Monday, September 17, 2012

Strange hobby

I boiled more milk last night and decided to take pictures while doing it. I think this has officially become a hobby of mine. Strange? Absolutely. At least it's a bit useful, nevermind the fact I could just buy milk from the grocery store like most other people on the planet. Actually, do most people buy milk from a grocery store? I heard that in China most people don't really drink milk. That's a big chunk of people who don't buy milk, but I guess they're not boiling it either. Anywaysss.....

Here's the milk in the pan, starting to heat up. It gets a little film on it, which apparently is the milk protein. You skim it off after it has cooled. It tastes preeeety good.

The salt and pepper matryoshkas supervising my milk boiling.

Oh! It's frothing up!

This is the exact point when I turned off the heat. Every time I think "It's going to boil over!" And every time, it doesn't.

I didn't get a picture of the beautiful bottle of milk because I finished this whole process pretty late last night. Just imagine a beautiful bottle of milk until then.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Out with the Old, Please?

Before I visited my hometown this past month I had to ask my husband to promise me that he would not do three things while I was gone – buy or sell ANY large appliance, house or car. Turns out he was planning to buy a new washing machine to surprise me, and with good reason.

We did need a new washing machine, so when I got back, we went down to our new mall near our house and checked out what they had. We had already shopped around a little and pretty much knew what we wanted. We decided on a pretty big and pretty nice washer, since we figured we won’t be buying one now for about 15 years. The old washer was the one my roommate and I bought used when I first moved here. More than one person had compared the sound it emitted to a jet engine taking off. I always felt really bad for our neighbors. It also started leaking water out the bottom recently. We could have gotten that fixed, but I wanted to get a quieter, larger washer anyway, so this was a good excuse, you see.

The new washer was delivered right on time and we promptly began our washing. However, there was still an elephant in the room. Our old washer was now firmly planted in the middle of our bathroom. We had arranged for a used appliance place to come pick it up. In fact, we had arranged two, knowing that at least one of them would lie to us and not come when they said. After a week of calling and stopping by both shops every day, and about 27 lies later, we got the truth – it’s student move-in season, and there’s no way we’ll get around to picking up your old washer before October. Thank you very much.

Enter plans B and C. Plan B was for us to just haul the washer down two flights of stairs ourselves and set it out on the street, hoping that someone would come by and take it, which they probably would have. However, my mother-in-law rightfully pointed out that we would probably injure one or both of our backs doing that, and then we would pay a hospital bill just to get rid of an old washer. Good point. On to plan C.

Here there is a lovely occupation called a “Scrap Collector”. These guys go around either with a truck or just a bicycle or hand cart yelling out that they’ll take our old scrap metal. They usually come by on weekends and a few evenings a night. Except for last week. Not one single scrap collector came by in 10 days. We even had a false alarm when my husband sprinted outside only to find he was chasing a melon seller. “Melon” and “scrap metal” can sound surprisingly similar when you’re desperate. We were in a really bad state, jumping at every sound of yelling in the street, hoping it was the scrap collector. Then, when all hope was lost, our big moment came. We rounded the corner into our neighborhood, and lo and behold, a scrap collector with his hand cart had stopped to buy some veggies. We screeched to a halt, my husband jumped out of the car and ran to the vegetable stand. I’ve never been so happy to see a scrap collector in my life. He said yes, he wanted the machine, so he came to our house, looked it over, and even gave us a few bucks for it! My husband helped him carry it downstairs, and we were free! In the future, we’ll make sure the people who bring the new machine take the old machine as well. I guess you can demand that. We thought we had it covered, but you just never do know. To top it all off, we’ve seen about 5 scrap collectors on our street in the past 3 days. Ain’t that always the way?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Milk and Mechanics

This week I faced new challenges! I did things I had never done before! I realized this week that no matter how long I live here, I will never get past the challenge of doing something for the first time, because there is always something new to do! My first challenge will sound like, well, not a challenge, but it pulled out a feeling in me that I hadn’t felt in a while.

