Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

February 03, 2010
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Filed Under (Life, Travelog) by justin

Why do Americans eat more chicken than pork?

If you’re like me, this is true of you, but you can’t really explain why. So when my dinner companions asked me this the other day, I wasn’t really sure what to say. In China, pork is probably the most common meat.  It’s the fallback meat–the meat you turn to when you don’t have anything particularly meaningful for it to do. For you, it might be ground beef, but for me it’s always been chicken.

I was a little surprised that they’d even ask. So, I simply confessed my ignorance and shifted over to why we don’t really eat much mutton in America.1

Then I went shopping. For the first time in months (literally), I bought meat to prepare. Chicken.

Perhaps it was curiosity I’ve been fostering during this holiday. Perhaps it was excess time being domestic (i.e., sitting at home). Perhaps it was hunger. I decided to cook.

Saturday night, I made plum chicken and rice–a personal creation inspired by the common availability of plum juice here and my rather uncommon taste for it.  I should have replaced the rice with mashed potatoes, but I didn’t feel like going back out to the store. And the rice was pretty good too, I must say.

Sunday night, I made a sort of chicken and brocolli risotto. Sort of. While the concept is common enough, the method is personal.

Monday night, I made chicken parmesan. Drawing upon vast experience in eating it, none in making it, I created my own version, starting with crumbing my own bread (don’t get too excited–I had canned spaghetti sauce).

All from scratch. Without recipes. With nothing more than a hot plate, a microwave, and a rice cooker. I just did what seemed appropriate. None of them was perfect, but each of them was worth eating.

Now, those of you with cooking experience are waiting for the point. Those without it are rather proud of me.

I’m just grateful to the chickens, without whom none of this would have been possible.

  1. I’m glad I’ve been abroad enough to find out that mutton is good. Also, lizard.

January 11, 2010
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Filed Under (Life) by justin

I used to pay attention to wind chill—not because I actually cared, but because it gave me a much lower temperature to brag about having braved. It was hard to remember the right numbers, though, so I gave up after a while. Besides, I found it was easier to tack on ‘…and that’s without the windchill!’ And as it turns out, wind chill calculations are basically pointless, anyway.

Having lived in ever-colder climates (NE Ohio, Wisconsin, Changchun, Haerbin), though, I’ve always realized the utility of effectively communicating frigidity.

I mean, temperature is standard, but anyone who has lived in a cold place can tell you it has some shortcomings when trying to make others respect your hardiness. How do you make someone feel the difference between 15° and -15°?Obviously, the numbers are different, but they belie the vast experiential shift accompanying that minus sign. Plus, to blend into my non-US environment, I’ve adapted to the noting temperatures in Centigrade, which few Americans bother trying to understand. So we need new scales.

Some people try to explain their cold in experiential terms. I felt ‘like my feet were about to fall off’ or ‘chilled to the bone’ tell us you suffered, but we can’t know how much. For starters, these are only figures of speech. Your feet are still securely attached at the ankle, I’ll presume, and I rather doubt your muscles and subcutaneous fatty layers had failed to properly insulate your skeletal system, substantial though they may be (one or the other, that is). But more to the point—you’re probably just whiny anyway.

Thus I officially call for a sensory chill index (SCI).

Remember that scene in Farmer Boy when they tossed a bucket of water into the air and it would freeze before it hit the ground? That, my friends, is an SCI—something that instantly tells people exactly how the cold is affecting you in a way we can all appreciate.

As you live in colder climes, you develop an innate ability to note cold. It’s not exactly magic, but it almost seems like it. It’s actually just observing various phenomena. The goal of an SCI would be to quantify some of those phenomena.

