Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Francisco

Last month I went back to the US during the Chinese New Year holiday. I took about two weeks off and spent most of that time back at home in Utah. Somewhat luckily, my flight had a 10 hour layover in San Francisco, before connecting back to Salt Lake City. Normally such a long layoff would be something to dread, but fortunately a few of my old college friends from Northwestern are living in San Francisco, turning a 10 hour layover into enough time to catch up with old friends and a quick tour of the city.

Flying the Blue Skies of the Pacific

After arriving in San Francisco, I went through customs as quickly as possible, then exited the terminal to go meet my friends. They picked me up and took me to a German restaurant for brunch. While we were waiting on the corner near the restaurant, I couldn't help but feel a bit of culture shock because of the diversity of the city. There were all different kinds of people, whereas in China it's so homogeneous. In the past I wouldn't think twice about something like that, but having spent over one year in mainland China without leaving the country, things seemed to have changed for me. Regardless, the brunch was amazing and some German sausages and potatoes were just what the doctor ordered after spending over 12 hours on a plane.

Ross, Dara, Chris, and Wes

After eating, they took me around the city a bit and showed me some of the local sites. Since Ross had just come to town for the weekend, he had to leave to go catch his flight, but Dara and Chris were able to keep showing me around, since they both live there. 

City Hall

Asian Art Museum Proves I Can't Get Away from China

We went for a hike near the bay where we could get a view of the ocean and also the Golden Gate Bridge. After being in China for so long, I couldn't help but enjoy the blue skies and breathe in deeply the fresh smelling air. Dara and Chris laughed at such behavior, but I figured I might as well embrace it.

Trail Near the Ocean

Golden Gate Bridge with Fog Rolling In

Wes Feeling Short with Chris and Dara

Light Through the Trees

Kids Playing in Foam from Crashing Waves

After the hike, Chris took us to the area where he lives called the Mission. We walked around the streets and sampled some of the local wares. There was an ice cream shop that is supposed to be one of the best around.  It had some unusual flavors and most seemed to be really tasty. The huge line out front of the shop proved that it's quite popular with the locals as well. The shop was right next to a big park, so we stopped there to relax for awhile. I was feeling the jetlag in full effect at that point and was struggling to keep it together at times.

View of San Francisco from the Park

Mission Park

Unfortunately, the day was getting close to an end. We did have enough time to grab a quick dinner before I left. We ate at a Mexican restaurant where I was able to partake of a glorious burrito, the likes of which I hadn't eaten for quite some time. After that, I had to go back to the airport and continue onward to Salt Lake City. While the time was pretty short, I really enjoyed catching up with those guys after not having seen some of them for almost two years. It was cool to get a quick glimpse of San Francisco as well and it seems like a great place to live. Thanks again to Chris and Dara for making it happen!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bamboo Shoots in Xialu Village

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About a month ago, before the Chinese New Year, I had about a week off of work in China before going back to the US. Since Chinese New Year is a time for people to go back to their hometowns and spend time with their family, lots of my coworkers were leaving the cities to go to the villages. One of my friends at work, Li Jian Qiao, asked if I wanted to go to his hometown and spend the day with him and his family. He mentioned that his parents had a bamboo garden, where we could search for some of the bamboo shoots that start growing in the springtime and are then used in cooking. Since I always enjoy going to the countryside in China and I love eating the bamboo shoots, the invitation was definitely an offer I couldn't refuse.

His hometown is an hour or two away from Hangzhou and is called Xialu Town or 夏履镇. We set off in the morning and had another one of our friends from work with us. After arriving at his home, we were greeted by his parents and also his daughter who stays with his parents. A lot of Chinese people will go to the cities for better jobs and better opportunities, and then leave their kids with the grandparents until they reach school age. That arrangement allows both the husband and wife to work full-time without paying for day care. It's a little sad in that they are often only able to see their kids on the weekends, but that's a common sacrifice for a lot of Chinese people.

The house they live in has two sides that are shared by Li's dad and his uncle. Being in China, the house is kind of walled off from the outside alley, as are most of the homes in the area. Li said that it was built sometime in the past 10-15 years. That style of building seems to be really common in the more modern village or rural areas in China. I've seen them a lot from the roadside when I've been taking buses around China, but have never really spent time near one, so it was interesting to check it out.

Alley Near Li's Home

The Li Estate

The Li Estate

Dried Duck

While we were relaxing at his house, we started partaking of the usual Chinese time killers, namely sitting in the sun, eating seeds and throwing the shells all over the ground, and drinking tea. That suited me just fine.

After awhile, we decided to go to the bamboo garden and dig for bamboo roots. All the farmers in the village have a sectioned off square of this big bamboo forest that they harvest. They cut down some of the trees as they get too large and sell the wood, as well as harvest the bamboo shoots to sell in the markets for people to eat. Since the wood is harvested only as there become too many trees, it's a very sustainable way to get wood and also some delicious shoots to eat in the springtime.

Bamboo Forest Entrance

Li's Daughter, Li Jian Qiao, and Lou Yao Lin

A Ravenous Bamboo Hunter

Bamboo Forest

Li's Bamboo Garden Area

Li with His Daughter

Since it was still pretty early in the year, there weren't a lot of bamboo shoots yet. Most of them were still underground so we had to dig down below the surface. For the most part all we could find were really small ones that weren't worth bothering about. After we had been digging for awhile, Lou got an idea from a TV show he had watched about how a lot of the bamboo shoots grow near the trees that have a lot of dead leaves around them. Sure enough, after searching a bit in areas like that we started to find a lot more. We found one big one that was worth taking home at the end.

Digging for Gold

Located a Small Bamboo Shoot

A Baby Bamboo Shoot

A Big Bamboo Shoot

Look at the Big the Fish I Caught

After we finished up at the bamboo garden, we went back to Li's house. His mom had prepared a big lunch for us and had used some bamboo shoots they had dug earlier in the cooking. There's not much better than some home cooking in China. Without trying to make myself look crazy, I took a couple pictures of the food while we were eating.

Lunch with Fish Head, Vegetables, Bamboo Shoots, and Dried Duck

We spent the afternoon walking around the village area and took part of some of the sights, sounds, and smells. Nearby, there was a large reservoir they use to store water for all the farmers in the area.

Water Reservoir

We also went into the city center that was a little further away. They had markets there and all kinds of crazy things to buy. In the market, most of the smaller livestock, such as chickens, were still alive in cages. If you wanted to buy a chicken, they would slaughter it right in front of you. That way you would know for sure that it was fresh. They had other types of dried meats, vegetables, tofu, local wine, or anything else you could imagine. Visiting these small markets is something I enjoy the most in China, just so you can see the real local life and humanity of the situation.

Woman in Alley Near City Center

Caged Chickens

Fish in Tubs


The Butcher Shop

Lou Negotiating the Sale of Some Local Wine

Dried, Salted Fish

Salted Pig's Head

After spending time in the city center, Lou and I headed back to Hangzhou, leaving Li at home to be with his family. It was really great to go to Li's hometown and see his family there. Being able to visit the countryside with a local makes the experience a lot better and lets you see the simple life that a lot of Chinese people still live outside the big cities. Lou and Li were very kind and showed me a great time, not to mention buying several gifts of local wares and delicacies for me and my family. I can't thank those guys enough and it will be an experience I will always remember.

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