Start the Day Right (Chinese Food)

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

We have cold cereal, yogurt & fruit, maybe an egg, bagel. French toast or pancakes on week-end. Breakfast isn’t very varied. Love it but — I’m saying, it’s not that involved. Totally different story in China. We were strictly using the university canteen (cafeteria) in Qingdao this summer, having no kitchen. Breakfast choices were just as varied as dinner, with more than a dozen windows, each totally different. Soup with beans or greens or noodles, buns, dumplings, all kinds of meat, breads, vegetables, eggs and lots of kinds of pickles, & much more.

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Unfortunately, first sight entering the canteen is the slop tables, ladies scraping food garbage into giant stainless steel pails. Not a great image! But the ladies are lovely! Below, a few pix of soup, dumplings & breakfast in a Chinese university.

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Canteen tables, China Petroleum University, Qingdao

Love the dumplings!

Love the dumplings!

Grab your chopsticks

Grab your chopsticks


Morning soups

Morning soups

Look Who’s Here in Qingdao: Einstein

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Look who we found at our university: Albert Einstein.

This is in keeping with the Jews-in-China theme we’ve pursued on our blog. My students, during conversation hour every day before dinner, are always excited to hear I’m Jewish. “All Jews are smart” is the reigning stereotype. It is closely followed by the more pernicious ones about secret all-powerful cabals controlling banks. Both of them scare me and I try to talk them through it.


A far, far less august and world-historic Jewish person was seen on a big, red banner; she was honored to give a talk to the MBAs last weekend.

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs

An American Boy in China (watch video)

Adventures of a third grader in Beijing for a year. All about having fun in China, the land and its geography, history and politics, and visiting China’s different regions and peoples. Do shadow puppetry, ride a camel in the Gobi, make dumplings on a farm, and cheer for the Guoan (World Peace) soccer team.

Cow Pussy, & Other Mandarin Mysteries

Fabulously, Evaline Chao (byline: “a freelance writer based in New York City”) yesterday wrote a great piece of cultural translation — a philological analysis where we learn the layers of meaning embedded in new words in Chinese — for Foreign Policy:From House Slaves to Banana People – Seven new words that explain modern China.

Evaline Chao is author of Niubi: The real chinese you were never taught in school, which I’m going to buy for my son. (Philology is on my mind partly after seeing  the Israeli drama, “Footnote” (2011 foreign Oscar nominee) or הערת שוליים‎, He’arat Shulayim, which is all about how powerful it becomes to delve into a word’s meaning.) Chao’s book, the opening pages of which are readable online !,   precisely unpack, I’m delighted to say, TWO of our big life-in-China mysteries.
(1)  soccer vulgarity, which we pondered in “Dirty Words Football,” featuring tiny tots screaming “Vagina”
(2) repulsively inflated sheep carcasses — which we blogged about after almost vomiting at them in Lanzhou, at the edge of the Gobi. Evaline enlightens on page one:

“Cow Pussy, Yes, Cow Pussy

Let’s begin with…cow pussy. Or rather niubi (nyoo bee), which literally translates to “cow pussy” but means “fuckin’ awesome” or “badass” or “really fuckin’ cool.” Sometimes I means something more like “big” and “powerful,” and sometimes it can have the slightly more negative meaning of “bragging” or “braggart” or “being audacious,” but most of the time it means “fuckin’ awesome.”

The etymology of niubi is unknown…Some say the idea is that a cow’s pussy is really big, so things that are similarly impressive are called cow cunts. Others say that it stems from the expression chui niupi (chway nyoo pee), which literally translates to “blow up ox hide” and also connotes bragging or a braggard (someone who can blow a lot of hot air). In fact, the word for bragging is the first part of that phrase, chuiniu (chway nyoo). Once upon a time (an dyou can still see this done today in countries like Pakistan) — NOTE: ALSO IN NORTHWEST CHINA ON YELLOW RIVER– people made rafts out of animal hides that had to be blown up wit air so they would float. Such an activity obviously required one mights powerful set of lungs…”

Shao Yao Jews

ImageWe are constantly changing trains at Shao Yao Ju, especially on Jewish holidays — when I go get the boys at school in order to go to synagogue. At first our Woody Allenesque way we referred to the station was, “Shao Yao Are-You-Calling-Me-a-Jew?”

Now we just call it, “Shao Yao People-of-the-Jewish-Faith.”



