Savor: Mindful Eating for a Mindful Life

Given that I have so much downtime, I’ve been reading a lot of books. While I was in japan, I got a Kobo Touch for, like $50 USD, and it’s proven to be a good investment.

At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make the transition from paper books. But having finished some of the Song of Ice and Fire books on my phone, which has a teeny-tiny screen, I figured I’d give it a shot.

E-readers are the shit. Not only do I have a stack of 115 plus books (and counting) not even scratching the surface of the built-in memory (2Gb), it has two SD slots, dictionaries in different languages, basic internet browser, annotation capabilities… I mean, imagine trying to carry all those books travelling around the world, as I am wont. Not ergonomically feasible.

So given all this free time and a portable library at my fingertips, I’ve gotten into the habit of downloading different epub files for books that look interesting, whether or not it’s something I’m going to read right away.

On a whim, I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Savor: Mindful Eating for a Mindful Life (there was this and a book about Jesus and Buddha being brothers or cousins or something, and I’m a little more into food than Jesus at this point, thank you very much Mr. Catholic Up-bringing).

I generally stay away from books on diet or spirituality because, well… I mean, I’m interested in spirituality as it relates to humanity, but those kinds of questions I tend to seek answers for in my own ways. And with dieting and exercise… trends tend to change from year to year, and common sense generally dictates the best practices in most cases (don’t eat too much, eat more vegetables, use less sugar and salts, get off your ass and move from time to time.)

What little I’ve read of Thich Nhat Hanh isn’t preachy and relates Dharma to everyday life in a very simple and accessible way. Again, not that I’m looking for answers, but being a teacher, understanding how to make ideas approachable is part of my job.

So in this book, he takes a look at eating from a zen perspective, suggesting the practice of mindfulness can help in examining and changing unhealthy eating habits.

It’s a fine line between applying ancient wisdom to modern life and sounding like new age exploitation. Without crossing that line (sometimes barely), the book manages to touch on the four noble truths and apply it to the complex relationship with food and exercise someone trying to lose weight might have.

I mean, sort of.

So, while I’m reading this, I’m at a no-name fast-food restaurant eating a fried chicken sandwich, and right when he starts talking about poor ingredients effecting our minds/bodies. I realize that the bread has moldy spots on it and I’m like, "ewwww".

And right about when the book starts talking about how vegetarianism is a diet for a better planet, and it is, I’m not disputing that, I start wondering if there’s any statistical data showing that a vegetarian diet HAS impacted the meat trade anywhere. Cynical me. Always playing the devil’s advocate.

In sum, it’s not as strong as the previous work that I’ve read, but it makes some interesting connections. For anyone interested in either topic, it’s worth a glance. But I wouldn’t necessarily use it as a weight loss guide or the be-all, end-all of texts on mindful eating.

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Food in China # 2

What I eat when I’m working…

I’m pretty much in a food desert where I work. I mean, there’s fields everywhere, but it’s not like they’re selling fresh vegetables from a cart like in Pilsen…

Field outside of my school.

Field outside of my school.

So my food options when I’m working are pretty much limited to the cafeteria. While that might sound like food hell to some, it’s actually not; the food at the cafeteria is tasty, filling and relatively healthy.

My breakfast usually consists of a heaping bowl of rice noodles, served with some meat, usually ground beef or pork, sometimes smoked pig fat, which, yes, is pig fat, but it’s damn good, I mean, you know what bacon is, right?

Oh yeah, it’s usually garnished with cilantro and pickled daikon radish. And a fuck-ton of 辣椒. I mean, I like spicy, but sometimes I’m like, “FuuuuuUUUUck” because they put so much of it on. Generally, they add hot peppers to the dishes, but frequently with noodle dishes, you have a bunch of fresh, sometimes hand-made rice noodles swimming in an oily, meat-based broth, and the hot pepper paste (辣椒) actually adds a lot of flavor. And more oil.

Beef Noodle Breakfast

Breakfast of 中国学生 Champions

Yeah, the dishes all have a lot of oil in it. I’ve already talked about gutter oil, which is one of the reasons I like eating at the cafeteria where they *hopefully* are using clean oil. Part of the reason is that animal fat is used in everything. Even among East Asian countries, this ranks high on the list of places it would be difficult to be a vegetarian in.

That said, the cafeteria actually has a cheaper, lesser meat option which I frequent more often, partially because of the cost (5 RMB, less than a dollar as of this writing) but also because the veggies are divine.

