The Best In The West

During my long days at work prior to coming here, I would spend them daydreaming about Yangshuo. I know it’s dangerous to  get one’s hopes up, but the place is on the back of Chinese bills. How could I not have high expectations? And somehow, this magical place was as promising as I dreamt.

Yangshuo is an old town nestled in one of China’s most remarkable landscapes. The Li and Yangzi rivers compliment the country’s signature spire shaped mountains which jut out of the earth creating something of a topographical wonder.

Our first day in Yangshuo was drizzly and the heavy clouds dampened the ghostly peaks, so we took a cooking class. It sounded like it had the potential to be horribly boring (especially for someone who avoids her kitchen), but it was quite the opposite.

Our little band of aspiring chefs were guided to the local market by our instructor. She introduced us to the odd assortments of roots and vegetables I can never make sense of at the grocery store. Then we passed through the meat market…… dun dun dun dunnnnnnn…..

I have always heard stories of the gross things that Chinese people eat, and while I have seen my fair share, this was by far the worst. BEWARE: GRAPHIC IMAGES! (that get progressively worse)

Dried rats for soup. I guess all hope won’t be lost if what the Mayans say about 2012 is true. We have plenty of live food storage in our kitchen.

I’m easing you in….

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. PS – they had cats too. Uh, I’m feeling sick. Onto my cooking class:

After we braved the market, we were driven out into the country where our class was held. Describing the details of my super fun cooking class would just make it super boring for you, so all you need to know is that it was great.

The school.

The location.

The process.

The end result. 好食物 (good food)

By day 2 the weather was glorious, so we decided to enjoy it on bikes exploring the countryside. We rode through little villages and saw people growing their crops and living their lives like it was the 1800’s. Women in their 80’s were tilling fields and hauling 50 lb bags of grain to the markets on their backs. We also saw a lot of old men sitting around and smoking. I guess that arrangement works for the Chinese, but Chris would be a dead man.

Crusin’ through the country side.

Drying grain in an empty house.

It’s not official without a flower wreath.

Getting shuttled across the river with our bikes.

We opted to bike to Moon Hill and hike to the top, which provided an amazing vantage point of the country.

We ended the day by riding our bikes back to Yangshuo in the beautiful gold sun right before it set.

Our third day we went on one of Yangshuo’s signature tourist attractions: a ride down the Li river. However, we took the wrong tour and our “bamboo” raft was made from PVC pipe, our “gondolier” was some guy who sat in the back and steered the motor, and our 2-hour float only lasted 1 hour, but we still made the most of it.

Our final day we rented these bad boys so we could enjoy the freedom of exploring at will. Considering my biker boots and our sweet stance, it seemed like we would be better suited on a big ol’ hog rather than a weeny moped.

We rode and rode until we ran out of road. Then we got on foot and walked through fields until the fields ended. It felt like we had walked to the end of the earth.

And then we rode back to reality. On our way home we passed a sweet family of peanut farmers. They so generously said they would have us for dinner but explained they didn’t have much food, so they gifted us peanuts and refused payment. It’s truly remarkable what we are all blessed with this Thanksgiving. Those with peanuts are blessed with generosity and humility, and those with mopeds are blessed with peanut farmers who inspire them to live more generously and humbly. Remember the peanuts!


Bitter Beijing

We had the idea to visit Beijing before it was too bitter cold to enjoy, but we were too late.

Fortunately, our first day was great. It involved the Great Wall and some beautiful fall weather and colors. The portion of the wall we saw (Mutianyu) is an hour and a half drive from Beijing. My biggest disappointment was that although we were far removed from the city, the pollution stretched the whole distance.

The wall was impressive and allowed us to poke around at our own leisure and take too many photos. When we were done, we tobogganed down. Yep–tobogganed–on little plastic sleds. I’m not sure how safe it was considering the toboggan people made it clear that they were free of any responsibility in the unlikely event of injury or death, but it gave us a good adrenaline rush.

The following day was when the horrible bitterness started to sap our desire to anything more than sit in Starbucks (which we did a lot of). We braved the cold long enough to fulfill Chris’ two-year-long dream of seeing Mao’s body. For those of you not familiar with Chinese history: Mao was a reckless leader that most Chinese people idolize/worship. He has been dead some 30 years and his body has supposedly been preserved for visitors to view (they keep him in a freezer when he’s not on display). So…. we saw Dead Mao. It involved being stuffed in a corral for an hour with hundreds of other people while we went through a “security check.” Then we quickly filed past Mao and observed him from a good 10’ away as he laid in a Snow White style glass coffin. Let me just say that he looked REALLY good for being dead 30 years. Too good (cough, cough). I hope I look like a giant waxy Barbie after I die. Not a hair out of place.

After Chris’ dreams met an anticlimactic end, we spent considerable time hopping from place to place in search of warmth. We first landed in Starbucks, but kicked it up a Chinese notch and ate at a famous pecking duck restaurant that made us sick afterwards. The whole day was full of firsts and lasts.

