Monday, June 28, 2010

Ni hao from Pingyao! Shanxi Province, China

Hi everyone!! We've been having a fabulous time traveling - silly me, I forgot the USB cord to hook my camera up to the computer, so I have tons and tons of pictures I haven't been able to upload yet.. lots of pictures and posts when I return.

Yesterday we took a 9 hour train ride from Xi'an to the small, ancient town of Pingyao in Shanxi Province. On the train, our Chinese bunkmates asked us why we were going to Pingyao, and they told us there really isn't anything to see. Friends... this entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don't know why they think there isn't anything to see here! The ancient city is still entirely enclosed by the wall and there are tons of old courtyard houses still intact.

Today, we had an amazing day and a very rare opportunity - we taught English to about 40 elementary school students. Last night the manager of the school came to our hotel when he found out English speakers were staying there - and he asked us if we would be willing to come to the class to teach the students about animals using English. We agreed, a little bit hesitantly because of the occasional person who tries to scam us. This morning after breakfast, they picked us up at our hotel and off we went, crossing our fingers they weren't going to kill us. LOL. Just kidding.

It was really fun, the kids were repeating us, all 35 of them saying at once "A lion has 4 legs." "I have 2 legs." At one point, my husband had them all (including himself) simultaneously quacking and flapping their arms like a duck. I have a great picture of it to embarrass him with later.

Afterwards, our new friends took us to the local middle and high school. It was huge. They have 6,000 students - but not only that, it was just BIG. A lot of students' homes are really far away in small villages, so they live at the school in dorms, like we do for college in the U.S. We met the principal, vice principal, and there was lots of picture taking. It was really funny - they really want to expose the kids to foreigners.

Finally - our new friends invited us out to dinner tonight! And before they dropped us back off at our hotel, they gave us 2 small gifts as their way of thanking us. I was given a beautiful jewelry box - it is the "techan" here - hmm... how to say it in English... the "special product" of the local area - what its known for. Its beautiful! Everyone was so warm and kind to us - we have met amazing hospitable Chinese friends on this trip.

Since I don't have any real pictures to show you because of the USB cord mishap - I did try to take a couple pictures - using my Macbook - of the really cool guesthouse we are staying at. It is in a traditional courtyard house that was built in the 1700s. Its gorgeous, a great mixture of the old and the new!

And trying to give you a view of the room - its a traditional style kang bed - its huge. It could fit a family of 5 on it, really. Its a lot harder than we are used to though. Anyway, I love the furnishings in the room... you'll see it a lot better when I get my real pictures upload.

I'm laughing because my husband asked what I was doing, and I told him I was trying to get a picture of the room for the blog - and he told me maybe I should move my big head out of the way, ha ha ha! That guy.

OK, off to explore the city! Hope you all are having a great time wherever you are. I promise I will be back and commenting on all your blogs soon enough - I so desperately want to catch up! But my internet is shoddy at best - right now I am using the wifi in the guesthouse restaurant.

Until then!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Sorry I've been scarce guys... we are leaving tomorrow for our first trip within China, and when we return from that we have about a week and then we leave for our next! I'll most likely be out of touch for a few days but I will make a post as soon as possible! I should have internet at our hotels.

If I have time tomorrow, I may make a post on something I've been wanting to for a few days.

I hope you are all doing well! Hopefully I'll have something interesting up soon.

Take care!


Friday, June 18, 2010

People watching at The Temple of Heaven

I remember before I moved here everybody warned me about the sheer amount of people everywhere. When I first arrived I was surprised because it seemed like the busiest place was definitely the subway, but other than that it wasn't as crowded as I expected it to be. Well, today I found out where all the people are... the train station! The subway ride to the train station, then the walk from the subway station to the train station was absolutely like nothing I have ever seen before. I was at Grand Central this past Christmas and that is nothing compared to what I experienced on a non-holiday in Beijing! WOW! After we arrived inside, we stood in line for 15 minutes, said in perfect Chinese "I would like to buy two tickets to Xi'an," and then immediately was told to go to window #16. Off we went to window #16... to find that it was the bilingual window. LOL! Then, we waited another 10 minutes at this window only to use NO English whatsoever, everything was done in Chinese with no problems at all. Sometimes when Chinese comes out of our white mouths, it blows their mind so much they seriously can't figure out what is happening.

