Friday, July 11, 2008


Overall, I didn't think much of the Beijing Zoo. I remember thinking that the great cat exhibit, in particular, was pretty tragic. Concrete floors and bar windows on enclosures not much bigger than a bedroom - it looked like an underfunded city animal shelter.

But the pandas!

In the US, you will never see eight pandas in a single enclosure. First, the "rent" to bring pandas over from China is one million dollars, and second, I don't think China would send so many even if the price could be met. They don't ordinarily display this many in China: these are the Olympic Pandas, chosen by internet vote to come to Beijing for the Olympics. Shasha - my host roommate from my exchanges student days at CET Harbin - said (in disturbingly excellent English) that these pandas are also 2, much younger than the normal age of display. However, they came from the Wolong Panda Research Center, which was severely hit by the Sichuan Earthquake. One panda there died. So who's to say that at least now, they're not better off in Beijing? The Olympic panda enclosure is particularly nice, nicer than the Asian Games panda enclosure next door (bringing the total of Beijing Zoo pandas to somewhere around 14 - an embarrassment of panda riches!).

Justin and I admire pandas:

Did I mention that it was at least 35 celcius (one bajillion Fahrenheit) in Beijing that day? Perhaps that is the explanation for this panda. We all just decided that he was drunk.

And lest you think that this panda post will have no food connection, behold! I spent too much time in the panda enclosure and temporarily imprinted on a panda. Bonus: You can see Shasha and Justin reflected in my sunglasses if you click to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A lovely anniversary present from the United Nations

Justin and I have a hobby: we like to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We have done a pretty shabby job in Korea thus far - we've only visited Jongmyo Shrine (link to blog post), but we did much better on our trip to China, which I promise you'll see posts on. Someday.

In any case, today is big news in UNESCO nerddom: twenty-seven new sites have been added! And to make this just kick-butt for us, one of them is not three hours from where we are currently hiding out from the tax man in Halifax, Nova Scotia: Joggins Fossil Cliffs! I sense a road trip!

PS. Thanks for the many anniversary good wishes we've gotten in e-mail, blog comments, Facebook, etc. As anybody following this blog could tell, we've had ups and downs this year, but the important part is that we had them together.

Justin's mother's parents spent their first married year abroad in France, where Justin's grandfather was serving in JAG. Same situation with us and Korea: neither of them spoke the language, they were newlyweds, and they ended up with a strange-smelling little co-resident whose name started with A. (We love you, Aunt Anne!) And they're getting along pretty darn well. So I venture to suggest the foreign first-year to all married couples. If you can make it over there, you can make it anywhere!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chinese Food, Part Two: Dumplings

(This is part of a series of posts on our recent trip to China. We'll be posting throughout the summer as we bum around at or near home.)

It's our one-year anniversary today (that's right, 7/7/07), and aside from the nice seafood dinner planned for tonight, I'd like to celebrate with a paean to the humble dumpling, Dongbei staple and midnight savior of hungry college students everywhere.

The Dumple
Also known as the "dumpling" to normal, non-Homestar-Runner-obsessed folks, the dumple can be found in nearly every corner of China, with some important regional variations. In the US, you're most likely to find "potstickers," which are the northern jiaozi, though outside northern China (i.e., in the rest of China, or in Korea, Japan, or the US) they're more often served pan-fried (guotie), whereas from Beijing north they're almost always boiled or steamed.

Thick-skinned boiled dumplings are very popular in northern Chinese cooking for a number of reasons. First, the wheat used to make the dumplings is actually more plentiful in the region than rice, which makes a thick dumpling a good way to stretch more-expensive "goodies" like pork, beef, and vegetables. Second, boiled dumplings also conserve oil, which historically doubled as a winter heating fuel in the coldest parts of northern China. Third, the standard pork-and-chive dumpling is an excellent match for the mild pickled veggies, tofu, and soy vinegar that dominate most northern meals. And finally, dumplings can be wrapped long before cooking and then served up in a flash, making them very easy to fit into a busy lifestyle--and into a busy retail setting.

As a result, dumplings have assumed the same position in northern Chinese cuisine that pizza has in most of North America: Chinese people, especially families and students, turn to dumplings for a quick, cheap, and satisfying meal--and in this case, at least passably healthy, too.
In other parts of the country, though, dumplings take on a slightly more sophisticated veneer, influenced by the dim sum tradition of southern China. In Xian, we ate at a dinner theater (skipped the show--looked pretty tourist-trappy) whose set menu consisted entirely of dumplings, dim-sum-style, some of whose ingredients and presentations were rather creative. For example, one dish included cabbage dumplings that looked like bok choi and pork dumplings that looked like pig's snouts (below, top and middle), while another included fish dumplings that looked like stylized koi (below, bottom).The big hit of the night, however, was a baked-then-fried ground beef dumpling with Xinjiang-style spices (no photo--it didn't last that long) that was a dead-ringer for any number of Middle Eastern meat pies. Yum!

Next up: Some colorful examples of Dongbei/Beijing cuisine, including the famous Peking Duck.