UPDATED: Not Your Typical Turkey-Day

My very first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner (in China of all places) was indeed a delicious success. Despite the basic hiccups that come with the territory of being a 28-year old woman who’s completely ignored the art of cooking all her life, the endeavor went rather seamlessly. Here are some general tips that I learned from this first-time experience:

# 1: It doesn’t take as long as one would think to clean and stuff a turkey. What does take an hour (or if you don’t know what you’re doing like us, TWO) is the process of making homemade stuffing from scratch in order to fill that turkey. Consequently, our bird went into the oven about 3 hours AFTER we had originally planned (1pm instead of 10am). Mild panic ensued, but was subsequently calmed by the fact that my gas stove is apparently hotter than the fires of hell and the bird crisped right on time.

# 2: Don’t talk to the turkey in coddling baby voices while cleaning it in the sink. It drives the boyfriend nuts and apparently it’s not normal.

# 3: Okay, so what’s that flap of skin that hangs off the “back” of the turkey all about? I needed to consult Mama Lou for this one.

Well, first of all, she tells me,  that’s not the back of the turkey, sweetheart, it’s the front.

whoops.

She goes on: In our family, we always called that flap the “pope’s nose.” It’s actually the skin flap from the turkey’s former neck and makes a great place to pack-in extra stuffing when the chest cavity is filled.

Perfect! This is all great to know and makes total sense. But wait, what’s the chest cavity?

# 4: Bacardi 151 rum is less expensive than the other bottles of liquor in the store because it’s basically 151 PROOF fire-water. Don’t buy it for a party thinking you’re getting a “good deal” on spirits and certainly don’t serve it to your guests on an empty stomach.

# 5: Coffee and tea post Thanksgiving dinner are an absolute MUST. Turkey + wine + that pesky amino acid tryptophan = an intense food coma that generates stifled yawns, long silences and my boyfriend repeatedly asking if anyone would like a scotch.

# 6: Lastly, the most surprising discovery of this whole adventure is that turkey is not the main ingredient in a Thanksgiving feast. Neither are potatoes, or stuffing or the wide array of veggies. Nope. The main ingredient used in massive quantities in just about every dish you prepare is BUTTER. Sticks and sticks of melted butter. I have to admit, this little fact took the spark out of my Thanksgiving wonder. Of course everyone loves this holiday meal! It doesn’t matter the amount of love, or care or hard work that goes into prepping this feast. In the end, it’s all about the butter.

Overall, it was a great and very informative experience. Next year’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. will seem only too easy in comparison.

Not Your Typical Turkey-Day

So it’s Thanksgiving Eve in the United States and I’m here in China. In an attempt to celebrate my native country in true Amurrican style, I decided to host a traditional Thanksgiving meal tomorrow for 10-12 of my friends. The starting product? This 20 pound frozen bird.

 

Frozen Bird

The goal? This guy…

The Goal

As I’ve never quite hosted a large dinner party before, let alone cooked any sort of meal involving more than 3 dishes, and certainly never attempted to broil a 20 lb bird…the whole endeavor is a bit challenging. But, the obvious fact that I’m living in Shanghai, China presents another hurdle all together. First, how does one exactly say “turkey” in Chinese?

Oh, that’s simple,” my Mandarin speaking friend informs me, “The word for turkey is ‘Kong Long.'”

Perfect. Then Kong Long we shall have. However, the only thing is…”Kong Long” in the Mandarin language does not in fact indicate our tasty feathered friend. Oh no, Kong Long actually means “dinosaur”…and guess who was popping into various stores around Shanghai asking if they sold a “dinosaur” that could serve 10-12 people?

What a cute little prank my friend played on me! Perhaps I should reconsider his seat at my Thanksgiving table tomorrow 🙂

The second hurdle (once you know the appropriate word for turkey, which is “huo ji,” thank you very much) is actually finding the raw ingredients one needs for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. After swinging by 3 different grocery stores, I realized that this year’s feast might be just a tiny bit different.

Because, well….why buy turkey meat when you can have chicken feet? Considered a delicacy in China, my local mart offers a wide selection served elegantly on ice:

Or perhaps you are craving something of a  more cold blooded variety. Well Tesco shopping mart has a great deal on some pretty languid looking frogs and slithery water snakes:

hao chi!

please pass the snake.

Despite the fact that my local grocer shop resembles a pet store, I was still able to score some traditional T-day ingredients for reasonable prices. The Kong Long turkey is…ahem, a different matter. At $135 USD a pop, there’s a lot riding on that bird, namely that I don’t manage to burn it black before the day is over.