Regardless, we have successfully purchased our first train tickets in China! Next Wednesday we are taking a night train from Beijing to Xi'an, after a few days in Xi'an we will make our way to Pingyao, where we are going to stay in a completely amazing traditional Chinese siheyuan home (courtyard home), then from Pingyao we will take a train to Datong, then back to Beijing. We are really looking forward to this trip! There is so much to see around these areas.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. This past Sunday my husband and I woke up early and ventured out to Tiantan Park - 天坛公园 . If you get there early enough you can catch all sorts of interesting sights, including large groups of people dancing, people doing taiqi in the woods, hoards of people working out in the park. Its an amazing place and if you are ever in Beijing you need to wake up early and make it out to Tiantan Park, it is one of the best people-watching experiences in Beijing!

Everyone works out here, look at the mass amount of people! Doing all kinds of hard exercises.

The hubby playing Chinese-style hackey sack with a random guy! Called "jianzi." You can see it to the left of my husband - its the colorful feathers flying through the air.

Traditional Chinese dance

Hundreds of people were dancing in the park on a Sunday morning before 9:00am. I love her serious expression.

This is the place where the moms and dads meet up to hopefully find love matches for their kids!

You can see on the bench next to the guy - there are pieces of paper - on this they have information written down about their son or daughter... age, educational background, work experience, etc.

I liked his hat.

The hubby and his new best friend. Look at how the guy covered my husband's fingers with his hand. LOL! He was so sweet. They talked about old values, politics and modern China. I smiled and nodded, because its not my subject. :)

If you can pretend that this really is fog, its beautiful.

Me standing in front of the Temple of Heaven.

A Japanese art student - I know he is Japanese because he told me when I started speaking Chinese to him!


Walking around the park in 4 inch red stilettos - I couldn't do it!

They were dancing, having a blast. Shortly after this picture was taken my husband offered me to dance with the nice Chinese man next to me... I politely declined... LOL.

I hope you enjoyed a typical Sunday morning stroll through Tiantan Park with me!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chinese cooking class! with Hutong Cuisine

Yesterday we had an absolutely amazing day! We took a cooking class with Chef Zhou Chunyi of Hutong Cuisine. Originally born in Canton, Chef Zhou followed her passion for cooking and ultimately ended up in Beijing, where she opened Hutong Cuisine. Learning to cook traditional, authentic Chinese food from a great chef was a wonderful experience.

We started by meeting Chef Zhou at the local market. She led us around and explained how they pick the right meat, what different spices do, and pointed out all kinds of vegetables I've only seen here in China. In China, chicken breasts are much cheaper than chicken thighs, wings or other parts of the chicken (they also eat chicken head and chicken feet, of which I will spare you the pictures). Chicken breasts are seldom used in Chinese cooking due to lack of flavor and a drier texture than other parts of the chicken - lucky for us Americans, its very cheap to buy chicken breasts here in Beijing.

The spice aisle

Meat! Here, everything is much less "behind the scenes" than it is in the U.S. (unless you were to go to a Butcher or something in the U.S.)

Be careful not to break your eggs! The greenish tinged eggs and the brown ones closest to us in the pic are duck eggs.

Tons of fresh veggies.

We saw several other things at this market that you typically wouldn't see in the U.S., including locals loading up their carts for delivery around town.

The aquarium at the market, where you can pick your own fish.... what? It doesn't look like your local grocery store? lol.

Chef Zhou's class is held in her own home, in one of Beijing's oldest hutongs in the Dongcheng district of the city. These traditional courtyard homes have true Chinese flair and as soon as you step foot in one, you are instantly given a picture of how Chinese lived hundreds of years ago when hutong living was the way almost everybody lived. Much like any other big city, Beijing is loud, and I am pleasantly surprised at how peaceful, quiet and tranquil it is in the hutong.

Gorgeous inside the hutong.

