In which the chemistry lab smelled so bad that...
20.11.2007 8 °C
I taught my students the word "stinky" today!!
Changping District, Beijing, China
In which the chemistry lab smelled so bad that...
20.11.2007 8 °C
I taught my students the word "stinky" today!!
In which I ride a giant stone camel on a very cold day and realize that this does not warm the body.
18.11.2007 11 °C
On Saturday, Aaron and I decided to take advantage of a beautiful blue sky day to ride our bikes to the Ming Tombs. Aaron's colleague, Lin Jou Shu (he's Caucasian, and from California, but never uses his given name; I don't even know what it is) had spoken often about going with us to the Ming Tombs, so we gave him a call. He was currently entertaining three formers students, and wouldn't we like to join them for lunch and a bike ride afterwards? I enjoy invitations, but often they must come with an adjustment of my expectations for the day. We biked over to Lin's apartment on the other side of town. It has lots of character. Our apartment is very nice, but lacks any kind of character (unless you consider "artistically applied" caulking to be charming). Lin's is very large and holds his massive accumulation of strange items, including a zheng (in the zither family) which I got to play. Now I want one.
Lin's students cooked us a huge lunch of soup, cabbage, eggplant, potatoes; all in a Chinese home cooking style. It was very good. Then, eventually, we set out by bicycle for the Sacred Way, at the foot of the mountains that are home to the Ming Tombs.
The Sacred Way is a long, paved path lined by enormous carved stone figures. There are mythical creatures with scales, big ears, grimacing teeth, hooves and fur. Then there are elephants, camels, horses and lions, both standing and kneeling. And finally six human figures of varying military rank. They were all carved in the 1400s and are beautiful (and anatomically correct!) and well preserved. The walk is lined with willow trees, and is peaceful and quiet. At one end is a Dragon and Phoenix gate, beautifully carved and painted. At the other end is an enormous stele on the back of an even more massive tortoise. The tortoise has an amusing face with a big bulbous human nose. Into the stele on his back is carved all the accomplishments of the emperor of the time. (I can just picture the work as it begins. A variety of granite slabs are hauled before the emperor. One by one, he states, "No, not big enough. Nope. Not large enough for all my accomplishments. Too small. What? Have you not noticed how very busy I have been? Bigger!")
They say that if you rub the head of the tortoise, you will receive riches and if you rub the back end you will receive good health. I'll let you guess which end I rubbed. We walked along lazily for quite a while, enjoying the golden sun and the blue sky.
Aaron and I broke away from the group after our visit to the Sacred Way. We found a jiao zi restaurant in Changping, and had a delicious plate of pork with green onion and lamb with fennel dumplings. We sat by the fish enclosure, above which hung the electrical outlet for the kitchen appliances. Aaron was repeatedly splashed by jumping fish during the meal, which is only one reason to keep your jacket on during dinner in China!
On our way home, we stopped by the grocery store. Vegetables and meat all go into thin white plastic bags before they are weighed. The bags are really hard to get open and I often end up licking my fingers to help rub the two layers apart. This grosses Aaron out to no end (and I really can't blame him; you want to avoid putting your fingers in your mouth here!). We asked for some ground pork, and the butcher was having trouble getting the bag open. She reached over into the chicken bin and touched a piece of chicken to wet her bare fingers, to help open the bag!! Yummy.
In which there is much rainy-day induced introspection.
14.11.2007 4 °C
It is a cold, raw and rainy day here. The high temperature was a whole 6 degrees Celsius, and the fallen leaves are plastered to the sidewalks. This kind of weather makes me (and my students) wish we never had to get out of bed this morning!
I like it here. But I'm not going to live in China forever (and I can just see mom breathing a sigh of relief). This thought creeps into my mind occasionally, along with some degree of panic. Not staying here means I have to figure out what to do next (in a year or two...) as most things require some advanced planning, and probably a better GRE score than I currently possess. I'd like to go to graduate school, but for what? Andy Doran, my former boss from the herbarium, Facebooked me (ahhh, communication!) to see what I was up to. He thinks I should become a botanist. Do they accept PhD candidates in botany who can identify roughly 4 species of plants? I'm still interested in the evolution of invasiveness, though I'm way out of the loop on current research. Do programs accept out-of-touch teachers? On top of it, I don't even teach biology... Once you've taught chemistry, schools no longer consider you for anything but a chemistry position. Biology teachers are easy to come by, I suppose, and few people are willing to teach chemistry. Fear of Bunsen burners, or something. I'd continue teaching as a career, but I hate classroom management. I'd love to never again tell a 16 year old that we do not hit. Please stop humming so I can continue. Don't eat in class. Stop talking. F-u is not an element. And it is not funny, either. Do not burn random objects with your alcohol burner. You will not pass if you don't turn in any work. I am not interested in the current location of your homework; bring it to class on time!
I'm hesitant to apply to graduate school until I know what exactly I want to study. I can't justify that kind of investment of time and money unless I have a good idea of what I'll be doing with a PhD in botany or...? The grad students at UConn who had careers before beginning their MS or PhD program were much more interesting and well-adjusted than those who came directly after receiving their bachelor's degrees. Maybe I'll get to be interesting and well-adjusted someday.