Chinese Potatoes

Amazing Chinese Potatoes. So good. So very, very good.

I mean, where do I start? The eggplant, potatoes, POTATOES… when was the last time you had potatoes at a Chinese restaurant? The potatoes are banging.

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m pretty beany. I mean, I’m a beaner, but I also really like beans. Well, the Chinese do beans. Pinto beans. Quite well. I mean, it’s not frijoles a la charra but it’s got beans and bacon and goddammit, that’s pretty much the two main ingredients, right?

Cafeteria Food

Caf food! Holy shit! Beans!


Oh yeah, and tofu. This is like, the land of tofu. And it’s fresh. And it’s banging.

I’ll talk more about street food when I get a chance. This takes a while to digest, yo? I mean, not the food, the food is in and out pretty regularly, but you know processing it and shit… thinking about it and stuff…

Kaili Education Fortress No. 1

I teach in what can probably most accurately be described as a Learning Fortress. Housing, feeding, and indoctrinating 5,000 young, nubile bodies minds and souls is accomplished on the grounds of some dozen enormous buildings, each five or six stories (no elevators), each built according to ideals of Socialist-Realism: individually, you are small, but as a group, we are strong.

Kaili Learning Fortress No. 1

Kaili Learning Fortress No. 1

If it reminds you of an army barracks or prison, well, it sort of is. Fences keep the students in and unsavory individuals out. Guards are posted at the only entry point. Although the students are free to leave during their breaks, they have a strict study schedule that has them starting classes at 8am and finishing classes around 10:30pm.

They get two hour breaks for lunch and dinner, and the classes are only about 40 minutes each, but you can imagine how that leaves little time for anything else.

Central Indoctrination Plaza

Central Indoctrination Plaza

The students go to school 6 days a week, although classes only go until noon on Saturday. Occasionally, there are vacations and breaks (Spring Festival, combined winter break and Lunar New Year, lasts about a month and a half).

Surprisingly, the students seem pretty well-adjusted, healthy and happy. I mean, as much as I can tell with anything in China – life is very much about appearance and face, so they might be the same miserable little bastards I went to school with and admittedly was when I was in middle and high school.

Kaili, being situated in Guizhou, one of the poorer provinces of China, isn’t one of the most privileged and luxurious places to be a teenager. So a shiny, relatively new campus with nice facilities, good teachers, and, one would hope, supportive peers ona co-ed campus seems like a much better option than possibly living four-to-a-room with your family, during the hot and sweaty sexually formative years of your youth in the heart of Kaili, where pollution is much worse. Not that it’s all sunshine and flowers up here in the mountains; that haze is pretty much caused by the smog that is forever blotting out the sky here in China.

Development on the Horizon

Development on the Horizon

Looming over the school are the skeletons of several development projects, testimony to China’s burgeoning growth. If I were of a much milder temperament, I might be creeped out by all the spooky, deserted buildings, both within and without the school grounds… oh, and the abandoned amusement park that’s just up the opposite hill. If I were of a milder temperament.

An Abandoned Amusement Park

An Abandoned Amusement Park

Food In China: Part I

*Dedicated to Michi, who always manages to make me hungry with her food posts.

Take every Chinese food experience you’ve had, good or bad. Forget about it. Throw it away in the recycle bin/trash can of your mind.

Now take the key components of every Asian, Pan-Asian, Asian fusion restaurant experience that you’ve had. Take the basic elements, subtract deep-fried, battered foods, but keep the copious amounts of oil. Voila. Chinese food.

Family-Style Lunch

Family-Style Lunch

So, to talk about Chinese food in China, I have to talk a little about Chinese food abroad, which, to date, I’ve been to maybe some 17 countries and tried Chinese food in most of them. There seem to be some consistencies, blending of sweet and sour, focus on pan frying, some deep fried dishes, with and without batter, use of simple vegetable dishes, hot pot, complex meat dishes featuring marinades, rice and rice noodles instead of wheat flour.

The closest I would say any country has gotten to the food in China would be Japan. There is a simplicity and complexity to the food that only Japan has seemed to have come near replicating.

But still, not the same.

The food here rivals the tastes I’ve experienced anywhere; easily one of my favorite cuisines among the ones I’ve sampled worldwide. The ingredients are usually grown within the locality, extremely fresh (there are rice fields and vegetable paddies everywhere). As wonderful as that might sound, China ranks with India as one of the most polluted countries I’ve been to, making the ground equally polluted.