Chef Zhou teaching us about the different types and grades of soy sauce, vinegar, and rice wine.

The hubby and I after chopping up chives, cilantro (also known as coriander according to our British cookmates, as well as Chinese parsley).

The hubby stuffing the dumplings. We made dumplings with pork, beef, and one with egg. Some were mixed with chives, some with spring onions, some with cilantro, and some with cabbage - all had ginger. We handmade the outside "wrapper" as well - surprisingly easy, its made with just flour and water! Same goes for the noodles (which are first boiled for 3 minutes, then stir fried).

MMMM tons of various sorts of dumplings, absolutely delicious! Chef Zhou taught us how to pinch them the correct way. We either stir fried them, boiled them, or steamed them.

A delicious Sichuan style cold dish... cucumber, cilantro, vinegar, soy sauce, chili pepper... so delicious!

This is a type of raddish... I forget exactly what is in it but the flavor is amazing.

My bowl! I can honestly say this is my favorite, most delicious meal in China so far. I love that its homemade, all fresh, no MSG!

Me and the hubby sitting in Chunyi's tiny courtyard, enjoying our meal and drinking tea.

The class was amazing and I will definitely be taking it again to learn how to make more authentic Chinese food! Not only was the food delicious, but the company was great. We have met such cool people in our time so far here in Beijing. Another couple who took the class with us were other Americans from Colorado - they are both twice over Ironman triathletes! They were beginning their 1 year of traveling around the world, and their first stop was here in Beijing. Something about the type of people who come to a place like this are so interesting, and it seems like Beijing draws all kinds of people, from all over the world with all sorts of backgrounds.

If you make it to Beijing or China in general, I highly recommend taking a Chinese cooking class - the food is a huge part of their culture and I think this class would be a highlight of your trip!

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

An Imperial Meal!

Today we had a really wonderful day with some great friends! When we first moved to China we used a realtor to help us find our apartment. Not only is our realtor Renee an amazing businesswoman but she is just an amazing woman in general! I am so thankful to have met Renee... she is one of the warmest, friendliest person I have ever met and really played an instrumental role in helping us get settled here in Beijing. Ever since we first arrived she talked about taking us out to lunch and introducing us to some of Beijing's specialties. Today, we met her and her lovely mother at Beihai Park where they took us to a very unique restaurant called Fang Shan.

In this picture, Fang Shan is in the middle somewhere.

As Renee said, Fang Shan is special not because it has the best food around - she admitted you could easily find better food at any of the hundreds of restaurants in Beijing. Fang Shan is special because the food you eat is food that was commonly prepared for many of China's past emperors and empresses. Many of these dishes the common people weren't allowed to eat.

She also told us really interesting tidbits, for example the yellow color of the table cloth is an Imperial color and in those days, no one but the emperor was allowed to wear it - and if you wore it anyway? Off with your head- literally!

Dish after dish was brought out, and luckily for us we had Renee and her mom there to explain what dish was the favorite of which emperor. It was so cool. I also sat next to Renee's mom and we spoke Chinese the entire time! She also kept trying to get me to eat more and more, putting food on my plate FOR me... LOL! I ate a lot more today than I would have eaten otherwise, and tried a lot of different foods that I otherwise wouldn't have tried - I just didn't want to be rude, so if she put it on my plate, I ate it! She really reminded me of my mom in that way - always trying to feed people!

This round bun with meat inside has a story that I found especially interesting. It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi had a dream one night that she was eating these buns that she had never seen before. That morning, when her servants brought her breakfast to her, she saw on the tray was the very same buns she had dreamt about! It is said that if you eat these buns, your dreams will come true. We ate two.

The group of us outside the restaurant, you can see Renee and her mom on the right.

Hilarious picture - our friends' children, little redheads, are like superstars over here. People fall all over themselves for these kids! And parents always want their children to take pictures with them. Its especially hilarious because you can always see in the 2 kids' faces how much they DON'T want to have their picture taken together!

Look at the kids' expressions - lol! And I thought this woman's headgear was really interesting, I don't know if it is for religious regions or if it is a type of ethnic dress - does anyone happen to know?

