Since moving to China, I’ve gotten really good at two things: using chopsticks and yoga.
Yoga is my release and yes, it’s all in Chinese. It’s me, the westerner in a room full of Chinese contortionists who reek of garlic and money.
And like any activity that’s dominated by women, it’s full of cattiness.
There is social ranking in Yoga based on a few things. The first is if you can stand on your head. That’s just the ante. The second is if you can do the Chinese splits without wincing or farting.
The third and most important thing that trumps them all is not what you can do, but what you are wearing: Jade.
Jade is the Chinese diamond, the green equivalent to the two carat rock Lincoln Park wives can use to land plans at ORD.
But in China, it’s not the carats on your ring finger that women compare, but the quality of your jade bangle, pendant or necklace that dangles during downward dog.
During this basic Yoga pose, women are eyeing each other’s jade.
Meanwhile, the men in the class take the opportunity to eye one’s dog. Color and weight of jade mean quality, so when you hear a bangle clanking when you’re eyes are supposed to be shut, you know it’s something to peek at.
Anyway, for our 12th wedding anniversary (April 18th), Jeff got me a jade necklace.
The necklace looks like an oversized froot loop (which is what caught Jeff’s eye) attached to a thin black cord. It’s really got some weight to it. I doubt if it would float in a bowl of milk.
This is the piece of jade used on my necklace: just like diamonds, jade is graded and comes with paperwork.
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I got Jeff three small jade beads attached on to braided leather cords that he wraps around his wrist.
Supposedly, jade brings you good luck (if you believe in that sort of stuff), but is good for your health, and oh yes, social status.
On weekends, I exchange English lessons for yoga with my friend, Doodoo (pronounced like the bird, not the pooh). I’m excited to show her my necklace.
Lately, my taste buds have been a bit homesick. Last week, I was fantasizing about a Rueben from Manny’s. Homemade tamales from Little Village. Anything from the candy aisle at the Walgreen’s. This week, I’ve been craving Froot Loop milk, that orangish-pink part of your breakfast slurped from the bottom of your cereal bowl.
You can’t get froot loops in China, and if you did, they wouldn’t be the same thing. There are fruits here that don’t look and taste like fruits anywhere else.
Take for instance, dragon fruit. It looks like something right out of a STAR WARS movie. Dragon fruit is bright pink and spiky on the outside, like a egg from an alien species. The inside is white melon-like flesh speckled with tiny black seeds. The taste? Albino Kiwi with a crunch.
Their real name is Longon. These shelled fruits hang in clusters, their outer skin being leathery and tough. But squeeze one, and out will pop out a piece of fruit with the texture of a skinned grape and taste of a melon. Inside that, is a black shiny pit about the pea.
I haven’t tried it yet, scared by episodes and reviews on Bizarre Foods, starring the mutant looking bald guy who chews too loudly in his microphone.
This monster of a fruit has a stinky reputation. It’s large, about the size of a big cantaloupe and covered with spikes. Slit it open and the flesh is gooey, almost dough like. The smell is strong like sniffing salts, but a different sniff. You either love it or hate it.
Many of my students are big fans and want me to try it. They recommend eating it frozen to make it easier on their nose. Even Toucan Sam would agree to that.
As for Jeff? Thanks to all of your care packages, his sweet tooth seems to be coping quite well. Just check out the evidence between the sofa cushions.
April is the season of sideway snow in Chicago which usually comes down full force on opening day at Wrigley Field. But in Kunming, it’s spring. We’re talking 80 beautiful degrees and sunshine. Lots of it.
The sun can cook you quicker than a wok, which leaves you three options. The first is to be a human eggroll, regardless of the amount of sun block you slather on your skin.
The second is to wear one of those Chinese hats that that looks like an umbrella.
They work, but you risk getting blown away like the Flying Nun.
The third is to invest in a sunbrella.
In other words, an umbrella used to protect you from the sun.
At first I thought Chinese women were crazy walking around with open umbrellas on gorgeous days. But then I got one. It’s like having an unfoldable shady tree in your bag that you can pop open in an instant.
The sunbrella designs are cooler than Mary Poppin’s lacy parasol.
Some of the carrying cases are clever, too. One (not pictured) was shaped like a bunny. With one quick zip, you could transform it into instant shield from the sun.
Some women keep them open on the bus to block the beating sun coming in through the windows.
There are shops dedicated to selling sunbrellas.
Also, Kunming’s high-end department stores such as the Golden Eagle and Parskons, have sunbrella sections.
You can pay anything from $2 to $120. They can have sequins, lace, UV protection and frills.
Of course, the more you pay, the more likely you are to leave it on the bus.
Who’d ever thunk I’d be wetting my pants over signs announcing a new Starbucks?
In Chicago, I loathed their presence, from the smell of burnt beans to the cliché clientele they attracted. Ya know, metro-sexuals dressed head to toe in GAP attire, buying Sucker-accinnos to sip on the L-platform while waiting for the Red Line to bring them to their Michigan Avenue cubicle farm.
But in Kunming, it’s another story.
Starbucks is a sign of sanity, an oasis of normality in the land of odd.
Keep in mind how weird a day in a life in China is. Take for instance, my seven minute commute to work. Kunming International Academy is located in the middle of our gated community, the Hu Pan Zhi Meng Xiaoqu (Lakeside Dreams Residential Quarters).
First, I get honked at by the Bentley pulling out of the building with the live chickens on the balcony. Next, I pass an old Chinese man doing his exercise routine, which consists of walking backwards while clapping. Keep in mind, he’s wearing pajamas, double quilted, looking like the kid in the bunny outfit in A CHRISTMAS STORY.
On my right is a group of elderly women with oversized ginsu knives, doing some sort of Samurai-Ti-Chi exercise routine. Then I almost get hit by a delivery guy on his bike hauling a plasma screen TV. He swerves out of the way of a toddler that’s pinching a morning mini-loaf in the gutter.
That’s why I welcome Starbucks.
Then I hear about the all-time worse abuse of the 5-second rule. Ya know, eating something that’s dropped on the floor. Of course, it happens at Wal-mart. Not just any Wal-mart, but a Chinese Wal-mart, in the fish department.
A worker is sweeping the floor and spots two shrimp in the dustpan. She wipes them off then puts them back on the top of the display pile. Ewww! It brings a whole new meaning to a floor sample.
That’s why I welcome Starbucks.
In Chicago? I’d groan at the green circular sign. Here? I’ll sip it up.
I might not ever go inside, but just knowing this oasis of normality is not a mirage is comforting. It’s located at the last stop of the 112, kitty-cornered from the Golden Eagle (a Chinese version of Bloomingdale’s), about a five minute walk from Tao Yoga, my other oasis of normality.