Hanoi cooking class

We took a cooking class this morning which consisted of a visit to the market for ingredients followed by instruction, cooking and eating.  Green papaya salad, Hanoi spring rolls, and lemongrass chicken were on the menu.

Fresh produce (Hanoi)
Fresh produce (Hanoi)
Rice and beans (Hanoi)
Rice and beans (Hanoi)
Dried shrimp, dried bamboo (Hanoi)
Dried shrimp, dried bamboo (Hanoi)
Baked rice (looks like pork rind) (Hanoi)
Baked rice (looks like pork rind) (Hanoi)

The team took on the task under the professional tutelage of Master Chef Huang.

Prep cooks hard at work on spring roll filling
Prep cooks hard at work on spring roll filling
Braxton grates green papaya and carrots
Braxton grates green papaya and carrots

Amy Jo demonstrates her patented stuff, fold, roll n hold spring roll technique.

Stuff
Stuff
Fold
Fold
Roll
Roll
Hold
Hold

We enjoyed the sweet taste of success!

We made this (with a lot of help from Master Chef Huang . . .) (Hanoi)
We made this (with a lot of help from Master Chef Huang . . .) (Hanoi)
Final product
Final product
Proud certificate holders
Proud certificate holders
"Best meal so far"
“Best meal so far”

 

Noodles

Noodles have played a prominent role in our diet so far.  Among other things, they can be difficult to manage with chopsticks.

Our first (and second) breakfast at Moganshan centered on noodles.

wait staff: “Would you like noodles for breakfast?”
cgl: “Yes, but what else do you have?”
wait staff: “Just noodles.”
cgl: “OK. We’ll have noodles.”

hot noodles in a cold restaurant Moganshan, China
Hot noodles in a cold restaurant Moganshan, China

The chopstick skills were improving by the time we hit the town of Xingping where we enjoyed Guilin mifen (Guilin rice noodles) and Pepsi.

Guilin mi fen in Xingping, China
Guilin mi fen in Xingping, China

And Pho Tai  Nam on the streets of Hanoi was a breeze by the end of week two.  The Fanta helped disperse the overdose of hot sauce.

Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam
Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam

Yangshuo, China

Next stop, back to the countryside, this time in southern China in the Guillin province.  This area is known for its amazing karst limestone outcroppings that look like huge gumdrops, and its dreamy, almost surreal landscape.  Again, we found ourselves there off-season, but in a way this added to the appeal… being socked in by fog and mist with these huge lush gumdrops emerging from the rivers.  We arrived in the night so did not witness the splendor until we opened our curtains in the morning.  See following photo taken from our hotel.  One of the kids, “This is what I thought China was going to look like.”  This was a fabulous week spent biking, hiking, sitting by the fire, meeting fellow travelers, scrabble, reading, home school, ping pong and badminton ( I do count this as PE in our home school as my boys are actually able to turn ping pong and badminton into full contact sports).

View from Hotel in Yangshuo
View from Hotel in Yangshuo
Amy and Boys in Yangshuo
Amy and Boys in Yangshuo
Tandem Bike Riding
Tandem Bike Riding

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Crossing the River
Crossing the River
Getting Bikes Across the River via Bamboo Raft
Getting Bikes Across the River via Bamboo Raft
Chillin' By the Fire
Chillin’ By the Fire
Taking a Walk
Taking a Walk

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Having our fill of China, we next turned our sites south on Vietnam in search of sunshine and Pho.

China 20 years on

I spent over 12 months in China during the period 1989-92, mostly in Nanjing, but also in Beijing and traveling throughout the southwestern part of the country. When I first visited China as a student in August 1989 (a couple of months after the May and June events in Tiananmen Square), I found a country dominated by bicycles, with few foreigners and few foreign products. McDonalds would open its first China outpost that year. English was not spoken. The only motorized vehicles on the roads were tractors, trucks, public buses and the occasional government sedan. There was no highway system. There were no subways. (Beijing had a limited system from earlier years.) The cities were dark at night; devoid of street lighting. In the winter a haze of smoke from locally burned coal (for heating and cooking) hung in the air.