For some reason I had gotten the urge to buy fresh milk (unpasteurized) and boil it myself at home. I had this idea that it would be healthier and better tasting. Conveniently, there is a place that sells fresh milk about a 5 minute walk from our house. So, last Sunday we decided to be spontaneous and go buy some fresh milk (I know, my life is incredibly exciting). We went there, my husband handled the whole transaction, then we came home and he showed me how to boil it and skim the fat off the top, etc. I was having WAY too much fun for what we were actually doing. I was actually giggling. My husband enjoyed it, too, because when he was a kid there was no pasteurized milk, so his mom always used to boil their milk and he and his sister fought over the skimmed cream off the top. So, we had great fun and drank our milk all through the week. Then, a couple of days ago, I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to buy some more milk?” We happened to be coming up on the milk store (I don’t know if there’s an expression for this in English. Lactisserie? Dairist? Anyone?), so my husband stopped the car and gave me some change from our change pile in the car. But…

I panicked! What should I say? I don’t know how to buy fresh milk? What do I ask for? Is it a kilo or a liter or what? You go! You do it! My husband just put the money in my hand and insisted I go. Ask for a liter. It’s just milk. Of course, he was right. Why did I panic? It was a new thing, but I’ve done thousands of little new things here since I came here four years ago. Buying milk certainly doesn’t even make the top ten of difficult things I’ve done. I even speak the language now. Anyway, I walked in and bought the milk, and everything was fine. I still don’t know why I panicked.

Then, yesterday I had another little episode. Our car seemed to be really close to overheating a few days ago, which is strange because the weather is actually pretty cool these days, so we thought a mechanic should check it out just in case. I insisted I could take it because our mechanic is literally down the street from my workplace. In the past, my father-in-law has taken the car in because he didn’t trust the mechanic yet, and he didn’t want me to get ripped off. But now we know the mechanic is honest, so I said it would be ridiculous for my father-in-law to come all the way down when I was so close. My husband sent me a map and told me what to say (my car vocab is still developing). However, when the time came, I panicked. What if I don’t know what to say? What if I don’t understand him? What if I can’t find it? In the end, I found the place (I only had to make one U-turn), I told him the problem, he checked everything out, and of course I understood everything. Again, why did I panic? Maybe I’ve gotten too comfortable in my routine where I know what to expect all the time. I have to admit, I did feel a sense of accomplishment after both transactions. I’ve decided that new adventures are good for me. Maybe I can even welcome the next one. Has anyone else panicked over something small?

BTW – There’s no problem with the car J

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Faces

Fall. Cooler nights. Cool mornings. Shorter days. I love this time of year. At work, this time of year is also when all of the new foreign (American) teachers show up for their new overseas adventure. This year we have a really nice group of new teachers. I have to admit I was dreading this week. You just never know who’s going to show up. Unfortunately, my current employer doesn’t offer much in the way of “help” when foreign teachers first get here. I remember preparing to come, thinking “Surely they will help me in some way.” Even the help they promised, picking me up at the airport, didn’t happen. My welcome to my new home was a 50 dollar taxi ride to my friend’s house with three suitcases because no one from my new employer showed up. Anyway, this is to illustrate the point that they really don’t help new staff at all. This means that when the new staff arrive, they need a LOT of help, from finding a place to live, to getting a phone, internet, electricity, and fixing the inevitable thing or two in their new apartment, to finding furniture and moving it all into their apartment. They basically need everything. Some people are extremely self sufficient and have lived overseas before, or already have friends here, as I did. Others arrive and are immediately crippled by culture shock, and latch onto anyone and everyone who could do things for them. I feel so torn in this situation, because I, too, came, and I was extremely blessed to have friends already here who helped me find furniture and move. I already had an apartment and roommate arranged. I remember how hard it was to get internet and a phone line. I remember that no one told me I could pay my bills online, so I stood in long lines every month for about 4 months. Still, in the past few years there have been a few really independent new coworkers, and there have been a few REALLY dependent coworkers. I want to help people, but at the same time, I don’t want to become their personal assistant, being called all hours of the day and night to fix a problem with their rent/shower/heating/phone/bank account. All of these fears are, of course, totally groundless, and the new staff have been really great so far. It’s nice to see fresh faces around, and I’m actually looking forward to getting to know them all better. Hooray for new beginnings!