British School of Beijing Under-13 Basketball in Shanghai

The British School of Beijing’s FOBISSEA squad

By Kenny

Part II of the FOBISSEA (Federation of British International Schools in Southeast Asia) tournament

Day 2: Basketball

The BSB Bears FOBISSEA squad had high expectations of winning basketball due to the fact that we won an Under-12 tournament in Beijing. So we thought it couldn’t be that hard.

Our first game was against Dulwich COLLEGE Beijing (not a college). We didn’t start out very well. They were up 6-0 when we (I) finally scored a point. It was an amazing layup off a rebound. We were then 6-2. Then came our team magic as we scored 8 points. But they were still ahead by 3 points. As we lose the game, 10-13. Very big let down, cause we could’ve beaten this team.

Game 2, the Soul [Seoul] Foreign British School: My coach knew they were a lot better than us. They kept scoring and scoring. Nothing could stop them. They kept pressing, scoring, fouling: their s[e]oul was on fire. But luckily, I scored 4 points – 2 amazing lay ups, to get us, at the half, 10-6 Seoul. But we kept doing down, down & they got even better. By the end of the third it was crazy, they were up 17-9. My coach took me and the rest of the starting lineup out to give other players on our team a chance. We lost that game 25-9.

Game 3, Dulwich College Shanghai (still not a college). They looked scary. They had a ton of tall guys and a ton of small guys. Their starting center — taller than me — did the face off. I won the face off. They start out beating us 4-0 but then my magic comes in, scoring 4 points to get us tied at the end of the first quarter. Then they keep scoring. At one time they were up 10-8. I came in and was dribbling. I got fouled, took the foul shot, and scored. Less than a minute left in the half we were up 11-10 — a good start to that game.

Second half we keep fighting, keep scoring, they keep scoring… It wasn’t good enough. We tried to do fast breaks and tried to drive and score, but it was no use. With a minute left they were up 17-15. We shoot, we miss, game is over. Another loss. But personally I had a good game, scoring 9 points, a career best.

Game 4, the Taipei European School (a school that does not belong in FOBISSEA because it’s not British, it’s European), my coach knew we’d also lose to them. So we played our best knowing we stood no chance. They were scoring three pointers, going in shooting, our defense had trouble coordinating. But we were better on offense, I scored 4 points in the first quarter.

Worst part was, in the whole first half, I got fouled 6 times. Four opportunities to score, 8 free throws — I missed all of them.

Second half we were losing 10-15. My coach knew we did not stand a chance so he took out the whole starting lineup, including me, and let some other players play the last half. We only scored 2 points and we lost to them 23-12.

We had no chance of getting into a medal round. We were fighting for 5th place. We had a lunch and got into the next game against fake Harrow (it’s not the original Harrow, in London). We start the game with a decent lead. I scored 3 points first quarter and finally, I made a foul shot. We play hard. They somehow get ahead of us. By the end of the first half they were up 9-8 but we still knew we had a chance. We started playing well. I scored 7 points that game.

With 30 seconds left we were down 2 points. Then we started fouling them. They don’t make any of the shots, we make the rebound and we dribble up. It’s our last chance. A teammate has the ball, he drives, he shoots… We hear the buzzer, the ball’s in the air…and he misses. We lost that game 18-16.

There was one last game, also against Harrow. Our coach and Harrow’s coach agreed to let the players who hadn’t played that much play.

We tied for fifth.

…To be continued (soccer)

Ethan’s Latest News

Today I went to a go-kart place called USpeed. In USPeed you get to do 6 minutes of racing around a track. You first go around a small curve, then you do a complete U-turn, then you go another U-turn the other way and then you do a zig-zag kind of thing. Then there’s a straightaway. Either you go racing around the track again, or if your time’s up you go back where you started. I went around 6 times.

There were some people who’d been driving maybe 10 years and they, for one thing, got a head start. And then they were really quick so at times, when they were coming up behind me, I would really do a strategy my mom told me, to slow down on the curves and then speed up while you’re going through. It worked to keep them away, for maybe a minute. Then they got past me.

There was one lady who got in front of me on a straightaway and made me do a 360 in my car and bang into the wall.

The next day, on this ride you got hooked up and it starts spinning around. At times you’re facing down, at times you’re acing up towards the sky. This was in a park called Chaoyang Park. There’s a peony garden there, and lots of children’s activities.

This is a Lego Great Wall of China.