It’s currently 3 minutes to T-day here and I’m already pooped from all the shopping, planning and perusing of live amphibians. Wish me luck tomorrow folks. An update to follow.

Oh, and Happy Kong Long Day! 🙂

Shanghai Shivers; Obama Visits

Winter in Shanghai does not officially arrive until early or mid-December.  The current season, referred to as “late autumn” is typified by azure skies, a warm swollen sun and an average daily temp of about 60 degrees fahrenheit.  Often characterized as “THE best time to visit,” the late autumn season attracts hoards of Shanghai-bound tourist and travelers seeking a comfortable environment.

This, however, was not the scene early last week as a dramatic cold-front suddenly moved in and the city shivered under a gray, dripping sky, bitter winds and driving rains.  It was against this dreary backdrop and icy cold conditions that U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Shanghai.

Huangying! Huangying! 🙂

Shanghai Daily reported the morning of Barack’s arrival: “The rain is forecast to be heaviest today…In downtown areas, wind speeds in this period may be up to 61 kilometers per hour, while that of the Yangtze River mouth will be up to 74kph…”

Personally, the drastic dip in the weather hit me with a bad cold, and on this very day I was both sick and stressed by a mound of impending school work. Shivering in my apartment with a box of tissues, two unfinished presentations to prepare, an exam the next day, a 3,000 word paper to edit and some Chinese green tea…I huddled under the covers to tune-in via laptop to the exciting news coverage of Obama’s Shanghai visit.

The marquee event, of course, was Obama’s “town-hall” style meeting with Chinese University students. As reported in my last post, the initial idea for the meeting was thwarted after censorship issues and intervention by Chinese officials came into play. However, it was officially decided to hold the meeting in spite of the strict ramifications and at 12:45pm in the Museum of Science and Technology, Barack met with approximately 500 students to discuss current affairs: namely government Internet censorship and the “Great Firewall .”

As there has been a plethora of coverage regarding this event, as well as Barack’s visit, I won’t go into great detail. But here is a quick synopsis of the good, bad and interesting moments of the slightly stilted, heavily planned and definitely censored Q & A:

  • PLUS: The meeting was not televised live on China’s state TV network, however, live broadcasts were carried by Xinhua news agency sites and on local TV stations throughout Shanghai (supposedly uncensored, although there were various delays). The White House also streamed the event live on its Web site, which is not blocked or censored in China  and a simultaneous Chinese translation was offered.  As a result, the meeting was streamed live by an approximate 120,000 Chinese viewers and Xinhua news site reported a subsequent 50,000,000 page views of the Q & A transcript.
  • MINUS: When asked the million dollar question regarding Internet censorship and the “Great Firewall,” Obama tip-toed around directly delving into the question and replied: “Well, I’m a big supporter of non-censorship”. Um, Where? When? How? Why? Can you contextualize this a bit? As this “safe” answer reverberated around the somberly silent room, I think the hearts sank of Chinese youth in attendance and the thousands listening in. Poof! Went the visions of this hip American president addressing this contentious issue head-on with an opinion or a plan. Obama’s trying kids…but he’s also a supporter of “non-pissing off” authorities too.
  • PLUS: In this same breath, when asked the pivotal question regarding Twitter (namely, that Chinese netizens are denied access to this service) Obama touted the importance of freedom on the Internet and information access to all.
  • MINUS: Obama also admits he doesn’t tweet…so what was all that “I’m a cool new media user, just like you” talk during his election campaign ’08? More importantly, who the heck am I following on Twitter under the handle, Barack Obama?
  • PLUS: Internet freedom touted by Obama immediately made headlines across Chinese news sites.
  • MINUS: A mere 27 minutes later this news story was censored and deleted by government intervention.
  • PLUS: Chinese citizens not present at the meeting were able to submit questions for President Obama via a State Department chat-room.
  • MINUS: Meanwhile, the 500 “students” present in the audience had been quite obviously handpicked by Chinese authorities, as many were members of the Communist Youth League and others were later discovered to be…well, simply not students. Shanghaiist reports:  “Turns out one of the fake students to ask Obama a question was in fact the Vice Director of Daily Affairs for the Communist Youth League at Fudan University’s Graduate School, and another was in fact a teacher who just happened to look young.”
  • WEIRD: Following the town-hall meeting, one of these students, Tao Weishuo, ran to the Washington Post with this whopper of a statement: “I strongly disagree with what Obama said about the Internet firewall… I think all Chinese people have Internet freedom – we can speak out freely on the Internet about current social affairs.” Tao’s blunt comment generated hard-hitting backlash all over cyberspace, as horrified netizens blasted Tao for painting a false picture about Internet freedom and access.
  • WEIRDER: Tao also happens to be a graduate student at Fudan University…i.e. my current graduate school. Progressive Tao…real progressive.
  • LET’S END IT ON A HIGH NOTE: Despite this scripted event, the mere opportunity for dialogue between the American president and Chinese citizens resonated for some as a clear reason for change. As one netizen tweeted: “I will not forget this morning…I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”

