Saturday, October 18, 2014

Color Running

I am not a runner.  However, after gaining more than a few pounds on my home trip, I decided it was time to get off the couch and get moving.  When I saw the Color Run was coming to Shanghai, I dusted off my couch to 5K playlist and got ready to cross another event off my bucket list.

Much to my chagrin, my training was cut short by a month long virus. In spite of our plague, Chris and I were determined to walk/run 5K while getting pelted by colored cornstarch. 

Two days before the race I headed to the Oriental Sports Center to pick up our racing packets.  It was then that I started to panic because I was not prepared to run a 5K.  At least the race wasn't timed.

We were nice and clean before the race.

Many runners decided to dress up for the occasion.

Runners of all sizes and shapes were ready to go!

I wanted to stay uncolored until the start of the race.  That didn't happen,

The race sold out in 15 minutes online.  The start times were staggered to prevent a massive pileup of runners.

At this point in the race I was ready to become a smurf!

After smurfdom, I became a minion.

Toward the end of the race, everything was a pink and purple cornstarchy mess.
 
Yellow Cornstarch up the nose is not fun, but it does make for an interesting picture. 
Everyone was caked in cornstarch from head to toe. 
We did it!!!
I even left a little bit of color on the metro on the way home.   Oops!!!

It took us a while, but I am proud to say Chris and I completed our first 5K as a couple!  Up next…the Zombie Crawl!!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sick

This September, I experienced the most challenging month of teaching of my teaching career.  On September 1st, I returned to school and by September 3rd, I lost my voice.  After a month of doctor’s appointments, imported antibiotics, medical masks, Chinese medicines, teas, soups, and the support of my local and expat friends I finally got my full voice back on our October holiday in Thailand. 

Unfortunately, colds seem to stick with me for a long time over here.  Like many teachers over here, I only get two days of paid sick leave per semester so I’m in a position where I have to teach with no voice.   Fortunately, I learned some tricks from some of my local friends that helped me get through the month without taking a sick day.

Be proactive by getting the tools that will help you when you get sick while you are well.

As an edutainer, I have to sing on a daily basis.  If you are in a similar position, I would invest in a portable mic and speaker pack.  I bought it my first year of teaching, and now use it on a daily basis.  It has made it MUCH easier for kids to hear me.

The mic pack is a must have for all teachers.  You can find them at local fake markets for around 200RMB. 

Shanghai air quality is horrible, especially during the winter.  We finally went out and bought an air purifier for our bedroom. It has worked wonders!

We found our purifier at Carrefour.  I'd buy this purifier before the pollution and the price of the purifiers goes insane during the winter months.
Stock up on drugs before you leave your home country.

If you have a favorite western cold remedy stock up before you come over here.  I am a huge fan of Claritin-D, however I can’t find it in China.  It is a pain to get a large quantity of  pills in the US thanks to some meth cookers, but it is possible to get a year’s supply with a prescription from your doctor.  Fortunately, I was able to stock up at a pharmacy in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Most expats will appreciate that this is the best vacation souvenir ever!!
Don’t forget to stock up on stomach meds too.

Listen to the locals.  They have been through these super colds and know what works.

I am so incredibly blessed to have amazing colleagues who have given me so many different teas, OTC drugs, lozenges, and other goodies to help me feel better.  I was feeling so miserable that I actually explored the world of Chinese medicine for help.  Here are some of the things I tried.

Many of these remedies can be found in Chinese pharmacies.  To locate a pharmacy, look for the green cross.
Chinese throat lozenges taste horrible, but they work!!!  These can be found at any local Family Mart.

Some friends gave me very interesting looking teas.