Also in Chaoyang Park, it has a ropes course. First they teach you how to do it. You get 3 different hooks. There are colored cables where you hook your own carabiners. The guy spoke a little bit of English. There were 2 different ziplines – first you did your ropes course and then you’d climb to the top and take a zipline to the bottom. Then you did more course to the top and take a zipline again to the very bottom.

In other news, my dad left this Saturday.

Psychiatric Help, 5 Cents

Long line for office hours

Office Hours are standard practice in U.S. universities, but NOT normal here. Students will write a note when work is due saying they never understood the assignment, or crowd around me after class, each in their own crisis (& always the day I can’t stay to talk). So I made attending office hours mandatory. There’s a sign-up sheet. I see 12/week.

Waiting their turn since 201 B.C.

Some discuss their coursework, past or current or future pieces. But as often, students come to me as a therapist to discuss:

China's first emperor never held office hours

— Don’t be polite, just tell me honestly: Am I cut out for journalism work or not?
— I hate my job, do you think I should quit?
— The Propaganda Ministry takes us to resorts for luxurious long week-ends. We all think this is wrong but what can we do about it?
— You and your husband seem so happy. I don’t know what to do about my boyfriend who’s breaking my heart.
— If I work for the Chinese media, they’ll censor my stories. Is this the way I should spend my life?
— China acts with kindness and offers peace, harmony and goodwill to everyone. Why do Americans think our government is evil and feel hostile towards us?
— How is my English?
— What Chinese habits or behaviors do you think are strange?
— You’ve asked us to write a memoir but is anything about my life really interesting?
— Do my opinions really matter?

Questions to melt a heart of stone.

Minor Difficulties

Subway poster: Ex-Knick Steven Marbury leads the triumphant Beijing Ducks

Though as temporary Beijingers/ex-New Yorkers  we may hold our heads a little higher since ex-Knick Steven Marbury led his new team to victory in the Chinese Basketball Association finals a few weeks ago, life is still always just a little harder than usual:

1) Making week-end morning pancakes

Add a few extra steps. Like going online to convert 2.75 cups milk to 650 ml. And soaking the strawberries in a dilute of Betadine disinfectant, rinsing with (yes, overkill) bottled water we then filter and boil. I hope this works; the embassy doc recommends bleach solution instead.

If it sound mildly traumatized…it’s the latest food-safety scandal. This week’s was gelatin rendered from used shoe leather, containing poisonous chromium, found in Chinese jellies and [gelatin] medicine capsules. Making the pharmacy we brought in a suitcase look a little less paranoid.

British School Bears beat the Canadian School Thurs.; Kenny scored three 2-pointers.

2) Salad-as-birthday-dinner

Celebrating Ethan’s late-birthday, we let him order a salad!! The first raw, unpeeled vegetable in 8 months. We just broke down. Look how happy he looks! Current plan is an an all-salad lifestyle back in America. At least for 3 days.

3) The Birthday Party Invitation Supplement.

Instructions and maps are involved, in English, pinyin (transliteration), and Mandarin characters, because Beijing is so hard to navigate. So for Ethan’s party in a park (sadly, rained out today) we distribute this:

RITAN PARK 日坛公园  – Party location. Home to the Temple of the Sun.

6 Ritan Beilu, Chaoyangmenwai,朝阳门外日坛北路6

8561 6301

STONE BOAT CAFÉ  石舫  –    For 9 am drop off & 2pm pick-ups:


Southwest corner of Ritan Park, Lakeside, Beijing


Chāoyáng qū Rìtán gōngyuán lǐ, húbiānJianWai Street

Near: Guanghu lu & YaBao lu
+86 10 6501 9986

ANNIE’S RESTAURANT – Lunch spot, for 1 pm pick-ups:


Ritan Park and Yabao Lu 日坛公园雅宝路

Unit 2-3-93, Ritan Highlife, (opposite north gate of Ritan Park), 39 Shenlu Jie, Chaoyang District

39 Shenlujie, Ritan High Life 2-3-93,   Vicinity: Ritan

Across from Ritan Park North Gate
日坛公园北门对面       8569-3031


Beijing is about as good as it gets right now.

Flowering cherry trees, lilacs, wisteria, tulips – spring at the Forbidden City & Jingshan Park.

