Monday, February 27, 2012

Blog Dog in China

Jupiter is chilling where his ancestors once dwelt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's for dinner? ~ REAL Mexican food in Beijing

If you ask any Western expat in Beijing what food they miss the most they will probably say...
Mexican Food!

You may remember me mentioning a place called Pete's Tex Mex. We go there about twice a month, but it is only semi-accurate in the flavors of their Mexican food. It is close-by our apartment so the kids choose it often.

Now, if you are looking for authentic Mexican food in Beijing Look No More! My friends took me to The Saddle, just behind Sanlitun Village. Now these guys do Mexican food right! No Chinese twist here!
The entrance to THE SADDLE
 I had two carne asada soft tacos with some sort of creamy avocado sauce. They were good!
Aren't green tortillas healthier?
 The gals and I also shared some chips and guacamole. The chips were homemade and just like home, as was the guacamole. But unlike home, they were not free or all you can eat. I don't think the Chinese have ever heard of free refills.
My lunch cost 60 yuan ($9.00 USD) which is comparable to the States. The Western restaurants are much more expensive than the Chinese restaurants here. Oh, it was SO worth it! 
If you are in Beijing, give The Saddle in Sanlitun a try!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In the Presence of Greatness~ Meeting Elder Oaks in China

We are often called Mormons. 
We worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am telling you this because I wanted to share an experience with you. Before I do that I want you to know that I believe in a modern day prophet (President Thomas S Monson) and twelve apostles. Within our church there are many more leadership positions, trickling down to our local leaders. Both men and women hold leadership positions and everyone in our church gives their service on a volunteer, non-paid basis. Worthy men hold the Holy Priesthood which, we believe, is the same priesthood that was on the earth when Jesus Christ was here. 

This week, on February 15, an apostle of the Lord, Elder Dallin H Oaks, visited our branch here in Beijing. He was joined by his wife,  Elder Donald L Hallstrom and his wife. 

I was asked to prepare a vegetable tray for the dinner planned for these couples. As E and I were setting up the tray, long before anyone was due to arrive, Elder Oaks came into the room. His presence was strong and he walked right up to E and greeted her with his booming baritone voice. He then walked over to me and shook my hand, looked me in the eye and introduced himself. The only thing I could think to say was, "welcome to Beijing and thank you for coming to see us". I hope with that simple phrase he knew how grateful I was that he came to China to speak with us. 

E and I were thrilled that we got to meet him in private, before the hub-bub began. We left the room as other people came into the room to enjoy their dinner. Because of the current calling (volunteer position) that hubby has, we were invited to join the guests for dessert prior to the meeting. As we settled our kids into third row seats we went to the room and mingled with the guests.

When it came time to go to the meeting room, we all filed in and took our seats. Every seat was taken, about 300 total. There was an audio system set up for those saints in China who were too far to actually be present at the church. Despite the number of people, the reverence was thick with anticipation. When Elder Oaks came into the room he shook every single person's hand. The meeting began at exactly 7:00pm. The meeting commenced with an incredible musical number by the youth (ages 12-18). They were accompanied by the piano and a violin and sang, "We Thank Thee Oh God For A Prophet". They sang the first verse in Chinese, which as so amazing. E was part of the choir, I was proud!

 This meeting, though formal by nature, was in fact very informal. This means that there were no written talks given. All the speakers spoke to us from inspiration and a few notes. This was a last minute stop in Beijing on their way to Japan, just to let us know we are not forgotten.

The first speaker was Elder Hallstrom. He spoke to us about making our foundation in living the gospel of Jesus Christ based on the ordinances and the covenants we have made. I appreciated his comment about when making a decision we should ask ourselves, "does this draw me closer or away from my covenants?" He also said, "Wherever we live, whatever the circumstances we are in, we all have the same access to heaven." This really spoke to me, as sometimes we can feel far away from that access in the People's Republic of China. I think he was also referring to so many of our friends and loved ones that currently do not go to church or get to know Jesus Christ.