One colleague gave me some dried bitter citrus fruit.  Apparently the bitterness causes a natural saliva overdrive.  Hypothetically if you put one of these under your tongue they work.  I tried one, thanked her, then excused myself.  It burned my mouth! 
This Thai nasal inhaler was a teacher appreciation gift from a kiddo whose mom is a teacher. It is is AMAZING!  If you are looking for a non addictive Afrin substitute, here is your drug.
One of my German friends recommended these lozenges.  When he said they tasted like mildew but cleared his laryngitis in two days I had to try them.
The pink pills tasted like a combination of mildew and watermelon, but they had a Chloraseptic like effect on the vocal cords.  I will never be without these magic pills in Shanghai. 
The magic pills also come in a magic spray form, but it tastes horrible!  This spray powder tastes like the love child of mold and chalk.  I do thank my Chinese teacher, Sophie, for thinking of me however.   
Chu, my manicurist/ aesthetician suggested these little round black balls. They did nothing for me, but by the time I tried them I had full blown tonsillitis. 

I received the strangest remedy from the PE teachers in my office,  They bought me a Chinese medicine/ chickpea/ mystery ingredient snow-cone.  Yum.

Drink your tea…and soup.

I always made fun of my Chinese colleagues who told me, “Drink some hot water.  Have a rest.” as a remedy for any ailment. They were right.  During this bug, hot tea, toddies, soup, and hot water helped lessen the pain. 

Twinnings Lemon Tea, Chris' spiced orange infused burbon, Equal and honey make an incredible hot toddy.  However, I do not encourage drinking too many of these unless you would like a vacation in the Betty.
I did keep a thermos/ glass of hot water with me.  It didn't cure the problem, but it lessened the symptoms.
I found these Chicken soup pouches made amazing lunches.

If you don’t feel better in 2-3 days go to the doctor.

If you are sick in China, you have a few options for getting medical attention.  If you would like to go the Eastern medicine route, many local hospitals have international wings with English Speaking doctors.  Since we have health insurance as part of our international package, Chris and I usually go to Parkway Health.  The doctors I visited speak English, and really listen to your needs.  Many of them have been trained or practiced medicine abroad so they understand what I am experiencing as an expat.  The best thing about Parkway is they have a pharmacy so you go in, get examined, get your meds, and go home.  I trust them with my health.

Get some rest.

My voice did finally come back during our October holiday in Thailand.  I hate to admit it, but I may have gotten better faster if I would’ve taken my two sick days to heal. (I insist on hoarding these days for times when uncontrollable liquids may spurt from my body.)  Oh, and fool’s advice, don’t go out on weekends.  Go to the local DVD store, stock up on shows, and hit the couch. 

In other words…drink some hot water, have a rest. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Corporate Outing: Qiandaohu

In China, it is very common for large corporations to hold group outings to promote team unity.  My husband’s company is no exception.  Once a year Chris and his colleagues trek into the woods for a weekend of hiking, boating, eating, chest beating, and bonding.  This year I got to join the corporate outing, a family affair at Qiandaohu (Thousand Island Lake). 
The fresh air and clean water at Qiandaohu was a welcome break from Shanghai.

Nongfu Springs sources their water directly from Qiandaohu Lake. 
After a 4.5 hour road trip and a dinner that included fishhead soup, we arrived at the Qiandaohu Hilton.

I was excited to finally see a Chinese Truck Stop.  They are very similar to American stops, but have lots of street food. 
Life at the Hilton wasn't too rough.  
I enjoyed the soup, but avoided eating the fish head.

The first day’s paper itinerary stated we would be taking a cruise around the lake.  When I heard the word cruise, I thought I would be taking a nice boat ride.  I had no idea we would be in for so much more!

Our first cruise stop was Longshan Island. 

Longshan Island had many anti-corruption sculptures.  In this sculpture, the hand of justice is arm wrestling with the hand of corruption.

The kids had a great time monkeying around with the statues.
At our second stop, we had a chance to feed some koi.
We also had a chance to hold a python.  Don't worry Mom, it's mouth was rubber banded shut.
We had a great time cruising the lake in comfort.
When going on corporate outings, make sure to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes.  Chris climbed 3000 steps at the third island to take this shot.
The second day we went to the Vertical Cloud Tongtian River.  Again, I was expecting a quiet boat ride down a river.  Instead we went spelunking.

The cave I saw in China was much different than the caves I visited as a 5th grader in the States.  All of the walkways were well lit and paved.
I never saw such colorful stalactites and stalagmites!