Sorry no posts….Report coming on Qingdao (of beer fame) & its well-cared-for eastern province of Shandong, home to more Party officials than any other province. Big report to come on The Great Sage Confucius, whose hometown was one huge lesson in filial piety. More soon on the calisthenics TV show we like to call, “Exercise With Happy Minorities.”

And on my students, who are writing what they know: Living in Foxcomm dorm as a line worker. Being the left-behind lonely child of a migrant worker. Seeing your best friend’s dad jailed for corruption. Astonishing. Have a lovely week-end!

Bespoke (David)

He'd rather be biking

David is very tall. Also his arms are long, so clothing sometimes doesn’t fit. His wardrobe, while timeless in one sense (khakis, herringbone tweed, blue shirts) is also mostly of the 20-year-old, Salvation Army variety.

The man and his khakis

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!!

Still. For his birthday, we dragged him to a Chinese tailor for his first-ever custom-made clothing.

The tailor is making him a sports jacket, a cashmere overcoat, and a set of shirts. I don’t want to overdo the joy at underpaid Chinese labor, but let’s just say, Lands End wouldn’t sell you a jacket for the price of this package. Which will fit!

Happy birthday, honey!

In sports-casual mode

No Lies Beijing

Sunday: Saw nothing quaint, antique or traditional. No orange-robed monks. Real Beijing was the library construction site outside — home to migrant laborers’ trailers — springing back to life after the Lunar New Year.

View from our window

Riding the subway and learning from billboards everywhere that Beijing has a new motto: “Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness, Virtue.”

If it says so, it must be so

Visiting Tiananmen’s lone old watchtower, and a historic district (Dashilar or Dazhalan) restored, in part, with a Fanieul Hall/South Street Seaport artificiality. It was Ethan buying Mao’s Little Red Book there, a fake-antique.

Sayings of Chairman Mao

Eating hot pot without drama: only minor hand burns.

Emperor ate hot pot here

And dinner in chichi Sanlitun with a NY childhood friend, late-40s like me, who’s produced (and exported) U.S. theater here for 2 decades. Today, her old contacts, partners, friends, have hit (or anticipate reaching, come October’s transitional Party Congress) China’s very highest levels.

Glossy, glassy Sanlitun

If you’re a 40- or 50-something, a Chinese regional or industrial or political or bureaucratic somebody, this is your time. Or maybe I should say, whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you do: Whatever the world will become next — it’s our turn now.

Top 10 Lessons, Midway Through Year

Sort of lost, as usual

At the Fulbright Mid-Year Conference in Xiamen–five days with the great full-year lecturers and getting to know the Spring-only group, I’ll be presenting…along the lines of this very condensed…

Ten Lessons Learned, Midway Through a Year in China

Mu Mansion, Yunnan

1. To understand anything, rely on Chinese journalism in translation.

Kuilan Liu, translator, scholar, friend

2. Banks are the object of protest. But life without them here (can you say “disintermediated”) isn’t great. In emergencies, there is no such thing as check, credit card, ATM. Find a place to hide a humongous wad on your person.

Calligrapher, Xi'an

3. Shame a student and you will never see his or her face again. (Suppose that’s why they call it “Losing face.”)

Mao Statue, Lijiang

4. Zithromax, Zithromax, Zithromax. Don’t leave town without a year’s supply x the number in your party.

Tagong cook, Sichuan

5. No matter how fab my lectures and exercises, students prefer field trips to places they’ve only heard about: global media and international NGOs.

6. When ad libbing a public speech (or–with any luck–delivering a prepared one), you might get away with a lighthearted opener but ultimately, weighty and formal are expected.

McDonald's, Old Beijing

7. Related: Give thanks, give tribute, give recognition.

Temple lamps, Chengdu

8. What the young feel and believe most deeply–everything you most want to know–they can’t articulate. Fish can’t explain water.

Guest speaker banquet

9. Gradual (imperceptible?) change is praiseworthy; upheaval is scary.

10. A little repression is always to be expected.

798 Art District, Beijing 2011

Superbowl at 6 a.m.

Bad parenting

I was dead-set against it but had a last-minute change of heart the night before and decided we’d be the world’s worst parents–or maybe the best–and let the kids, NY Giants fanatics, watch the Superbowl early Monday morning.