Next entry: back to the China adventure, I promise. I'll try to keep the navel contemplation posts to a minimum.
In which we whine much less than your average tenth grade girl during our flu shots.
12.11.2007 10 °C
Heard at the flu shot clinic at my school today (yes, Mom: Aaron and I are both immunized), "Don't shower today; wait until tomorrow."
Is it going to wash off?!
In which Aaron and I, and all our friends, hang out in a cardboard castle, tippling whiskey.
11.11.2007 9 °C
Yesterday, Aaron and I headed into Beijing (via the new subway line 5!) to wander around the Temple of Heaven park. Parks, as I've mentioned before, are not little grassy affairs with a swingset and a picnic table. This park is particularly large and beautiful. There are lovely paved or cobbled paths surrounded by green grass, and patches of evergreen forest over a carpet of pine needles and surrounded by the smell of Christmas. There are a great number of blue-glazed tile roofed buildings including the "Divine Kitchen" (used to slaughter animals before sacrifice) and many prayer and worship halls, mostly for requesting and then thanking God for a successful harvest (or "bumper crops," as the signs repeatedly stated).
The covered walkways to one of the larger buildings were aswarm with crowds of Chinese, singing in choirs, playing the er hou, accordion, flute and mouth organ in ensembles, playing rowdy games of cards, twirling wide ribbons on sticks and practicing calisthenics or tai chi. I'm quite sure we even strolled past the Guild of Retired Beijing Opera Singers, but that is only a guess. We took a long walk among the trees away from the crowds. It was surprisingly quiet and peaceful; perhaps the quietest and most peaceful place in the city!
At the center of the park (accessible only after you fork over additional cash), are the buildings at the heart of the temple, built during the Ming Dynasty (mostly in 1420). We walked first around the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a round building with an impressive roof featuring a gold spire at the peak. Inside, there is an altar, surrounded by red and gold columns that ascend up into the darkness. The view of the city was quite nice as the day was clear. We then walked down a gently sloping stone walkway that leads from the Hall of prayer to the Echo Wall, a big curved stone wall. I'm sure that, had we been the only people there, we could have had a whispered conversation from either side of the wall. It does echo in an amusing way, though it was a little noisy for full effect. Then, on to the round altar which features a polished stone floor of concentric rings made of stone tiles in Heavenly odd numbers. Apparently, the voice of any person standing on the raised, round center stone sounds particularly sonorous and resonant. In my opinion, the voices of those people standing on the center stone sounded loud and obnoxious, but then again, I had no basis for comparison!
After our wander through the park, we set out for dinner. We came across a hot pot restaurant, where we had the most delicious broth (well, a close second to the duck broth), in which we cooked thinly sliced lamb, sweet potatoes and some green leafy vegetable. It was warm and marvelous. Best yet, the waitresses left us alone to cook our meat and vegetables ourselves. I dislike meddling hot pot restaurant waitresses!
Our friend Richard, who does some IT work for Huijia (his wife teaches at the GAC program) entered and won a contest on the City Weekend (an English-language "What's on in the city" type bi-weekly publication in Beijing - that's once every two weeks, Mom) that involved submitting his five-song playlist for a whiskey drinking party. The prize? A free "Whiskey Masterclass" and open bar party for 30 people at the new Dewar's Academy of Whiskey in the way too trendy SOHO neighborhood of Beijing. And so, anyone who knew who Richard is was invited. We found the "Academy," which is a cardboard castle with an inflatable roof and is dwarfed by the neighboring skyscrapers. Inside, we were immediately met with drinks, plush red carpeting and couches, and two men in kilts.
The class consisted of several presentations on a 270 degree screen: fly-throughs of Scotland, the history of Dewar's, kinds and types of whiskey, how Dewar's whiskey is made and blended. The kilt-wearing Scotsman hosted the night. Even though at times it seemed as if we were in a ninety minute commercial for Dewar's Whiskey, we did get to blend our own whiskey from five different single malts (using chemistry glassware! Whee!!) which we then decanted into our Dewar's hip flasks. We then did a "blind" taste test where Dewar's was rated significantly better (through a series of leading questions by our host) than Chivas (a popular Chinese brand, probably because it tastes most like baijiu, the favorite clear liquor), and Johnny Walker Black Label (which Aaron rated number one). Then, we were set loose near an open bar serving...whiskey.
Aaron and I both determined that whiskey is not our favorite thing to drink, but we (and all our friends) had an excellent (and free!) evening. It did seem odd to be drinking whiskey and listening to a guy with a Scottish accent in a cardboard and inflatable castle in the middle of China, but then again, I've learned that forming preconceptions of this country is often a waste of time. Did you know the size and shape of the whiskey still plays a part in determining the flavor of the whiskey? We just studied distillation as a process to separate a mixture in chemistry class. Shall I pass on this tidbit of information to my students?!