I am still trying to find a way to prepare a decent pot roast here in China. I think the only way to get it the way I want is to find a slow cooker (one of the few things I failed to bring to Beijing). This meal consisted of a roast I purchased at Schilling and prepared from Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. The color was a perfect, very light pink when finished but not very tender. Almost all of the roasts I have attempted here have turned out this way. The sides were a potato salad I made using Hard Boiled Egg and Hot Pepper Dressing - from the same cookbook. This was placed along with steamed broccoli and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Not a bad meal - just not a great meal.
I had shipped a Spectrapure CSP-60 inside the pallets of our initial move to Beijing,from the United States but it had not been installed. The only place suitable in the apartment had a fixture that was really old and was mercenary engineered to connect to the washing machine. Once I discovered the B&Q and started buying parts from there to work on the apartment I felt confident enough to do some plumbing work. It is important to purchase all the parts yourself because if you rely on the apartment maintenance guys to buy it for you it will cost 5 times more than the real price.
We had been using Watson's water since arriving in Beijing. For a while after we first arrived the wife tried switching us to some off-Chinese brand to save 5 yuan a bottle, but after my intestines started rotting out I convinced her it wasn't worth it. While last year I knew we had problems with our bottled water I had no solid way to prove it. Recently the Global Times did an investigation and reported that 60% of Beijing's bottled water is fake. This was followed up by articles in local websites as well as in Chinese.
As an American expat living in Beijing I was already aware of the many problems with the food industry and fake products in general. But I had innocently believed that the outrageous price of 50 rmb per bottle ($7.73) must be because it was real. However this news along with the week long bouts of diarrhea and stomach pain made me determined to figure out a way to install the RO unit. Finally I was able to aquire the components to match the U.S. made water filter to the Chinese plumbing and this was completed. After installing the unit I put a glass of our filtered water side by side with a glass of our Watson's bottled water and had my wife do a blind taste test. There was no doubt - none - in our ability to tell which water was truly purified.
I had a weird incident a week or so back where a taxi offered a ride but refused to use the meter. Luckily I was right in front of my apartment and the entry guard so I was able to get out and leave without a problem. That was the first time I had a problem with a taxi in Beijing, usually the drivers are nice and everything goes fine.
But it looks like there is some things that everyone should be watching for, and fake cabs are on the rise. The Global Times had an article detailing how the scam works and it would be a good idea for anybody using taxis in Beijing to give it a read.
In Beijing we are lucky enough to have a south facing porch area that is suitable for growing all kinds of different plants. A garden here serves two purposes. First, it gives me a source of fresh herbs for cooking. Secondly it provides natural filtration and improves our air quality. The air pollution is incredibly bad in Beijing and anything that we can do to make our home more healthy is very important. Now that I have several pots of herbs that are maturing the smell is really nice in our living room. It really helps to make the home feel nice and alive.
Today (6/22) I took some pictures of how I have it set up so far. I need to get some more fixtures to put plants on and make some other changes but the growth has been good. If you notice tthe haze in the background of the pictures below - that is not fog. That is pollution.
I have lapsed on working on this blog for a couple of weeks but I should have some additional things posted over the next few days. My wife's cousin fell ill with a respiratory infection and was hospitalized for 9 days but luckily she is better now. That experience, plus my own bout with illness has made me determined to finish up my posts describing life in China so that expats can have a better understanding of what they are getting into when moving here. There are some other changes I want to make to keep this place fun and useful. This week should be a good one to get a few things completed. Mainly because for the last 5 days the air pollution has been very bad and going outside is not a very good idea.
Today is especially bad with the AQI being around 380 as of 2pm this afternoon. Even inside with the IQAir unit running on 5 the effects for me are pretty bad. What happens to me is my chest aches and generally I get slightly nauseous and very, very tired. It is important to take good care of yourself because what happens is a weakening of your system from getting hit with things back-to-back or simultaneously. Thats when you can get nailed with a really nasty problem that requires being put in a hospital (like what happened to Bella). It is a brutal, toxic environment and you really cannot afford to let your guard down.
I love good salads but for the most part I will not eat them in China. If the prep includes rinsing the greens in tap water you are screwed, and I've been sick way to often to just invite a free incident. There are a few exceptions to my self-imposed salad exile and one of those places is LMPlus. I am not sure how Mass is making the dressing, but it is incredibly good. I suspect the key is a very, very good olive oil. I use quite a bit of olive oil so I will probably have to keep one for general use and one very good one for dressings. I am just not an expert on olive oil, so I need to look into how to pick something out that is suitable for dressing.
I have been trying to work with chicken to create more healthy alternatives. For this salad I grilled chicken breast and then ran it through the food chopper to get a fine grind. This went on top of a bed of greens and then I stacked chopped tomato on top so the chicken would be nice and moist. I want to create some type of chicken salad but avoid the use of mayo. Other ingredients for this include a red pepper gouda cheese, cucumbers, shredded zucchini and capers.On the side of the salad are slices of fresh zucchini bread. I had to make mine without chopped walnuts because they are very expensive here. It literally adds between $7 - $10 to the cost of making 2 loves of bread. Forget using pecans, I can only find them in the spring and summer and their cost is more then the walnuts.
Updated 6/7/2011: Since writing the post below I've had to read about Schwarzenegger knocking up his housekeeper (and putting her and the kid in his family photos) along with Representative Weiner's lewd photos and affairs. So while I do know mistresses are viewed differently in China - its obvious douchebaggery is everywhere.
Over dinner my wife informed me that the venture capital world in China was on fire over some guy's decision to run off with his mistress. It was - according to my wife - romantic. I found that rather odd coming from a woman and so I had to look into it. There are posts on the Wall Street Journal and on CNN that give the basics of what happened.
