Monday, April 26, 2010

I Won Something!

I sort of want to make it my goal in life to win things and then keep the good stuff and sell the rest on ebay. That's not ridiculous is it? I mean, if I just won an ipad, a handmade mahogany table, and a Smart car then I could sell them all and buy a few plane tickets to America, Europe, and even Mauritius. You wouldn't begrudge me that, would you? As it stands; however, I did recently win something and it's actually something I want--a Lemography camera and it's worth a whopping $40, which is more than I thought. It takes 9 identical pictures at one time, which doesn't sound that useful, but of course, is. It's pop art, baby...hence the name of the camera--Pop9.

And what did I do to win said camera? I chalk it up to persistence. That's Shanghai has a monthly photo submission contest (although it's not quite a contest.) I submitted photos for a few months and won. Ta da! Honestly, it's not my favorite picture, but I thought it was a good street scene (stage left.) I took it on a back road behind my house. It's a minor victory because I hardly ever take pictures of people (although it is much easier when one is standing behind them and they don't know you're there...until it's too late.)

Also, as promised, a few pictures of the mug I bought in Beijing for which you've all been sitting on the edge of your seat awaiting with bated breath. Isn't it great? If anyone comments that it looks a Waffle House mug, I will delete it.The back says--Care for the little trees. Isn't that sweet? I hope my rosemary and mint plants count.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Business in Beijing--in the form of shopping and photos

I spent last week on my first business trip to the big city of Beijing. Despite it being the second week of April, the temperatures barely grazed 50 degrees and it was Boston windy.

It was my fifth trip, so I avoided the high touristy stuff during my free time and struck out in search of new sites. I have another new favorite cafe, which unfortunately has not made it's way to Shanghai yet--it's called The Bookworm and, as you may guess, the walls are lined with thousands of used books, the speakers spout out jazz, and cool people abound. They also had books for sale, which I couldn't resist. (I bought two and gently crammed them into my suitcase.)

I also took a walk through 798, Beijing's art district, and realized that walking around looking at art isn't really my thing. I'd rather have it hanging on my wall, I suppose, or go to a museum where the bad stuff has been weeded out. That same day I took photos in one of the hutongs, old communities made of brick houses traditionally with their own courtyards. These places are quickly disappearing as the city bulldozes them, which is unfortunate. The sense of community and history there is obvious.

While roaming around I found a great little shop called Lost & Found. They had some great simple, beautiful items including a great heavy ceramic mug, which, at the time I decided not to buy. I then went to the other side of town and later, because I couldn't stop thinking about it returned to purchase it. It was way out of my way, but I stand by my decision.

Without further are my pics from the week (one of the mug to come at a later date.)

First, the art district.

See. I went to an art district and ended up taking pictures just outside of it of old trains, coal, and machinery.

We did take a train to Beijing (and back), but thankfully, it wasn't this old. Actually, I think the pillow was.
I didn't do any research on it, but I gather that the art area was formerly an industrial/warehouse area, hence the smoke stack. Here you see the only photo I took with any art in it.

Second, the hutong. (Full disclosure, I went to the hutong first, but it's too hard moving photos around blogspot.
Guizijian Jie

As I was posting these, I realized that I took a lot of pictures of Beijing...go figure.

I sort of followed a guy into the middle of one of the enclaves. Most of the doors are closed and you can't get in this close. I'm sure most residents are tired of photographers, so I tried not to be intrusive.

That little boy is pointing at me...because I'm a foreigner.

Told you so.

The hamburger bell captivated me.

The wall up close. I loved the red. Do you see Italy? I do.

I took a lot more pictures of doors, but I decided to spare you. You are welcome (Puckey.)

The End...which is actually the beginning.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Just Finished: The Name of the Rose

I'm so glad I've finally finished this book. It took for-ev-er. First, if you ever decide to read The Name of the Rose, make sure you purchase the edition with footnotes for all the Latin. What I mean to say is ALL THE LATIN. I'm quite certain I missed some key points because, like most people in the world, I can't read the mother of Romance Languages.

