4. Simpler, slower pace of life – Adequate advance notice (invitation) for getting together with friends is “now”!
  5. Fresh fruit for dessert (e.g., sweet, crunchy, juicy pear…or, just passing a partially peeled orange around the table so people can take a wedge for themselves…or just a bite of fresh strawberry…better than many candies or sweets?!)

Things I Find Different:

  1. Kraft Parmesan Cheese as a delicacy!  (only available at the local “Western Foods Market” and possibly on the “western aisle” at Walmart.)
  2. Wearing the same clothes two days in a row…without your teacher or classmates noticing anything unusual (since there is a good chance they are also wearing the same clothes 2 days in a row!)
  3. Learning to look closely before buying face lotion, since many products on the shelf include active ingredients for whitening your skin (I’m OK with whitening my teeth, but my skin?!)

    FaceLotion

    Sometimes the “whitening” label is not so easy to identify (i.e., not in English)

  4. These days, most trips to the nearby (larger) city include a special treat of visiting KFC!  Can you imagine thinking of a trip to KFC as a special event?!  (In our local valley of 500,000+ people, there are really only 3 visual signs of US presence that I can think of:  1 Walmart, 1 McDonalds and 1 KFC.  That’s it.  Well, I guess I need to add Hilton now, since they had a soft opening for the Hilton Dali Resort and Spa just a couple of days ago.)KFCMenu

    KFCSnack

    Yes, I love Chinese food, but sometimes enjoying the Colonel’s Original Recipe without lots of bones in the chicken is a real treat!

  5. Cutting my wife’s hair (for the first time after 28 years of marriage).  Now, that’s different!  (She has curly, fine hair, but the local hairstylists specialize in cutting extremely straight, thick hair…not to mention the language barrier.)  Good news is it turned out just fine.

Oh, there is one other thing that is a bit different here:   No “live” coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

What is it like living in China?

Version 2

Dried (whole) fish and other special treats at the local Walmart.

We get this question periodically and I thought it might be fun to share just a few (Top 10) items that have been on my mind the last few weeks.  It’s been just over 6 months since my last blog posting, so it seems about time to post an entry.  Language learning has been my primary focus for the past several months (in addition to soaking up culture) so things have been quiet on the blogging front.

These entries are brief, so please feel free to post Comments (or email me at kevin@yunev.co) if you’re interested in more detail on any of the following:

Today’s Top 10 Questions re: “What is it like living in China?

  1. Do you ever find yourself struggling to keep track of different currencies when transferring and tracking funds between various accounts (one in US dollars, another in Hong Kong dollars, and a third in Chinese Yuan)?  Me too.
  2. Do you occasionally find yourself in the shower, ready to rinse off the soap, when the water supply is cut off…without warning…without explanation…with no real certainty when the water supply will return?  Yeah, me too.
  3. Do you ever find yourself at Walmart thinking “Hmmm, I feel like I really want a whole dried fish, whole dried squid, whole dried eel…!”  Me either.
  4. Do you ever wish you could just drop your toilet paper in the toilet bowl (rather than in the waste basket) and flush?  Yep, me too.
  5. Do you ever wonder what’s the best transportation option when it rains or snows?  Our choices are:
    • A.) Walk,
    • B.) take the bus (and then walk),
    • C.) ride a bike (and then walk), or
    • D.) ride the scooter (and then walk).
    • When the weather is bad, we typically opt for the bus.
  6. Do you ever dream about what it might be like to have unlimited access to the Internet?  Even with our relatively modest (low) bandwidth (and a very good VPN), the idea of being able to freely visit sites that you select is virtually impossible most days (and nights).  Some call it the “Great Firewall” effect.  I call it the new “normal”!
  7. Do you ever find yourself without any personal space at all (on all 4 sides) and you’re not even uncomfortable about that anymore?  That’s a big YES for me (remember, one of our family vehicles is the local city bus!).
  8. Do you ever find the temperature inside your home below 50F and you just want to reach for the thermostat and turn on the heat…but there is no thermostat…and there is no heat?  That’s a daily experience for us in Dec, Jan and Feb.
  9. Do you ever find yourself snacking on sunflower seeds with friends thinking “Wow, this is so simple and such a wonderful way to get to know people in a more relaxed setting than our normal busy schedules.”  I love it when this happens!  It’s always a special experience when we visit local friends’ homes and even when waiting for the food at some restaurants.
  10. Do you ever ask yourself “What am I doing here?!”?  (You might fill in the blank with your current “location”, your current “job”, a particular “relationship”, your “house”…or whatever situation you may find stressful or difficult or puzzling).  On the worst of days, do you say to yourself: “This has got to be one of the craziest things I’ve ever done.”?  Then…the very same day, do you realize how thankful you are to have the incredibly rare privilege of disconnecting from the busy-ness, comfort and convenience of life to learn a new language and culture along with all the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and wonderful people that are a natural part of that process?  I must admit I’ve taken a ride on this emotional rollercoaster in China…at least once or twice!  Others tell me it is a normal part of living cross-culturally.