Somehow our final day in Beijing threw even worse weather at us. It was windy and snowy, and we weren’t prepared for the misery of walking around in soaking shoes with freezing toes. Thankfully we had seen the Great Wall and enjoyed it, but we still hadn’t visited The Forbidden City. A must see—unless you’re Chris and me. We tried. We walked up to the point where you pay admission, and decided that we would rather spend our admission money on a caramel hot chocolate rather than walking a mile in the elements, so we slinked back to Starbucks. Pathetic, I know, but three people froze to death that day because of the weather, so don’t judge.

We did fully immerse ourselves at the Silk Market, which is a close second to the Forbidden City. SHOPPING!!! This is the market with all the “real” knockoffs: the knockoffs with legit price tags and bar codes, and Toms that promise to donate a second pair of shoes to kids in need. It’s a horrible thing to support. But we did.

We ended our trip by going to the acrobatic theatre. The Chinese seem less concerned with safety than Americans are. While this is obviously a terrible thing for the under-protected Chinese performer, it makes for a very good show. I’ve never seen more than 3 motorcyclists a Globe of Death (real name—I swear) where they zip around showing off how cool centrifugal force is. China had 8 motorcyclists.

And thus ended our trip to Beijing.


There are R.O.U.S.’s (rodents of unusual size… and strength) inhabiting my kitchen.

Halloween day was pretty uneventful and I wasn’t ready to let my favorite holiday pass without a decent scare, so I suggested we watch a horror movie. After Chris accidentally rented the porno version of Insidious (yikes), we finally found the right film and watched half of it until Britton had the sense to suggest we stop intentionally scaring ourselves and go to bed. Little did Chris and I know, the horror had just begun.

As I was laying in bed somewhere between sleep and consciousness, I heard a commotion in the kitchen. I tried convincing myself that it was Mo (who was in the bathroom with the door closed) and tensely laid in bed listening. Then I heard something heavy moving around our apartment–something that was definitely not Mo. I bravely crept out of bed and poked around until I found evidence of an invader.  Beneath the kitchen cabinet I found metal shavings and poop with an accompanying hole. We weren’t dealing with just any rat–we were dealing with a ROUS–one that could chew through metal and in to our apartment for heaven’s sake!!!

I tried to wake up Chris, but he is a very heavy sleeper. If he weren’t, he would be chronically sleep deprived—I have a tendency to sleep talk and walk. As I was trying to reason with my groggy husband that there really was a rat, and no… I didn’t imagine it, and yes… I’m actually awake and not sleep talking, the culprit scurried behind the bed. All hell broke loose and the war was on.

We battled the rat for an hour. After finally chasing him out of our bedroom, we huffed and puffed to close our bedroom door (a slider that’s on a broken track and is REALLY hard to to open/close). With the rat confined to the living room, Chris tried to smash the rat with a frying pan, which he quickly traded for a chair when the rat scaled our 8 foot curtains. After Chris repeatedly bashed the chair against the window, the rat dropped and ran for the bedroom door.

Our moment had come. He was hopelessly scraping at the spot where our impossibly heavy bedroom door met the wall. Chris was ready to bring his frying pan guillotine down on the fleabag when it disappeared into our room. Inconceivable!  We weren’t dealing with any rat. This one had super-rodent Chinese strength.

Chris and I spent considerable time trying to open the same door wide enough to allow ourselves in, giving the rat a considerable second advantage over us, but we eventually hunted him down and took him down. It was a bit like The Princes Bride when Chris repeatedly bludgeoned the ROUS with a random piece of wood (the previous owners left some strange stuff). He lacked the gallant heroism as The Dread Pirate Roberts since he was mumbling, “I’m going to die” the whole time. The grand finale would have involving scorching the rat in a flame spurt, but our apartment smelled bad enough from the rat, so instead we threw him out our 22nd story window. Then Chris dry heaved for 20 minutes while I sanitized.

My hero.









Finally at three am, with our apartment in shambles, we dragged our bed back to place and tried to sleep. The rat had more effect on our dreams than any horror movie ever could. Chris kept lurching awake yelling, and I dreamt that rats disguised as rabbits were falling from the ceiling onto our bed. It was very disturbing stuff.

Poor Mo didn’t get much attention from either of us the next day. His scraping sounds and little furry body occasionally brushing against our feet got him accidentally kicked a couple of times. Chris kept threatening to throw him out the window too, but he didn’t get the chance since we had to leave for Beijing. We quarantined off the kitchen (which oddly has a door although it’s not big enough to even qualify as a closet) and hoped for the best.

We got back yesterday to discover that the rat infestation continues. The kitchen countertop is covered in tiny little paw prints that track across the cooktop and pan I left on the stove, and my butter has freakish teeth marks in it. The Chinese moon cakes, which I left as bait, are untouched (I guess we aren’t the only ones with the sense not to eat those things).

Now I remain fearful of my own kitchen. I wear special “contaminated” shoes upon entry and am in the process of carefully removing everything and bleaching it in the bathroom. Our landlord says it’s our problem, so I guess I’m going to bid my kitchen adieu and brace myself for 7 months of Chinese takeout and doing dishes in the bathroom sink. Sob.