After Elder Hallstrom, his wife spoke to us. What a great life being able to travel around the world with her husband and speak what she knows to be true. I would love to do that! She spoke to us about "fixing our hearts on the Book of Mormon". You may wonder why we believe this book to be scripture when much of the world only believes The Bible to be the word of God. We know that this book is also the word of God, along with The Bible. It does not replace it, it enhances it...completes it, if you will. The reason why we are referred to as Mormons is because a prophet named Mormon abridged the writings of many ancient prophets to make The Book of Mormon. We do not worship Mormon in anyway, but are grateful that we have been given this other testament of Jesus Christ. We know that this book was written for the dispensation of time that we are in right now. To learn more, click here

It was then time for Sister Oaks to speak to us. She is a tiny lady with a very, very youthful voice. If you closed your eyes you would think that a twenty year old woman was speaking. She spoke about a few different topics. What really stood out to me was that she told us that she hears her husband pray for us in China out loud. She told us that he is in tune with the people of China, and we as the saints here. It pierced my heart to know that we are remembered and prayed for by an apostle. She also relayed a story that she heard from a Bishop. It was an analogy about a bus trip from Las Vegas (symbolizing our earth life) to Lake Tahoe (the celestial kingdom, our goal as the highest glory of heaven). In the story, the bus stopped in a town for a bathroom break (symbolizing the terrestrial kingdom, a lower glory of heaven) and not all the people got back on the bus. They were pleased with the town and settled to stay there, instead of heading on to Lake Tahoe. The message was that we should not settle for second best. We need to strive, everyday, to do what we have to do to make it to the celestial kingdom
This meeting was great enough, even before hearing from Elder Oaks. He is a funny guy! I loved the line he used, "You know that the Lord loves Chinese people because he made so many of them!" Amen to that! He spoke about his mother, being an example of optimism. She looked at her husband's early death as a chance to cultivate her talents and bless the lives of others. He joked about using an iPad, that Elder Packer who is well into his nineties, told him HE HAD TO learn how to use one. To my surprise he even spoke about the Texas pastor who publicly called "Mormonism a cult". He said that after he felt insulted by this, he realized that it was such a blessing that this man brought such attention to our church because we do worship differently and that gave us the opportunity to explain to people what we believe and invite them to learn more. He said, "that man provided a way to introduce the world to our uniqueness".  

The meeting concluded at 8:30pm. On the way out, he stopped and shook D's hand and asked him how he was doing. It was a special night. It was a night that I will soon not forget. This is an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am grateful that we have modern day revelation, a modern day prophet, and modern day apostles. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to meet and learn from these wonderful, spiritual and positive people. In a world filled with misery and confusion, it brings peace to my heart.

If you made it through this long post and have questions about anything I wrote about, please visit . You can even read about how I became a Latter-Day Saint and more of what I believe on my profile here

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day, Beijing Style

For the most part, Valentine's Day is moderately popular here in China.  Young adult Chinese, who like to embrace Western traditions, are the ones you see carrying bouquets of flowers along the street. 

For us, we didn't have any solid plans until mid afternoon when hubby's associates decided to put together a dinner. Since E had a late night at school, D and I met up with hubby at the New Otani hotel for some romantic accounting talk.
 This fella greeted us as we entered the restaurant. It was a buffet-style restaurant featuring Beijing duck, sushi, traditional Chinese faire and pizza (?). 

 All the tables were decorated with red roses and lots of pink.
 Each male received this tulle wrapped box of chocolates. Each female received a long stem red rose.

That is not all the males and females received...
Bird's Nest Soup
 ...each female was served a bowl of Bird's Nest Soup. It is a very expensive delicacy (bowls range from $30USD - $100 USD). Do you know why it is a delicacy? First off, only certain birds make their nests out of their spit! Yes, I said spit! (I am seeing a spit fettish here in China) This soup is made from spit nests...I am not trying to be disrespectful, this is how a Chinese person explained it to me. The second reason it is a delicacy, and the reason the women got this soup, is because it is thought to enhance the skin of women.

