Settling In

As part of Jeff’s employment offer, we have a one-bedroom apartment in a building the university owns across the street from campus. Although it’s not up to American standards, it’s much nicer than my old Beijing apartment, and is a good apartment by Chinese standards.

While several of the appliances have broken in the last week, the management is incredibly responsive and has fixed everything quickly. It doesn’t bother us much since we expect things to be unreliable here, but having good management can’t be over-valued.

We live on the third floor (no elevator) and there are several other foreign teachers at the university who live in the building. It’s great to get to know the neighbors, who have been really helpful with tips and advice about the university, the neighborhood, and the city.

Enjoy your tour!

Our combination living room/dining room/entryway. Came furnished, husband not included.

Fairly large kitchen, complete with microwave. It looks like a lot of storage space, but most of the apartment’s piping and wiring isn’t in the walls, it’s hidden inside these cabinets, so less than half of the cabinets can be used as such.

Bathroom/laundry room, with one of the only glassed-in showers I’ve seen in a Chinese apartment ever. Very plush!

Bedroom with enough clothing storage for both of us — thank goodness that bit of matrimonial peace will prevail.

Balcony view out across the way, where they are finishing a new building. It seems that very little progress is being made, since I’ve only seen a one or two workers laying down tile in one apartment for the last week.

Balcony view east toward the street.

Escaping China

I officially moved out of China July 28, 2009 — how weird! In some ways I’ll really miss China, but my last day ensured that I wouldn’t be too heart-broken to leave.

In short, my landlord tried to stiff me on returning the deposit since he figured I was an easy target, and it took several hours, a Chinese friend, and eight menacing foreigners cornering him in my apartment to get the deposit back.

And then I zoomed off to the airport with not a minute to spare and just made my flight to Japan.

I’d give you the details, but I’d rather not dwell on it. I don’t understand how some people can treat others so meanly just for money. So instead, I’ll post this picture of a kitten.

He swept me off my feet…

Today, while I was in the kitchen, Jeff filled up a bowl with water and without a word took it into my bedroom. Following him in bewilderment, I said, “What are you doing?”

He proceeded to dump out the bowl in several places on my floor, each time loudly yelling “Ah-hooooh! Aw-huh! Agh-uaaaah!” with great flourish.

As I stared at my wet floor, I wondered where I ever found such a weird boyfriend who’s so prone to inconveniencing me.

Then, from the corner of the room, he pulled out a Swiffer he had secretly acquired from a friend who’s moving out of Beijing, and began to sweep it grandly about the room, meanwhile still making his “aha!” noises.

I think he may need more socialization and stimuli.

The Unappealing truth

I have three vegetable peelers:

The first veggie peeler came with a knife set. The set included three knives, a peeler and a small cutting board for 35 kuai, so I wasn’t expecting much from it. It at least took off skins plus chunks of flesh, but more because of blunt force on my part than it’s own merit.

Needless to say, I thought I could trade up, so I went to the market and bought the most expensive peeler there (about 8 kuai). Since there aren’t any recognizable brand names — miss those Oxo Good Grips kitchen utensils! — when in doubt, pay more. If possible, this peeler was even worse than the first one. The pivoting head made it impossible to aim, and it wiggled all over my vegetables, hardly removing any skin at all.

But it’s number three that finally made me crack. I bought number three at HEC, the restaurant supply store. Figuring all their peelers would be decent since they supply the pros, I got the second-most expensive peeler. It was about 4 kuai, and the most expensive one was over 30 kuai. When I got home, I was barely able to contain my anticipation of using it to easily peel several pounds of potato for potato leek soup. I took up my first potato, and slide the peeler along the skin — and nothing came off. I mean, the peeler didn’t even make a little slice in the skin. It grazed off of it as as if I was attempting to peel the potato with a kitten. Frustrated, I pushed harder, angling the blade more — still nothing. Finally, close to rage, I dug the peeler in and liberated a chunk of skin plus a large hunk of potato.

Disgusted, I threw the disgraced peeler in the trash, and moved on to my tried and true method of peeling veggies:

About a minute later, I pulled it out of the trash, penitent, took a picture, and promised myself to blog about my wayward peelers.

That’s one thing about China — you really can’t take shortcuts we take for granted in the States, and the weirdest things give you a new perspective on life. It’s actually kind of liberating to realize you don’t really need all those fancy tools and premixed foods; all you need is patience and elbow greese. It surprises me how many recipes call for premade ingredients that I just can’t get — premade doughs, cake mixes, spice mixes, bread crumbs… the list goes on and on. But it’s been really fun experimenting with the abundance of fresh ingredients I can get. I’ve made homemade apple sauce, bread, pasta sauces, whipped stiff egg whites without a mixer (admittedly poor Jeff did the heavy lifting on that), made my own chilis and curries — and it’s all been a really fun adventure. I don’t even mind peeling my veggies with a knife, with the exception of apples, whose round shape is the devil’s work.