Directly following the town-hall meeting Barack jumped on a plane to Beijing to talk human rights with Hu, visit the Great Wall with a slew of photogs and even stop for a quick hug with his half-brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo.

And now?

Well, both Obama and that fierce cold front have since moved on and Shanghai has warmed to its typical 60 degree weather and normal news reports of local happenings. But has anything changed on account of the much hyped visit, or has the excitement, hope and anticipation been shelved like those controversial Oba-Mao T-shirts and key rings?

The reviews have been plenty, the opinions blunt, but I really think the key component highlighted by this whole event is the clear reminder of the state’s stubborn grip on its civic control mechanisms. This was an event held to discuss Internet censorship and control within China, and yet it only came to fruition under the conditions that it was both carefully censored and controlled. Hu Jintao points to China’s societal progression as it continues to modernize, but the Obama town-hall meeting is yet another example of maintaining status quo by tight information control. This is no longer acceptable when applied to the borderless, boundless, infinite expansion of the Internet and its burgeoning public sphere of Chinese participants.

As was evident in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, carefully orchestrated fan fare is a part of the Chinese ilk. But beyond ceremonious sporting events and elaborate shows, what happens when the tight choreography acts as road blocks to information and big brother to civic participation? This wasn’t directly addressed during Barack’s visit, nor will it be completely solved in the next. But as more and more tech-savvy Chinese circumnavigate the censors and take to cyberspace with their growing discontent, issues like these won’t be as easily side-stepped…by foreign leaders or China’s own.

Obama’s Visit to China Countdown: The Good, The Bad, and …The “Oba-Mao?”

obama in chinaChina’s a-flutter with Obama buzz

U.S. President Barack Obama will make his first state visit to China on November 15th  until the 18th.  After a 2-day stay in Tokyo, a 1-day stint in Singapore (meeting with both Singapore president Lee Hsien Loong and the 10 ladies and gents of ASEAN), Barack and First Lady Michelle arrive Monday, November 15th in mainland China (for full itinerary details, click here).

Their first stop?

SHANGHAI!

Starting the morning off with a meet-and-greet with Shanghai mayor Han Zheng, Obama will hold one of his famous “town hall” styled forums with a select group of Chinese students to discuss current and future affairs in China . A focal point of the president’s brief stay in Shanghai, the question-and-answer forum strives to bring an open dialogue between the American President and Chinese youth.

Well, the Chinese government just ain’t having that.

All over this one like the white on sticky rice, the government has stepped in to make major changes in the forum in an overwhelming desire for censorship and control. Changes include: 1) the 1,500 students expected to participate in the forum has been whittled down to a measly 600; 2)  all media is banned, excluding, of course, CCTV–the state run broadcast television station); 3) as of now, the event will not be broadcast live on television or the Internet.

These ramifications leave some sources questioning if the Q & A will happen at all.  But in the meantime, let’s hope this story takes a turn for the better as administrators work out the major, but initial kinks. After all, during his 1998 visit  both live radio and TV airwaves carried President Clinton’s candid talk with Jiang Zemin regarding  human rights, religion and the ever elusive Tienanmen square debate. Let’s hope the Party realizes that stifling the almighty Obama from its own fresh-faced youth will majorly put a damper (and negative Western media spin) on the prez’s first visit to 中国.

Speaking of the “almighty” Obama…the mainland’s got much love for America’s new President and there’s nothing like the power of Chinese love to proliferate the mass production of cheap commodified goods. Welcome consumers to the Oba-Mao!

Oba MAo close up

Obama comes in Revolutionary Red & Green!

This new trend capitalizes off the recent resurgence of Mao memorabilia within Chinese society (which in itself is definitely strange and a bit confusing — think mass produced pins, hats, bags and t-shirts propagating an  intensely deified but hotly hated (and, um, dead) ruler. Politically insensitive? Funny? Or just plain creepy? Who knows, but it’s all over stores in urban Beijing).  Now mash this Mao paraphernalia with Obama’s goofy grin and you got  Oba-Mao!