Nonetheless, the formations were quite breath taking. 

We cruised around the cave in small boats. Midway through our trip, an elevator lowered our boat to a different part of the cave.  I felt like I was on a slow amusement park ride.

Some of the kiddos paddled their families' boat.


Even though the trip wasn’t what I expected, Qiandaohu was a great mini-vacation.  I highly recommend it for folks who want a quiet, family-friendly get away.  I’d return for some fresh air and clean water.

No corporate outing is complete without the traditional group picture.  I had a great time getting to know Chris' colleagues!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

For the Love of Xiaolongbao

From the time I moved to Shanghai, I have been obsessed with Shanghainese Soup Dumplings, aka Xiaolongbao.  Xiaolongbao is the perfect marriage of pasta, meatballs, and soup.  They are usually presented scalding, in a bamboo steamer.  After a five to ten minute wait, it is safe to puncture the translucent pasta skin, suck out the meaty broth, and savor the remains with a little vinegar. 

The perfect xiaolongbao has a delicate pasta shell and a juicy, meaty inside.  This is the ultimate Chinese comfort food.
The flavor of the xiaolongbao is enhanced with Chinese vinegar.  
If you haven’t eaten Xiaolongbao, I highly recommend stopping by Din Tai Fung, or another dumpling restaurant to try them out.

My favorite Xiaolongbao joint is Linlong Fang in the Dapuqiao Metro Station.  One can get 12 xiaolongbao for 12RMB.  (That's about $2.00 USD)  Places like Din Tai Fung are a tad pricer.
One of my biggest fears of repatriating is I will be deprived of this amazing dish.  For the last two years, I have been asking my local friends how to make Xiaolongbao so I will be able to eat them anytime anywhere, and they have always given me the same response,

“Xiaolongbao is so difficult to make.  I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” Or “If you learn how to make them, please show me how.”

So, Chris signed us up for an advanced Xiaolongbao class at The Kitchen At so we will never be without.  I have to tell you, making Xiaolongbao is that tricky.  I hope I am able to recreate what we learned.  Here’s how we did it.

First we mixed 200g of flour and 100 ml of cold water to make the wraps.  It was extremely important for this mixture to be well mixed.  Otherwise the xiaolongbao wrappers would be too dry. 
Then we covered the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes. 
While the dough rested, we combined 250g ground pork belly, 30g ginger, 5g salt, 30g sugar, a dash of white pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
We then "whipped the meat" by kneading the mixture and throwing it in a metal bowl.  This process was extremely messy!  Ground pork flew all over our recipe and workspace. 
When the mixture felt "glutinous", we added 50ml of water until and continued mixing until it felt "glutinous" again.  We repeated this process once.
After the water had absorbed, we added 100g of pork skin jelly to the mixture.  In case you were wondering, pork jelly is made of pork skin, chicken feet, lean pork leg, shiitake mushrooms, water, spring onions, ginger, yellow rice wine, and salt.  It takes at least 6 hours to cook and even longer to chill.  After I read this part of the recipe, I knew there was a slim chance of this dish ever being recreated in my home. I'm not that gifted of a chef.
After we gently combined the pork jelly with the meat mixture, we grabbed our dough and started to make xiaolongbao wrappers.
We rolled the dough into long logs.

Then we snapped pieces of dough off the log to make little dough balls.  
We rolled the balls into wrappers...
...and stuffed them with the meat mixture.

Then we pinched the dough in special folds to finish the dumplings.

I was quite proud of my first two xiaolongbao!
These were the instructor's xiaolongbao.
These were my xiaolongbao.  I think they were the ugliest xiaolongbao I have ever seen. 

After 6 minutes in the steamer, the xiaolongbao were ready to eat!!!  They were pretty tasty, but restaurant xiaolongbao is MUCH tastier.

Needless to say, it is MUCH easier and cheaper to buy Xiaolongbao than make them from scratch.  However, it is comforting to know I could hypothetically make these in the States.  In the meantime, I will stick with Linlong Fang and Din Tai Fung for my Xiaolongbao fix!