Embarrassing purchases

I have a feeling that all of my non-Chinese readers are currently looking at this picture thinking, “What the heck is that thing?” Those of you who are China-savvy know that this adorable little contraption is a humidifier, or “steam machine,” as I like to call them. They are pretty much mandatory in Chinese households, so I guess I’m just getting more integrated. You can get non-animal shaped ones if you want, but why would you when you can choose from penguins, lions, frogs, foxes, dogs and pandas that blow steam out their mouths/ears?

“But Caitlin, what are you doing with such a useless item in your home?” you ask.

Well, it all started about a year ago when I started going out with Jeff Lee, who is very particular about the condition of his skin. You see, Jeff has different premium lotions for face, hands, cuticles and body, and special chap stick that he carries on his person at all times. Unfortunately for Jeff, Beijing is currently experiencing a drought and is extremely dry.

Hence, the steam machine.

I guess I’ll let you know how the atmosphere of my apartment changes in the next few days. So far, it has made my comforter colder on the side where it sits. I don’t want to complain too much about it though, or Jeff will take it to his apartment. As useless as I suspect it to be, it’s also sort of growing on me.

Beijing Eats

Because I spent an exorbitant amount of money eating out when Kieran was here, I’ve spent the last week staying home and trying to save some moolah.

This means lots of cooking! I’ve been busy baking a lot of bread, an apple sauce coffee cake, and various tofu dinners.

While this recipe for no-knead bread has been making the rounds in foodie circles for about two years now, I feel compelled to share it. The bread was not only easy to make, it was also ridiculously delicious. So delicious that Jeff and I decided to bake it two days in a row, having consumed the first loaf in a matter of hours. It’s hard to get good bread here, and what you can find is usually expensive, so discovering that we can make our own wonderful bread while barely spending any money on it was quite exciting. I’d show you pictures, but we ate the bread to quickly.

I made it with regular Chinese flour, using my glorified toaster oven and a pot that cost 16 kuai, so I know you can make even better bread using real ingredients and big people ovens. Go ahead, try it! You’ll be delighted with the flavor and texture of this bread, I guarantee it.

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of….

In this thrilling second installment of Caitlinpedia Brown and the Case of the Apparating Bugs, Caitlinpedia Brown gets to the bottom of the mysterious flies and dead cockroach — but will the answer to her bug riddle come too late?

It had been over a month since Caitlinpedia Brown first opened the case over a dead cockroach on her floor, and clues had been few and far between. She had left the cockroach body on the bathroom floor, carefully avoiding sweeping it up so that nothing would appear disturbed. Every day she pondered its fate, and her own, during her morning routine. Where had it come from? How did it get there? What did it mean?

Midterms came, and the cockroach became little more than a passing afterthought. There were more important games afoot.

While she had been distracted by tests and papers, a far more sinister yet seemingly innocuous threat had gained the upper hand in Caitlinpedia Brown’s apartment. In a bout of business, dishes had piled in the sink. After days, Caitlinpedia Brown put down the books and set to washing the dishes. It was then, that she solved part of the mystery that had plagued her all month. Those little fly suckers were breeding in the sink drain.

Annoyed but not disgusted, Caitlinpedia Brown grabbed her bleach and kitchen spray cleaner, and set to drowning the small colony of flies. She thought back to her earlier act of kindness toward the flies on her bathroom sink, and decided that their backstabbing breeding deserved the cruelty of chemical warfare. Then, she dumped bleach, cleaner and boiling water down the drain. For the rest of the week, she kept the dishes clean, and kept a watchful eye on the sink drain.

By the next week, however, the flies were back. This time, she scrubbed out the drain as best she could, added more bleach, and vigorously dumped chemicals down the drain for 15 minutes. It smelled lovely, and she was satisfied they wouldn’t be back.

Another week passed, and hardly any food crumbs were put in the sink. But the flies had returned. Now she wondered if she had been too late in declaring war on the fly population. There were little dead flies in her clean cups, little dead flies in the sink, little flies in the drain, and they just wouldn’t leave.

Defeated, she went to the bathroom and sat down.

The cockroach — it was gone! She hadn’t swept, and she hadn’t moved it. It had been there earlier in the day, now it was gone. She got down on her knees and searched the bathroom floor, but the little roach body was gone without a trace.