12-year-old bar fly

We don’t know any American football fans here–certainly not well enough to invite ourselves over at an ungodly hour (as I had inserted us, for Halloween trick-or-treating, into the Western gated compound of the lovely head here of Ogilvy, to whom I’m forever grateful). Superbowl Monday began with a 5 am wake-up, travel to Beijing’s expat-heavy East side (from our West side university district), and meeting our new friend, writer William Poy Lee, who hooked us up with neighborhood sports bar Paddy O’Shea’s. We got the last seats. Fan allegiance was evenly split. It was nice seeing all those Americans, remembering all the shapes, dress codes, colors, & and sizes we come in.

About a dozen Beijing bars besides O’Shea’s opened for the Big Game, broadcast by the Asian Sports Network (sadly: without the American ads!). Most charged a RMB100 ($16) cover, including eggs, coffee, and beer, so you could be drunk and alert for kick-off at 7:30. O’Shea’s was super nice & let the kids in free. By 10:30, before the incredible last minutes, they got Sprites and pizza.

Dressing on the subway

Go, Giants!

We were on the subway to the British School by 11:30. They pulled their uniforms over sports jerseys (Kenny wore Tuck), to stares and laughter from commuting Beijingers.

Please don’t tell the headmaster.

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Iconic Chinese Images

The Li River, in the south, near Vietnam, is pictured on the 20 remnimbi note. Loved by poets, climbers, & right now — freezing cold and rainy — still atmospheric, with the crackle & boom of New Year‘s firecrackers echoing off the limestone cliffs day and night.

Farms and rice paddies along the Yulong river, a Li tributary. The villages have some structures from the Qing dynasty (1600s-1911). Other than all the farmers on cell phones and billboards for English schools, visually not that much has changed.

We cycled. I’m glad the boys are old enough to handle the muddy, rutted tracks and tough about the freezing rain. Feed them enough and they go.

Water buffalo, And a man herding geese. Didn’t see the buffalo in the water. I think it’s too cold.

Bamboo rafts are for transporting tourists (and their rented Trek mountain bikes). Locals use PVC plastic tubes lashed together, which must last longer than bamboo.

In both cases, the river is the road.

Women wash clothes in the river, and a grandma was doing childcare, putting an infant to sleep rocking the baby on her back. We also saw a lot of women working the fields, and drawing water from wells. Some of the younger ones doing it in 5-inch high heels — all the more remarkable because of the mud.

…This woman was selling New Year’s flower wreaths. (He bought one, gave it to me later, but said it was just for me to hold. It wasn’t actually FOR me.)

The roses in the center are made of folded shreds of plastic bags.

Happy Dragon Year.

4 Notes on Communism

1. At a lovely party in the expat suburbs, I chatted with a Taiwan-born mom interested in venturing out of the expat bubble, maybe by taking a class at my (or one of the neighboring) universities in this district. All that’s on offer, though, seems to be English, and she’s totally fluent. I also mentioned that people attend Communist political education classes.

“They still do that?” she asked.

2. Chinese Communism’s impact on a family is the subject of a new hit play in Beijing, according to one of my student’s recent asisgnments, a theater review: ” ‘This is the Last Fight’ is a clash between values in the past, and written or unwritten rules at present, the war between the haves and have-nots, and the debate between believers and people who refuse to believe.

…”Disguised by the festive atmopshere of New Year’s Eve, a family’s conflicts are quietly underway. Mr. and Mrs. He are an old Communist couple. …Their second son had serious problems with Communism and always pissed the old man off. Their youngest son planned to abscond with public money. As for the old Commie himself, Mr. He had been through wars and revolutions, and suffers from haunted memories.”

3. From another student, I learned that one of the most downloaded e-books in China in October was by a writer posthumously becoming a cult figure among young people (he died at just 45). He seems best known for his critiques of Chinese Communism. She wrote: “[Novelist and essayist] Wang Xiaobo, a sharp and unique critic of society, is now being heatedly discussed again fourteen years after his death. … When the Cultural Revolution began to sweep the mainland of China in 1966, he was only 14. As a child born in an intellectual family, he was sent to Yunnan, a border province of China, to be trained as a laborer and receive Communism education. At that time, people were deprived of their basic rights—-the freedom of speech, to write and publish, and even the freedom of independent thinking. Everybody was fighting in the dark… But Wang was not tamed …”

4. Ethan, in his 8-year-old way, has some emerging views about Communism. I had a pen on hand and took this down the other day.

“Communism’s good, in a way. I think everyone should get healthcare. They should have a place to live. But they shouldn’t be all the same. There needs to be a better balance. There should be the good parts of Communism, and the bad parts separated out.”