Here is some groundwork:

  • Frozen noses. We’re not talking about your nose’s feeling cold here. No, I’m literally referring to the actual freezing of the fluid in your nose. A relatively recent post on some (southern-bred) friends’ blog noted their surprise when they found their noses freezing this winter. It brought back college days. Cold days were when your nose froze at first breath; when the freeze set in at Carey Dorm, you were experiencing just another winter day and making it to the all the way to the library with mobile nose hairs meant conditions were practically balmy.
  • Snow crunch to squeak ratio. Obviously, warm snow is melty and slushy. I’ve not seen that kind of snow before late April in many a year. I take it for granted that tromping through new-fallen snow sounds something like squishing a bag of corn starch. But when it gets cold, the crunch that renders autumn leaves sensually vapid gives way to a sharp squeak. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t ever try to tell me you have felt cold.
  • Longevity of visible breath. We all know what it’s like to see your breath. But, as it gets colder, that breath turns into a sort of ethereal scarf. Or it leaves a long trail, as if people were tiny jet engines on a clear summer day. The longer the trail, the colder it is.
  • Watery eye meltdown. I don’t think we can count eyes’ watering as a reliable indicator, since that varies dramatically from person to person. Shed tears are generally going to respond to conditions pretty reliably though, I’ll warrant. So did your tears drip from your nose, form a mini-icicle there, add icy war paint to your cheeks or threaten to seal your eyelids shut?

I’m no scientist, but I think this could be a start. Care to contribute?

*Sorry for a long post with no picture, but at the speed my internet is working now, a single picture would add a good hour to the already too-long posting process. Besides, it gives you a chance to exercise your imagination.

December 15, 2009
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Filed Under (Life) by justin

If you are reading this on my website or via RSS, you can leave now. Thanks for coming. Have a good week.

OK, it’s just us, Facebook Friends. I’ve been hoping for a while to talk to you about something.

I talked with my mom a while ago, and she was under the impression I have been active on Facebook. This conviction confused me for a while. Then I remembered that my blog posts are still imported into FB, so you have been seeing me write new notes from time to time, but I’ve been ignoring messages, wall posts, friend requests and stupid application suggestions.

Here’s the deal: I’m not on Facebook, but I’m finding new FB-interactive tools from time to time. For example, I now can see just how many messages I can’t answer on Facebook. I think I’ll be able to reply to new wall comments soon, too. The systems are quite flimsy and admittedly imperfect, but they’re a start.

One tool I’ve found: When you leave a comment on one of these notes in Facebook, I can now get it back into my blog. And I can answer it there. So, let’s try it. You leave a comment, give me some time to import them and respond, then check my answer on my blog.

See how that works?

OK, thanks for hearing me out. I hope this clears the air between us.

Know that I love you.

October 12, 2009
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Filed Under (Life) by justin

Pardon me.

It seems I forgot to mention something. I started a podcast a while ago. Somehow, it seems I never managed to actually post about it. I’m sure I had a reason for ignoring it then. Now I don’t.

It’s nothing fancy. It’s my happy dance. Basically, I take a minute or two to look at the last day and point out something nice. It’s been a helpful practice for me.

I’m not really sure you’ll want to subscribe to it, but if you do, here is what you need.

iTunes users, click here.
Everyone else, copy this link into your podcasting software of choice. Enjoy.

(You can also check the full archive and listen to posts on the site by going here. Or just check some of them mentioned in the sidebar.)

October 07, 2009
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Filed Under (Life) by justin

Some of you may have heard things about a cat roaming my apartment. Some of you may have heard about my apartment. Some of you may have heard about me.

First things first.

Yes, I have my very own cat in my very own apartment. It’s a nice thing. Being a long-time fan of cats, I imagined coming to China and getting a cat. School-provided housing isn’t generally pet-friendly, though, and I knew that.



Then it happened.

Students mentioned to Karyn they thought teachers could have pets. She very kindly informed me immediately via SMS while I was on a trip I’ll tell you about some time. It was a spark of hope that burst into beautiful flame when I found the furniture in my new apartment covered in scratches and snags—the tell-tale sign of a (poorly disciplined) cat.

Meet BinBin (滨滨), also known as KitKat by habit of use, a name my friend the animal-naming guru readily approved.