Suddenly, she felt a keen sense of loss, confusion and paranoia. Had someone moved the little cockroach, who against all odds had become a comforting friend and source of stability during the duress of midterms? Had the flies colluded to distract her with their breeding? What was the meaning of this? Where had the body been taken, and for what purpose. She was plagued with doubt.

Days passed, without a sign from her cockroach. She checked the bathroom floor every day, eagerly hoping it had just been pushed by a gust of wind, and she hadn’t noticed it. But it wasn’t there.

Then, like the sun bursting forth over the rocky mountains at dawn, she found her dead cockroach’s body behind her shower slipper, at the foot of the bathroom step. She still didn’t know how it had gotten there, but she carefully preserved the roach’s new resting place and decided not to move it lest she miss some important clue.

Midterms finally ended, and in a sudden burst of clarity, Caitlinpedia Brown solved her mystery—

The cockroach had died, because that’s just what bugs do. The flies had bred, because that’s just what flies do. They had all colluded to annoy her, because that’s their purpose on Earth. And, as for why the cockroach body had moved, she decided she’d likely never know. But what was more important was why she had become so dependent on a dead insect not moving as a source of comfort and stability. Resolving to lessen her eccentricity and become less pathetic, Caitlinpedia Brown swept up the cockroach, threw it out, and with no small pang of sadness, vigorously cleaned the floor where it had laid for so long.

Having solved her biggest case yet, Caitlinpedia Brown wondered whether, despite the pain it had brought her, solving the case had allowed her to grow. Perhaps, just maybe, her next case would take outside her own apartment, and into the dizzying and overwhelming confusion of the bustling city below. Stay tuned…

Heat-llelujah!

This weekend, the building’s heat got turned on. This is amazing, especially since it’s been getting really, really cold here. In fact, I have been spending most of my time at home snuggled fully dressed in my fuzzy bathrobe, under a comforter and an open sleeping bag. Getting out of bed in the morning was terrible, because the floor is ice, and removing the covers caused instant chattering.

Now, all has changed, and it’s glorious. I can walk on the floors barefoot! I can move about the apartment without four layers on! Showers are much less miserable! Indoors and outdoors are differentiated. Life is wonderful.

There are some caveats. One, I can’t change or turn off the heat, since it’s controlled for the whole building. Two, I just bought a second heavy comforter because of the cold temps, and now it feels like the heating gods are laughing at me.

What my neighbors are doing 2

My upstairs neighbors have a golden retriever. This is worth noting because:

1. There is a size limit on dogs, so it’s one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen in Beijing.

2. Our apartments are all rather tiny.

3. It explains many of the weird noises I always hear from upstairs.

I have a bun in the oven.

Today, I finally brought home my baby. I’ve been slowly preparing for weeks, getting the apartment ready. Finally, today was the day!

No, I’m not keeping a small child in the box. It’s my new oven! I had to carry the dang thing up five-and-a-half flights of stairs myself, but it wasn’t that bad. Actually, ovens are mostly hollow since you have to put stuff in them, so it was pretty light. The box was just a little too big for my arm span, so it was awkward.

As soon as I got it home I cleared a space for it on my least favorite desk and set it up. I got the same brand as a friend who makes amazing baked goods, and I got the nicest biggest oven the store had. It cost a whopping $160 USD, but it was worth it. It has multiple movable racks and a chicken potato? rotisserie. After getting it all plugged in and settled, I amassed my baking supplies for a good, old-fashioned, new neighbor get-together. The cinnamon sticks did not make an appearance, but they exist.

Then I set about cleaning my oven. I splurged and used hot water to clean the racks, and then I put everything in the oven and turned it on high for 15 minutes, as per the directions. About ten minutes later I came into the bedroom and discovered that the oven was blowing smoke/steam and smelled like crap. I chalked it up to the water/packing oils evaporating, opened a window, and hoped it wasn’t carcinogenic.

Then I got to baking! I didn’t want my first baking experience with my new oven to end in disaster, so I used my chocolate chocolate chip cookie mix and make a quick batch of cookies. Do you have any idea how amazing warm chocolate cookies and a glass of milk are? Because I had forgotten until today. Some of the cookies broke a little, so I had to eat the ugly ones. Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I dropped part of a cookie, and I still ate that sucker off the ground. That is what happens to you when you go four months without fresh baked goods.

This is my first batch of cookies with my new best friend. The baking sheet that came with the oven is kind of small and not level, but it worked!

I brought my cookies to work with me, which really pleased Jeff, since now he has cookies too. When I came home from work, my apartment still smelled like fresh cookies.

I love my new oven!