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2016.  All rights reserved.

By the Numbers:

IMG_1505_2

Boutique Starbucks in downtown Bangkok (my personal favorite during recent holiday trip)

How far is it to your nearest Starbucks?  What do you typically pay for your favorite drink at Starbucks?

Here’s a breakdown on my Starbucks stats:

The Journey:

  • 15 minutes – Walk from apartment to bus
  • 15 minutes – Wait for bus
  • 30-40 minutes – Bus ride to train station
  • 60 minutes – Wait for train
  • 5 hours – Train ride from Dali (Xiaguan) to Kunming
    • There is an 8-9 hour “night train” option, but we’ll ignore that choice for now!
  • 15 minutes – Wait for Taxi
  • 15-30 minutes – Taxi to my nearest Starbucks

So, total time to Starbucks: 7.5 hours!

But, to avoid an overnight hotel bill, I should probably return home, so that puts the round trip at 15 hours…minimum!

The Cost:

  • 1.8 RMB (or CYN) – Bus to Train Station
  • 198 RMB – “Soft Sleeper” Train from Dali to Kunming
  • 26 RMB – Taxi from Train Station to Starbucks

Since I still need to return home after visiting Starbucks, total cost: 452 RMB ($74 USD).

Including a Tall Americano, my cost is just over $75 USD for a single cup of coffee.

Does that sound a bit different than your normal experience?  Welcome to life in remote SW China.

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My nearest Starbucks – Kunming, Yunnan Province

Now that you know why it could easily be 5 months before my next Starbucks Americano, I hope you will enjoy your next trip to Starbucks just a little bit more!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2015.  All rights reserved.

 

Pecan Pie – A New Global Sourcing Challenge?!

Pecan Pie I will miss tomorrow (at parents'  home in Tyler, Texas)

The actual Pecan Pie I will miss tomorrow (at my parents’ home in Tyler, Texas)  Photo used with permission from K. Anderson.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?  One of my personal favorites is Pecan Pie – Texas style.  However, as we learned from our language helper last night, it might be a long time before we get Pecan Pie in China.

Turns out her dictionary (with tens of thousands of Chinese words) did not even have a word for “pecan”.  Our electronic dictionary also failed to find a Chinese word for “pecan”.  So, easy access to pecan pie does not look promising in the near future.

Naturally, our response to this sourcing challenge was to go with a dual-source strategy which worked out beautifully.  In a rare moment of cultural adaptability and flexibility, we enjoyed both apple pie and pumpkin pie as a fitting end to a delicious traditional Thanksgiving Dinner today at the Serendipity Diner (Dali’s local “New York style diner”).

Serendipity Diner - Dali Old Town

Serendipity Diner – Dali Old Town

Feb 15, 2015 – Pecan Update:

As often happens here, things change.  Since the original “pecan” post was published (above), a couple of things happened.

First, we began to notice “pecans” in the marketplace where they had not existed before (despite the fact that the closest Chinese word for “pecans” actually means “walnut”).  In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention that these local “pecans” do have “Chinese characteristics“…meaning that the shell is typically already cracked (not shelled) and the meat itself has a sweet, buttery taste.  They are very nice…but different.

Pecans in local market

Pecans in local market

Then, a shipment of pecans arrived in a special package from Texas…what I would call the “real thing“!  So, our logistics crisis has been solved for now.  A fun reminder that it is always a tricky business to report on circumstances here in Yunnan, as they can often be quite different elsewhere in China and are subject to change here in Yunnan and everywhere else in China!

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2015.  All rights reserved.

Hand-Made Noodles!

Have you ever had fresh, hand-made noodles?  Have you ever seen them being made?!

Well, as much as I’d love to…I can’t offer you a bowl of noodles, but here’s a great video that shows how noodles are made-to-order, on-the-spot in a small street cafe in Dali Old Town.  As you watch, I hope you’ll be patient and realize that this is the age-old process of turning a lump of dough into beautiful, delicious noodles!  It’s worth a few minutes to catch a glimpse of what down-home cooking looks like – China style!  And, this video actually captures the making of both flat and round noodles.  No wonder this shop has become one of my go-to favorites for fresh noodles in Dali:

After all, what would a proper blog be without a post on food?  I hope you enjoyed this quick foodie experience…I’m sure there will be more to come!

BTW, the full length video will be available soon on YouTube (just in case you are interested in the complete process of stretching the noodles!)

Copyright Notice:

© Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2014-2015.  All rights reserved.