To have the right context you really need to understand how fidelity is looked at in this country. Not only does it have less value, it is actually scoffed at. Here if you are a successful man you are expected to have at least one mistress. Everybody does it. I know a few men I believe have a strong character and would not follow this path. But if I found out otherwise, because of how things are here, it would not surprise me. I am talking about Chinese men, for foreigners it is a completely different ball game. The availability of young, attractive women for us is as easy as going to the grocery store and getting a carton of milk. When I carry dinner to my wife I walk through the corner of one of the most elite business properties in China. And every night there are 3-4 college age girls offering up the "massageeee" and promising a good time. That is just the pay to play crowd, if you wanted to go to a bar somewhere and date so you would feel good about it I do not think it is that much harder to accomplish.
That is why they say - China is where your marriage goes to die.
The pressure is so great for a successful person to cheat here. Not because of availability, but because it is expected. It is like the Mercedes, if you don't have one then you are just not as good as the guy next door.
But I tried to get my head around the romantic part. In the end the only conclusion I could come to was his wife probably did not find it very romantic. I looked at what he had wrote about "giving it all up to run away" but he is the main partner at the 5th largest VC firm in China, he is wealthy beyond description. So that is bull. And I thought about his wife who had to be humiliated in public because this guy did not have the decency to divorce her before he took off his pants. Believe me, she spent a lot of nights over the years looking at dinner getting cold on the table while this clown never showed up. And probably did not have the decency to even call. And the payback is him deciding to shack up with a woman 15 years younger.
I do not get it, but I never did understand that kind of thing anyway.
Maybe I am just getting buned out on China, but I am unable to come to terms with the ridiculous cost of living here. I was in Lufthansa Center yesterday to buy a birthday present and stopped at the Mont Blanc store to look at wallets. The Mont Blanc Meisterstück 6 Credit Wallet with Money Clip was $500 freaking dollars. Yes the exact same item that sells for $190 in the United States. And that is typical for everything. Brand name items, particularly those with global recognition are overpriced to stupid levels. I am not sure what it is, but it is probably a combination of government tariffs and trade restrictions, along with the ability to overcharge a population that simply doesn't know any better. It angers the hell out of me, especially with the tremendous trade imbalance and the lip service being paid to equal and open markets. Especially as a foreigner living here you see how we are screwed in terms of being able to do business on an equal footing, yet in the U.S. we bend over backwareds to accomodate and help out Chinese business people.
But with regards to the subject of this post, none of it would be possible without the extremely superficial culture that surrounds brand names and "conspicuous consumerism". People feel they have to have that Prada handbag in order to impress their friends and family. I've went through phases with it. At first I couldn't believe an entire society could really be that shallow - then I found it funny - now I just think its stupid. Even if the costs were identical with the rest of the world it would be shallow, but when you combine that with being bent over for 3 times the real cost - then its hard to label it anything else.
The saddest part of all of it is the special reason you give a gift, the feelings you should have when you give something to someone - all those things are stripped away and now the whole occassion means nothing. Nobody here shops for an item because they want to think about what the recipient would enjoy. They just want to impress them. Its all about making yourself look good. And half the time (or more) the person you give something too just takes and throws it in a drawer so they can turn around and give it to someone else... so they can make themselves look good.
I refuse to think like this. It is just extremely offensive to me to see someone take a gift and treat it like a point counter in a mahjong game. When I receive a gift I believe it means something. I keep it, I use it. When I have it I think about the person who gave it to me. If I did not act like this then why would anybody ever respect me or give me anything again? it is just hard because even as I hold onto the values I know are right, I find myself moving farther and farther away from the people here I should be close to.
I have been wrecked for 3 days with a double bout of giardia frosted with the common cold. Its been a nasty time and has brought back memories of May 2010. Back then I managed to contract a black fungus in my ear and it took until August before I was finally able to get that cured back in the U.S.
People are always asking me what the air pollution is like and saying "like living on Venus" doesn't really give much detail. So I put some things together to better describe some of the aspects of it. Everybody is different, I can only describe what it is like for me. But a picture is - as they say - worth a 1000 words.
It is maddening when I talk to people in China and they find out I cook American cuisine - the first response is always "hamburger?", "sandwich?". Aaaaaaaagh. It is not that I do not like hamburgers and sandwiches, because I love them. But 90% of sandwiches in Beijing are horrible. And I mean truly horrible. The choices in hamburgers are slightly better. If you feel the craving coming on (and some days I do) then the best place I know of is The Blue Frog in Sanlitun. There are other places that do a passable job,, but The Blue Frog will get you pretty close to Red Robin. But if you want grilled forget it.
But this isn't really about burgers, mainly because I have not been able to locate a bun that is worth a damn. Instead it is about avocado. I happen to love avocados and there is so much you can do with them. I have been trying to get more on a healthy kick as I really need to lose some weight, but as you can tell I really do not have much self-control. Last night I only had about an hour to make dinner so I knocked out two nice chicken plates with a southern Cal flair. The first is just a basic chicken salad with avocado, sprouts, cucumbers etc and some fresh grated parmesan. The dressing was a chicken stock reduction from the saute pan mixed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Fresh croutons with olive oil on the side.
The sandwich is on a fresh french roll from Symphony bakery in Central Park (same loaf was used for the croutons). I spread a nice layer of the Green Onion Salad dressing from a couple of nights back, then fresh lettuce, sprouts, tomato, cucumber and avocado. Add some hot chicken breast slices, fresh parmesan and you are good to go. A small salad on the side with more of the dressing and cherry tomatoes. That is a nice B grade sandwich. Americans make awesome sandwiches and there are so many to choose from, there must be thousands of great ones out there. Luckily I bought two french rolls so I can have another one for lunch :)