The Name of the Rose takes place at an abbey in medieval Italy. A young novice named Adso (and also the narrator) is traveling with former inquisitor Brother William of Baskerville as he goes to the abbey where a debate will be held over supposed heresies in the Franciscans who live at the abbey. The wealthy abbey is known for its wealth, in particular, having one of the best libraries in all of Christendom.

Upon arrival, William is immediately asked to deal with the apparent murder of a young scribe. From there, mysteries unfold surrounding the great library, the books inside it, and the people who keep its secrets.

While all of this sounds very compelling, the book is 500 pages long and chock full of theological debates about poverty, whether or not Jesus laughed, and the use of secular texts to the people of the Church. Some of this was really fascinating and clearly issues dealt with in the church today, but some of it went into archaic territory and had little, if anything, to do with the actual mystery at hand. I did skim at points, for this point only, never because the book was poorly written. In fact, the writing (and I suppose the translation) is fluid and challenging (lots of $20 words.)

If you decide to pick it up, heed my warning from paragraph one and buy the version with footnotes!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New Places: Song Fang Tea House

I have a new favorite cafe. If you know me, then you'll know that isn't terribly shocking. I'm continually surprised by the fact that, in a city with so few Western cafes (relatively speaking), there are still some that escape me...for years. Song Fang Tea House is one of those places. The reason I've never been is that it's not in the most obvious of places, it's down a small-ish street and not in direct line of the metro nor anything else. Also, no one I know has been there, yet this little shop has been around for two whole years. It's a find. You should book a ticket (or hop in a cab) right now to experience the quiet, peaceful, beautifully and simply decorated haven.

Song Fang Tea House is a 1930s lane house situated on Yongjia Road amongst a host of old buildings and was started by a French woman with a love for tea. I tell you, there is a certain design ascetic in which West and East meet that is hard to balance, but this cafe does it. Each of the three floors (one the tea shop, the other two cafe) features accents of bright provincial blue along with the traditional flower prints of Northeast China. The space itself is inviting with lots of light, views of the old neighborhoods, and worn wooden floors. Antique tea tins, wall hangings, and teapots evoke the feeling of Old Shanghai and the wicker seating and padded sofas are just the right level of comfort for an afternoon of reading and chatting.

The menu is just right too. There are several pages of teas, Chinese and French, some blended, some flavored. I had a black tea with hints of almond and chocolate. The food is limited to French pastries and cakes, which one can't really complain about. I had a nice light apple cake that perfectly accompanied my tea. The staff was really lovely too (although they wouldn't let me take any pictures on the first floor.) I'm dreaming of a day when I can return and while away the hours.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kitchening: Edamane, Mao Dou, Hairy Beans, Soy Bean!

When I first moved to China, soy beans were not terribly appetizing to me. That might be because they're called hairy beans in Mandarin. Recently, however, I've discovered just how good they are (and of course, they're so good for you.) Also, popping the beans out of their shell makes them a very satisfying and interactive snack.

Edamame: The Snack of the Future

1. Wash the edamame. Make sure to pick out any that are mushy. (I recently had a bad batch with some creepy crawlies, but that isn't normal...just keep a watch out.)

2. Cut off one end of each bean. This will help get in some of the briny water when you cook them. Some folks like to trim both ends, but I think that lets in too much salt water.

3. Salt is so good, right? In moderation of course. Throw your freshly trimmed edamame into a pot and sprinkle the salt over them. Toss to coat and then let sit for 20-30 minutes. I've found that the beans are more flavorful doing it this way rather than simply boiling them in salt water.

4. Fill the pot with just enough eater to cover all the beans. Bring the water to a boil and cook about 5 minutes once the water is bubbling. Be careful not to overcook them or they start tasting like vegetables at the Western Sizzling on Sunday.

5. Remove from heat. And drain the water. Allow the beans to cool a little because they can burn your tongue (or so I hear.) If you're not going to eat all the beans in one sitting (try not to, I dare you), then reserve some of the salt water and let it cool. Then place the cooled beans in it and store in the fridge to keep them fresh and to help the flavors meld a little more.

An Artist Is...

Would you like to know? Wouldn't I like to know. Check out my post on The Urbanity Project blog that attempts to explore the question of what makes an artist and artist. And if you happen to be an artist of some sort, consider submitting something for our up coming publication (details here.)

An Artist Is...