And for the men?
 Well, of course the men received a bowl of Sea Cucumber Soup. Sea Cucumber is thought to be an aphrodisiac for men. I guess the thought was for the women's skin to look radiant and the men to be hot and bothered. After all, it is Valentine's Day! 

BUT...I did not eat my Bird's Nest Soup ( I am good with my skin), hubby ate it. You know, I am beginning to notice his pores looking awfully nice.
The group of associates 
 Here is my Valentine!
The Gift
 Last weekend we were at the flower market (I had a hankering to buy an indoor water fountain...didn't find one I liked) and we found two watercolor paintings that we really liked. The wife of the artist runs the booth. We decided that for Valentine's Day we would buy two of his paintings.

The artist name is Zhu Dan. These are paintings of hutongs in Houhai, but we have hutongs just like these near our apartment. We thought they would make a nice keepsake to remember our time here in Beijing.

And if the Bird's Nest Soup wasn't enough for you...check out this tree made of Ferrero Rocher chocolates!
Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Indian Food- the easy way

I had to come all the way to China to learn that I love Indian food! I  tried these packets and absolutely love them. I am hoping my American friends can find them at Cost Plus World Market. I know the coconut rice isn't actually Indian, but it goes so well with the curry chicken that I have just made it a combo. I make this at least once every two weeks.

I love meals that are super easy and taste restaurant quality!
My only complaint is that I can't stop eating this when I make it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Winter in Beijing ~ Toddler Steps

You may have read my emotional evaluation of the first six months of our Chinese adventure. There have also been some significant milestones reached that I should write down. 
You may remember my baby steps post back in the Fall. 
Consider this my toddler steps post for the Winter.

  • I got my haircut here. Something I said I would never do. It was great! The salon is located on the third floor of our building and it was only 40 yuan ($6.00 USD). The stylist has cut three out of four of our hair now. I guess you can say we are regulars.
  • Since the above haircut went so well, hubby and I decided to indulge in an hour massage at our third floor salon. You see, I had gotten a Chinese massage (from a hoity toity place) when I first arrived that was pure torture so I swore off massages in matter how cheap they were. I have to say, we really enjoyed our massages this time. Each one cost 100 yuan ($15.00 USD). Next time we are going to sneak down there in our robes :)
  • I can somewhat communicate what I need to in mandarin. The grammar is correct, the tones are a mess and the recipient has to piece it together like a's coming along though. In the next six months I just may understand something someone says.
  • If I have been there before, I can almost always get there again by speaking (rather than showing something) to the taxi driver. You don't even know how much better they treat you when they think you know what you are doing. Taxis no longer raise my blood pressure.
  • We have friends! Sure, we don't know their name. Sure, we cannot communicate that well with them. But, the workers at our little Russian Market (the only thing Russian about it is that the sign is in Russian) know us. The girl at the fruit stand on the corner always says hello to us.
  • We have real friends. In all honesty, I really thought that the relationships that I made here would be temporary or not as deep as the ones I have at home. I have found just the opposite. Yes, we have to work hard to see each other and communicate but that, along with the shared experiences here, make the bonds that much deeper. 
  • I crave Chinese food now more than American food! This is a biggie, as I have never been a lover of Chinese food. Now, I eat it every single day and am happy to do so. I crave warm, steaming dumplings. And the kung pao shrimp at one of our favorite places is something I could eat every single day.
  • I don't even gag anymore when I hear the sound of "hawking loogies". Sometimes I still gag when I see those loogies on the ground though.
  • The best move we have made here so far was joining the fitness center at the City Wall Marriott. For the last six months I have continuously exercised. But the Beijing elements (smog and temperature) really decided how my work outs went. Now, I walk the 20 minute walk to the bea-uuuuuu-ti-ful facilities each morning and burn those calories. I reward myself with a few minutes in the steam room and a shower with their yummy smelling products. It makes me happy!
  • Here is another biggie! I had resolved that I could not use my favorite app to record my daily calorie intake. First, I thought it wouldn't work or that it wouldn't have enough of the foods that I am eating in it's database...EXCUSES! I now am back to recording my work outs and what I eat. Surprisingly it works perfectly fine. Last night we had Vietnamese food (SO GOOD!). It wasn't in the database so I went online and found the nutritional information myself (did you know you can find ANYTHING on the Internet?) and added it to the database myself. 
  • I am blending in! I look like a real Beijinger with my calf-length down-filled coat, face buried in a thick scarf and my head covered. On a couple occasions someone has come up to me to ask me a question in Chinese. Then they see I am a foreigner and they walk away.
This is how I look whenever I go out recently.
I went to a market with two women who just arrived in Beijing. I remember what it was like just six months ago, when everything was so overwhelming. I sounded like I had lived here for years and I told them that in six months, they would sound like that too.
I can't wait to see what the next six months brings!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The First Six Months ~ An evolution