And just a picture of the beautiful park.

It was a fun day!! I'm especially looking forward to Monday, I am taking a Chinese cooking class! and later this week we are taking our first trip within China, to the Dongbei (the Northeast).


Friday, June 11, 2010

Scammed! A travel lesson

Its possible that with your first glance at the following picture, you will already know what happened & how we were "scammed." After arriving home and typing "Beijing Scams" into Google, it became extremely clear that this is a very well-known scam that we somehow happened to overlook in all our planning.

The Beijing Tea Scam

Deciding to take advantage of a nice day, we ventured out to a part of town known as Qianmen. Wanting to practice our Chinese, we take every opportunity we can to speak with the locals, even if it means buying a banana or a coke or a packet of spices we don't really want. We were walking down a hutong and exchanged greetings with a man and a woman. They said they were siblings and the girl was his younger sister; they were visiting from Xi'an (another town). After walking together and talking for a good 20 minutes, they mentioned it being really hot out and wanting to get a cup of tea together ~ we agreed. They led the way to a teahouse that by all appearances was just one of the many teahouses in Beijing. Outside, the teahouse had signs indicating different drinks and teas, prices displayed - 5 kuai - about .73 U.S. cents.

After sitting down inside the teahouse, the waitress kept bringing over very small, almost thimble-sized cups of tea. We thought these were samples, and eventually we'd order the one we liked. About halfway through, we started to feel like something wasn't right and stopped the waitress to ask how much this was costing. She told us for every type of tea you taste, it is 30 kuai per person - about $4.40 - remember, thimble sized. She told us that we had already tasted 8 types of tea. At that point we indicated we were done and wanted to just pay. At that point our lovely "friends" indicated that they had no money and we would have to pay for them. We paid. It ended up costing us about $160 which is just astronomical for the amount of tea we drank, not to mention we were totally swindled by these two people, who actually work for the restaurant and purposely bring unsuspecting tourists to this place to conduct the same scam over and over again. (Consider the fact that we usually spend about $15 on a meal that can feed 5 people with tons of leftovers to take home!)

Afterwards, the "siblings" had to suddenly leave and got on the next bus. We had a hunch... so we went back to the place we had originally stumbled upon this dynamic duo and sure enough, there they were, chatting it up with the next poor bastard!

Anyway yes we paid, perhaps we shouldn't have taken it lying down like that, without protesting at all, but China is not a place we want to do anything questionable. I've heard of people arguing about it or bringing the police back but at that point, we just said forget about it and chalked it up to a really expensive travel and language lesson.

Google Beijing Tea Scam and see how every single hit is people talking about how they fell for this scam! Some people even went back with their video camera for some sort of revenge.

In the grand scheme of things, its not that bad - we had an hour and a half of Chinese practice! And we did drink some very tasty, albeit overpriced tea. Its just the point that people purposefully set out to take advantage of people. It happens all over the world, not just in China. We were just annoyed with ourselves for letting our eagerness to speak the language get in the way of the feeling that something was off. We've learned to be very selective in who we speak with & won't let this sort of thing happen again!

So, if you are coming to China, definitely don't go with someone you just met to a teahouse, no matter how nice or genuine they seem! And if you come to Beijing, avoid Yimingyuan Teahouse in the Qianmen area.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beauty! Product reviews & new purchase

Recently, I've hardly written any beauty related posts, because, lets face it, I am in China, life is a little different right now, and, really, I haven't really tried anything new product-wise since I've been living here! Actually, I am still living out of the same suitcase I was living out of since the end of March! Still haven't received my household goods... I'm quickly running out of must-haves and am crossing my fingers we will get our shipment any day now!

As far as fashion goes, I keep meaning to make sure to have my camera with me, that way you can see why I haven't felt the need to run out and go shopping.. LOL! China has been good on the wallet in that respect.;) The 80s is alive & well here! Full body denim jumpsuits, crazy pattern matching, short jean shorts with thigh high socks and stilettos, shirts with English sayings that we can't quite figure out the meaning of (Chinglish at its best perhaps!). Its interesting to say the least. But, don't get me wrong, you still have Chinese girls that step out of cars and you can't help but look because they are dressed so well and look so glamorous! And then you have the 60 year old man I pass everyday on my way home from class, wearing the same green glittered shirt everyday, with the same message "Nobody seems to know how to shine the knob." Note to self: take more pictures.