Git your Oba-Mao Tee!!!

First appearing in Beijing tourist shops at the close of summer ’09, Oba-Mao swag has sold like hot cakes to visitors and foreign tourists alike.  But you won’t see any citizens sporting these tee’s and caps while the President is in town. This week the Beijing Municipal Government has issued that all Oba-Mao goods be strictly off the market while the Chief Executive makes his visit.

China Digital Times reports:

To Welcome Obama: T-Shirt with Obama in Red Guard Uniform Taken Off the Shelf

According to some business owners, they got calls last week from Beijing Municipal Government demanding them to stop the sale of this kind of T-shirt immediately. And inspection officers even came to stores to make sure the T-shirts are off the shelf.

Business owners have been notified that after Obama ends his visit to China, they can resume the sale.

Well, sadly, Barack can’t join in the fun and sport a shirt with his own face mashed with Mao. But maybe his Interim White House Communications Director, Anita Dunn, can! According to Glenn Beck she’s a die-hard Maoist and another tyrant in Obama’s  inner circle. (insert sarcastic tone here).

So far we’ve had the bad, the weird and the ugly side of this edition of the Obama’s visit to China countdown. What about the good, you ask?

Well let’s turn back to my personal favorite stop on the China trail: Shanghai!

Official reports have confirmed that Barack and First Lady will be staying at the Portman Ritz-Carlton for their brief stint in Shanghai. (I bet they booked the “Presidential Suite” :-)) The hotel will be shut-down from November 14th – 16th for the occasion and security will be tight with a capital “T”.

Lastly, Obama will not be stopping by the sight of the Shanghai Expo 2010, but he will be surprised by a very special “gift” from the government upon arrival.

China Daily reports:

In addition to having hundreds of schoolchildren wave vivid red flowers to welcome United States President Barack Obama at the airport for his first state visit in mid-November, the Chinese government has also prepared a huge gift for this very special friend — a $3.6 billion Disney theme park contract.

Mickey Mouse in Shanghai: “Huge gift” or “Creepy Image.” You decide.

I leave you now with a great video of the Obama buzz (and crazy-ness) that’s flitting around the mainland. Courtesy of Reuters, the video has everything from a $15,000 Obama statue engulfed in flames at the push of a button, to Obama inspired haircuts at just 2 bucks a pop.

More updates as the Obama-mania Chinese Edition continues…

obaMAO

Halloween Shenme?

chinese-phoenix-pumpkin

Halloween happens to be one of my favorite Western “holidays.” Who doesn’t like assuming a new (and creative) identity for a few hours once a year? On this particular All-Hallows Eve, I tried long and hard to find a costume other than a typical Halloween get-up (devil, ghost, ladybug, cowgirl, etc.). However, this proved increasingly difficult in a country that doesn’t celebrate, understand, or care about this peculiar Western tradition of men and women traipsing around bars and parties in often frightening/idiotic/promiscuous outfits. After some quick research HERE, I decided that the “Holiday House” was my best bet of finding a costume in this town. But this same thought must have occurred to the other 149,000 Shanghai-nese expats, because Holiday House was mobbed, picked-over and teeming with disgruntled Western customers and tired local clerks. After an excruciating 4 minutes in that store, I grabbed the first horns and tail that I saw and made a run for it.

Consequently, my Halloween costume this year was the ever-so-generic….devil. (SIGH)  Trying to put some spin on it, I integrated American flag paraphernalia into my costume to become a “foreign devil” (a term arising in China after the first Westerners came to settle). Asking my Chinese friend if this would be culturally insensitive, she laughed and retorted: “first of all, you’re making fun of yourself and second, good luck finding any local that gets it or cares.”

Well put.

In any case, my generic costume and I spent this 31st of October on a night cruise of the Huangpu River. Consisting of an open bar, a live band and a 3-story river boat with 4 outside decks, Halloween in Shanghai turned out to be a blast.  The city may not celebrate this made-up holiday, but cruising along the river with the rest of the westeren/international crowd bedecked in our foolish garb, it really felt like one of the most authentic Halloween’s I’ve ever had. Take a look at the city-scape below and it’s easy to see why.

 

 

CIMG2588

spooky Shanghai

 

 

 

 

CIMG2613

The lights of Upper Deck

 

 

CIMG2617

In the glow of the city-scape

 

Click HERE for the full Halloween album.