Happy Six Month Anniversary in Beijing!
disclaimer: this post is a bit deep and emotional. 
If you want something lighter, skip it and wait for the next post.

The evolution is occurring!
In so many ways it seems like it was yesterday that we arrived in Beijing. But when I sit back and assess, it really seems like it has been five years! How can that be?

I remember hearing "I turned a corner, you will too". 
I never, ever thought I would get to that corner. Heck, I wasn't even sure I was on the right street! But here I am and I can completely say that there are things about living here that I actually LIKE! I am even on the verge of loving certain things, which was completely unpredicted!

So how did I get from there to here? For me, my holiday trip back home was the beginning of my rock bottom.  From the moment I stepped off the plane in Chicago I could only think of how BEAUTIFUL America was and how UGLY China was. If you spoke to me on that trip you probably heard me say I hated (and I don't use that term lightly) it.  I probably told many stories that painted an awful picture (my apologies to the China Visitors Bureau). I am not proud to admit these things, and only do so in hopes that one soul out there will feel validated by my experience. I also was hanging on to a lot of resentment about moving here in the first place. That experience, back home, makes me worried about going back home for another visit. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time! Probably too much of a wonderful time...

Needless to say, I was in a pretty dark place when I returned to Beijing just after New Years. It lasted about two weeks. Around that time I had the opportunity to see the movie "17 Miracles". It is so cliche to say it was life changing, but it was definitely perspective altering. I felt completely chastened about my attitude! How dare I complain, feel sorry for myself and be bitter? I have my family, my health, a roof over my head, food on the table, a regular pay check... and I am miserable because it is not pretty outside? When had I become a spoiled, self-pitiful, complainer who spreads it around like confetti at a party? 

It wasn't a conscious decision to begin noticing the perks and positive about living in here in Beijing. I definitely feel that this is one of those tender mercies from the Lord. He helped me begin to overlook the yucky, hard things and shined a light on the good things. Without making excuses for myself, I think my perspective was somewhat normal when plunked into a culture with so few similarities. How I manifested that perspective I take full responsibility for.

I mentioned I had been holding on to some resentment about moving here in the first place. Can I tell you...holding onto resentment (well, anything negative) is poisonous. I felt like I couldn't allow myself to enjoy any aspect of living here because I didn't want ANYONE to think that I had surrendered...surrendered to what? I was already living here! Was I really going to make our entire two years filled with me being bitter and putting a damper on every single experience? Yep, sadly,  I was kinda heading down that road. What a tragedy that would've been! What a miserable example to my children! The thing about negativity is that it is not compartmentalized. Before you know it, it is spilling over into other aspects of your life. I know it is because when we hold onto negative feelings we do not have the Holy Spirit with us. It began to affect my relationships with others, with my Heavenly Father and myself!

So here I am now. There are always going to be unpleasant, hard to understand, frustrating things about living here in China. But I have realized that time flies and, before you know it, our time here will be over. I realize that I need to embrace everything this experience has to offer and not take any of it for granted. So that is what I am doing and, darn it, it is pretty cool and fun!

Since you made it all the way through my melodramatic post I will reward you with this funny picture. It was posted in a make-shift bathroom outside of a restaurant I ate at.

Gotta LOVE China!