But, really, there are some seriously adorable boutiques nearby that look very promising & I can't wait to visit.

Anyway, I DO have a couple of reviews for you.

First review is about MD Skincare's Correct and Perfect Spot Treatment.

I bought this at Ulta before I left for China. I was really looking for a spot treatment for the occasional breakout/blemish that did not use salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid does nothing for me, and the problem with BP is that I recently discovered I was (suddenly) by all appearances allergic to it. I decided to purchase MD Skincare's Correct and Perfect Spot Treatment because it is sulfur based and does not use SA or BP. I have discovered that sulfur treatments are much less drying and more gentle on skin than BP or SA treatments.

While I am not blown away by this product, I do feel that it does something - reduces blemishes as well as the amount of time a breakout will last. Compared to DDF's Benzoyl Peroxide Gel with Tea Tree Oil (which as far as I am concerned is completely amazing even though I am now allergic to it and can no longer use it), I think the DDF is a much more effective treatment, but believe that the MD Skincare Perfect & Correct Spot Treatment is a viable alternative especially if you are allergic to either BP or SA or those treatments are too harsh for you or otherwise just don't work. This sulfur treatment is very gentle on my skin, has not dried me out at all, and works, albeit not as fast or as well as the DDF BP Gel.

If you are not allergic to benzoyl peroxide and have problems with breakouts, whether it is occasional or more often, I personally found DDF Benzoyl Peroxide Gel with Tea Tree Oil as well as DDF Acne Pumice Scrub (also with BP) to be extremely effective in clearing up skin & maintaining clear skin. You do have to moisturize well and make sure to wear sunscreen when using products with BP.

I think you can be more sensitive to certain things at certain times in life, so as soon as my shipment arrives from the U.S. I am definitely going to re-try the DDF products I just recommended - I loved them that much, they were definitely clear-skin holy grail products for me, and I am hoping the allergy was just a passing sensitivity because of all the stress I had going on!

Pretty early on when I had first started blogging, I made a post raving about La Roche Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15, available at CVS. I had started using it a couple months before I blogged about it, and I just want to come back and say that I still believe everything I said in that review, & this daily moisturizer is still what I use everyday. Also, I am still on the SAME bottle I first bought - I have yet to run out despite using it everyday since January-ish.

If you are looking for a daily moisturizer with SPF, this one is amazing. I used it on a very sunny day while hiking the Great Wall for hours, and didn't turn the slightest bit pink.

And finally, my newest purchase. Before I left for China I bought the Foley + Corinna Disco City Clutch.

I thought it would be the perfect cross-body bag for traveling. While I love the bag, after a few weeks living in China I realized its just not big enough for everyday use. Its an awesome purse, totally adorable, but much better suited to a night out than for travel. It barely holds sunglasses, a cell phone, a couple lip glosses and a very small wallet if you are lucky.

I quickly realized that it wasn't well suited for the type of travel situations I wanted it for, so I began searching for another cross-body bag. I ended up purchasing a bag made by The Sak. It was the first time I had ever purchased this brand, generally speaking, its not really my style but for what I want the bag for, I think I made the right decision!

The Sak Silverlake Leather Flap ....yes, I have shorts on, which I BTW totally love, on sale right now for $30 at - the 3 inch chinos, so much cuter than chino shorts I bought from there last year!

Back to the bag... quickly: I love it. The leather is really nice, very soft, comfy & not heavy, the bag is the perfect size, roomy but not too large, is well organized inside with a zippered pocket as well as two separate areas for other items, the outside has two pockets, and the flap itself has zippered pocket. If you are looking for a cross body bag for travel, this is an awesome bag!

OK now that I got those reviews out of the way, I can get started on my post about being scammed!

Hopefully some of this info is helpful to one of you!