What a difference 20 years can make. China is on the move and has been since I left in December 1992. There have been huge infrastructure improvements to roads, trains and subways; communication improvements that come with cell phones, the internet and computerized train ticketing systems; and changes to consumption patterns that come with the creation and growth of a middle class.  If you want to see where most of the world’s steel and cement are ending up, visit China.

In terms of the physical landscape, I would put the advent of the personal automobile at the top of the list of changes. The streets that were once designed for more bicycles than motorized vehicles are now dominated by cars.  Bicycles have been sidelined.  The “bike-only” lanes are narrower than they were and bicyclists now compete with motor scooters in those lanes.  Parking bicycles on the sidewalks was a common practice, now it’s cars on the sidewalks.  And the chaos of bicyclists bending traffic rules pales in comparison to the chaos and hazards that come with automobile drivers bending those same rules.

In terms of the non-physical, I find the biggest changes in the service industry.  First, there is one now.  The tender shoots of entrepreneurship were just breaking the surface in the early 90s, but the idea of customer service was still dormant. “Mei you” (which translates as “can’t do it” or “don’t have it”, but which really means “piss off”) was the common response to any question at a train station ticket booth, hotel front desk and even at restaurants.  During our recent two weeks in China I did not hear “mei you” a single time.  Hotel staff were courteous, and the train ticket sales people (although they never smiled) were very helpful.  Still, I’m happy to report, China’s service sector retains a certain “Chineseness” that those of us who’ve spent some “quality” time there have come to know, and, if not to love, at least to expect.

For those who have not yet visited China, but who want to see one possible version of the future, visit China.  For those who want to appreciate what the US Environmental Protection Agency and our Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have done for our environment, visit China.  For those who want to witness growth that took us 100 years unfold before their eyes, visit China.  For those who want to see what living under Big Brother feels like (internet censorship, license plates photographed at every opportunity), visit China.  Just be careful crossing the street.

Nanjing

Our home school officially opened for business in Nanjing.  So far we have been very heavy on the social studies, pretty light on the science (but for a lecture on centripetal force and friction as they pertain to lazy susans found on many Chinese tables).  We visited the tomb of the first Ming emperor Hong Wu.  We also visited a very powerful memorial exhibit on “The Rape of Nanjing” – documenting the atrocities committed by the Japanese against China and specifically the city of Nanjing in 1937.  The boys have been learning about dynasties, imperialism, the Opium Wars, the Asian involvement in World War I and II.  They also read “The Red Scarf Girl” which documents the life of a girl growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution.  It’s so much more interesting than spelling and cursive, moderately more interesting than Algebra, which I have secretly found to be really, really fun.

Also fun was wandering around Nanjing University where Coalter studied in college.  It was barely recognizable to him given the immense changes in China over these years.  While he experienced bicycles everywhere and total darkness and silence after 8 pm since there was little electricity in the city, we experienced a city with skyscrapers and neon which felt like Times Square as we were driving in at night.  One of the kids, “It’s like New York with Chinese letters.”

As an aside, I will point out that Coalter’s Chinese is really good, even after 20 years.  He would contest this.  But we thought he was only able to show off ordering Dim Sum in New York and to flirt with waitresses.  Turns out he is able to converse quite comfortably and was able to get us out of a few scrapes, albeit ones he got us into in the first place 🙂

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13th Century Animals Guarding Ming Tomb
Animals Guarding 14th Century Ming Tomb

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View of Nanjing Through Polluted Skies
View of Nanjing Through Polluted Skies

Chinese Trains

Next we headed back to the city, Nanjing, mostly as a means to get to our next non-city destination.  This was my first true Chinese train experience – crowded, smoky, dirty, only one cheek able to fit on the seat.  While I am by nature a pretty calm, easy going person who doesn’t mind being dirty, I am battling a mounting germ phobia, what with all the respiratory secretions flying around.  I’ll leave it at that.  This mere six hour train ride took some serious deep breathing and meditation.  But overall, trains are really fun.  Full of life… chatter, hawkers, music, food, strange smells.  There are lively exchanges going on between total strangers, a far cry from the quiet, isolating, almost sterile train experience at home.