Vegetable Stall in Kaili

Vegetable Stall in Kaili

That, coupled with the tendency for street vendors to use recycled oil from restaurants, which can be loaded with carcinogens, plus a general disregard for hygienic practices, makes the food particularly deadly and potentially disease-ridden.

But does it taste fucking awesome? Yes it does.

Egg Pastry NOM!

Egg Pastry NOM!

So, take, for instance, a fried pancake, egg, meat pastry I had this morning for breakfast. For USD .66, approximately, I had a delicious, spicy, salty egg pasty that kept me going until I shamefully broke down and had Pizza Hut (sometimes, you need a break, you know?) For brunch. Where I’m living, in the south (Guizhou Province) they like spicy. Like, they like it MORE than a friend. Everything and it’s mother has oily, delicious 辣椒 on it.

Now, it most likely had been cooked in recycled, or at the very least, very old oil that may or may not have been poly-unsaturated vegetable oil. But did it taste good. hOMG yes.

Spicy Noodle Wonton Salad

Spicy Noodle Wonton Salad

Yesterday, I had an amazing, fucking-fry-your-face-off hot noodle salad, wrapped wonton like a dumpling, for half a dollar. Only love can hurt this good.

Will write more (with pictures) as I can. This requires more research. Dick dog out.

Last day of March

So, a couple of observations/realizations living and teaching in China:

1. Pollution sucks; In China, it will likely worsen until the Chinese can no longer ignore it… or get better at denying it and the massive public health issue that it is.

2. Bananas are your friend. Your yellow, peel-able, phallic, friend.

3. I am likely in the worst health of my life and need to do something about it, ironically, in a country where the food toxic air quality are probably killing me even faster than when I was in the States.

4. I enjoy teaching and will probably spend the rest of my life doing it in some capacity either as a profession or as a volunteer.

5. I am probably not going to stay in Chicago once I get back; I love my country, and I still consider Chicago my home, but the world is too big for me to stay in one city.

6. I need people, but I can survive being alone.

I’ve been here just under two months; I’m adapting to the language and culture, but will most likely move on after my contract is up. The pollution and quality of life, while survivable, is a major factor in my desire to move. My throat is constantly irritated, and I’ve developed a chronic cough. If things worsen, I’ll probably go see a doctor, which, I think should be relatively cheap.

When I say quality of life, I also mean lifestyle; I’m hoping I’m able to meet more people and build community while I’m here, but given the size of the city, and its reaction to foreigners, I’m skeptical I’ll be able to integrate as much as I’d like to.

That said, I would definitely consider coming back after spending time elsewhere. I would love to see Europe, given I haven’t traveled nearly as much there as I have through Asia.

The Middle East currently pays the highest salaries in ESL, at least as far as I can tell looking through some of the job postings online. I’d need a master’s or a 120 hour TEOFL Certificate, but would then be making upwards of 60 and 90 k.

We’ll see where I am mentally, physically, spiritually, financially after leaving China. As much as I love Burning Man, and would relish the opportunity to go back home again this year… money and time are an excuse, it’s more about the desire to go. Part of me thinks I need the ridiculous intensity of the desert to remind me how precious and beautiful life in this world really is.

Month and a half down… three more to go.

Feel. All the feelings. In China.

I woke up this morning not wanting to go to class or do much of anything.

Five minutes into my first class, I’m thinking, "Dear god, do I love teaching."

Riding the bus back to the old campus, where I have a full apartment, I’m listening to Louis Armstrong and thinking how wonderful it is that there’s music that can melt the cold black star that inhabits my heart and let the sunshine in.

And I can’t stop cryiiiiiiinng…

I think I’m on my man-period.

Business in China

Just finished Paul Midler’s Poorly Made in China… it’s message was essentially this: Poorly Made In ChinaExpect Chinese manufacturers to swindle and cheat global companies, to steal product designs and offer them to competitors, to intentionally create surplus and sell them at marked up prices to developing markets.

One of the tactics they have is to knowingly degrade the quality of products over time, to save operating and material costs. Now, I’m no big fan of capitalism, don’t get me wrong, but the people buying these products, which end up at Wal-mart, gas stations, dollar stores, oh, I dunno, your babies’ cribs and mouths, are generally poorer and disadvantaged people of color.

These products, presumably tested by inspectors, usualy aren’t run through the rigorous and expensive testing to ensure safety. Enter lead paint in children’s toys, defective products, incorrect chemical formulations.

And these products are everywhere. The message is that, the very country that our jobs are being outsourced to is also selling us cheap and sometimes dangerous products that distributors are growing increasingly dependant on.

I dunno, maybe start making your own toothpaste and deoderant for awhile. Or don’t. Whatever, this place is so whatever… I’m so over it…

::kicks over chair and walks out::

Back in Hong Kong

Beware of falling tangents.

Yes, back in Hong Kong.  Not my idea, but a welcome respite from the oppressive conformity of mainland China.

Road to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is growing on me.  Iot’s more expensive, and still bootleg as hell, but slightly less so.

Like most big cities, it has a much more international and cosmopolitan feel to it, definitely when compared to Kaili City, which, despite boasting half a million plus, still feels like a city maybe 1/5th it’s size.

And Jesus, is it racist as hell; I got hit one day while I was shopping.  Not a huge deal, just a slight grazing on the arm.

Now, could’ve been a mistake, people bump into each other all the time with out so much as a 对不起.  But the way this guy was mean-muggin’, I think he had a problem with the brown folks, or just foreigners in general.

Kaili City Train Station

Here in Hong Kong, it’s different.  I can be discriminted against by any number of peoples!  Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong-ren, Indian, Pakistani, West African, and other foreigners.  And everyone hates everyone for ever and ever and ever…

The bonus is that, speaking French and Hindi and increasingly Chinese, I get to eavesdrop and ocassionally fuck with they racist asses.  And everyone’s like, “haha, stupid Mexican”… and I be like, “Poppers… poppers… 你们想不想Poppers吗? 有 Poppers… poppers…”

Oh yeah, and they DO have poppers here.  Now I just need to find a sex shop that sells them.

Dick Dog in Hong Kong

Trains in China

As far as I can tell, there are three classes of trains in China.

The first class, the fastest, is a bullet train, similar to the ones developed in Korea and Japan. Funny story, they were like, “oh, we’ll help you get these set up” thinking there was going to be future contracts and work involved,” and then the Chinese were like, “yoink” and backwards engineered the technology. Innit speh-shul?

The second class soft-sleepers are slower, four-bunk cabins. Now, fortunately, I’m short by US standards, which means I’m taller here, Praise Black Baby Jesus. Soft sleepers are about as comfortably as I can travel.

Last and certainly least are the hard-sleepers. I just spent 17 hours on one of these six-to-a-cabin nightmare experiences. 

Hard Sleeper Train

Imagine hell, alternately too hot and too cold. Add cramped spaces, screaming children, and a bathroom that can only be described as the screaming maw of hades, from which no escape is possible.

 

If there is a god in heaven, there’s nothing beyond this last option. If there is, I shudder to think of it.

Working in China

Wow… where to start.  I promise you, this is going to get ugly.

There are countless books and articles on this; currently, I’m reading Poorly Made in China and Death by China, the former, an account by a Jewish-American ‘problem solver’ who worked with U.S. companies and Chinese manufacturers as an intermediary; the latter, a reactionary, extremely biased, but relevant look at unsafe practices by Chinese companies by a U of C economics professor.

The first one is interesting and pretty well-written… the second painfully alarmist and horribly composed.  But I’d recommend both, at least for a frame of reference.

Granted, I’m writing this after further difficulties around my visa/placement, yet again, wasting time, energy and resources, so I’m not in the most benevolent of moods.  But suffice it to say, yes, things that seem straightforward and easily resolved, generally take a back-seat to face… that ever-present Chinese and to a greater or lesser extent, East Asian concept of something like ‘honor’ or ‘integrity’.  But given what’s done in its name (usually hiding or exaggerating certain information, and frequently, outright lying), I would hardly use those words.

Now, I get it, “I’m an uncultured, bestial American, no sense of the Euro-British ‘Stiff-upper lip’, ‘sang-froid’ etc. etc.”

Yeah, fuck that.

I’m a teacher.  I get paid to do a job.  Not only do I take it seriously, I think I do it well.  I see myself as a professional.  I expect the people, the ‘problem-solvers’ around me to do their jobs professionally.  When they don’t, I let them know.  In no unclear terms.

You know what happens when you dance around issues at work?  Ulcers.  I had them in my early and late twenties.  Not fun.

Back to working in China.  Yeah, in some ways, it’s been an exercise in futility.  Yeah, I’m glad I did it, if nothing else, to remind me how there are some things we still do well in the states.  Not sure if I would stay longer; I’d want a much better contract and at least two or three lovers to keep me here.  Oh yeah, more on that later…