Rachelle and I have been swamped lately, but I need to keep in the habit of blogging.  So I figure I’ll share my experience with another of the strange fruits of southeast Asia — the Durian.

The durian is known as “The King of Fruits.”  It is large, spiky, and stinky.  You could probably kill someone with one, but the reason they’re banned from some places is the smell.  When I first arrived in China I thought durians smelled a little off – it’s kind of difficult to describe the smell, but most people unfamiliar with it would describe it as a stink of some fashion.  The smell eventually grew on me, though, and I worked up the courage to try some durian candy I found in our local Park’n'shop.  The candy was both sweet and garlicky, and I had sulfurous burps which reminded me of garlic and vulcanized rubber for some time after.  Despite my description, it wasn’t bad per se, and the more I tried, the more it grew on me.  And so, when I got to speaking with one of my Chinese teacher friends on the subject of spiky deathfruit, and she invited me to have some real durian, I knew I could not decline, especially as the peak season for durian (in the summer months) was drawing to a close.

And so it was that I found myself standing in front of a rather large display of durian on a side street under a highway interchange (“They have the best durian”), trying to make sense of how my friend was choosing a good fruit.

Can you tell the difference?  Neither can I.

Can you tell the difference? Neither can I.

After she had found one and had the shop owner break it open and package the flesh, we went to a nearby park to enjoy our stinky bounty.  The elderly Chinese walking around the park and slapping themselves stared in amazement at a foreigner in their park–especially one eating such a fruit!–but we paid them no mind and begun to dig in.



Durian flesh, ideally, is supposed to be soft and creamy, with a texture reminiscent of a firm custard.  Ours wasn’t perfect, so there were some bits of flesh that were firm and mostly flavorless (the white parts).  The taste is harder to describe than the smell–it’s slightly sweet, definitely sulfurous, with a hint of onion somewhere in there.  If you can get past the first few bites, it’s said, you’ll be hooked, and I found myself eating more and more, until my face was messy with durian pulp and all we had left were the pits.  The seeds are large and woody, and are supposed to be edible when cooked, but not really worth the trouble.

My friend brought out a bag of mangosteens.  Durians supposedly raise heat in the body (according to traditional Chinese medicine), so it is customary to follow durian with a cooling fruit, like mangosteen.

These are mangosteens.

These are mangosteens.

You cannot eat the outer shell–it is woody and so bitterly astringent that you would immediately regret such an attempt.  Generally, you can use your nails to pull it apart, or crack it open with a firm twist, trying to get as little juice as possible on your clothes (it stains!) or on the flesh inside (detracts from the flavor).  Once it’s opened, you can eat the squishy white flesh, being careful of the seeds in the larger segments, and enjoy a flavor that kind of reminds me of pear and grape, only sweeter and lighter.

It was dark by then, so my friend and I went to the local artist and hipster neighborhood for one more tasty anomaly.



Chocolate and wasabi cheesecake.  Where is your god now.


21 Dec

It was a December evening like any other.  Rachelle and I had gotten back from a snack run at our new favorite store (to be described in a future post), and were preparing to watch a Harry Potter movie on Pearl.

“We need to get the apartment clean so I can get work done tomorrow,” she explained, adding, “Make sure you take out the trashes.”

“Yes, dear,” I rolled my eyes as I gathered up the trash bags from the kitchen and headed for the front door.  Uh-oh.  The knob turned, but the latch stayed in place.   We were stuck.

After unsuccessfully fiddling with the latch, we decided to call a friend who was better able to explain the situation to the front desk than I could with my broken Chinese.  We finally got through to someone, and she called us back after a few minutes to tell us they were sending someone up.  A moment later we heard someone at the door.  After some back-and-forth, we established that we would need a little more help.  Rachelle and I looked at each other, excited to use the appropriate movie reference.  “Call the locksmith!”

And of course, after a few more minutes we heard more footsteps and some more fiddling with the door, followed by some talking, and a knock on the door next to us.  “What are they doing now?” Rachelle inquired.

“I don’t know, maybe he needs a good lock to look at to plan his attack,” I replied.  Moments later our cellphone rang.  It was our friend, telling us that he was on our balcony.  I looked out back, but there was nobody there.  Then Rachelle saw him.  Outside our front window.


Hanging from this.

Our window, by the way, is on the fourth floor.


It’s kind of a long way down.

Before Rachelle could get to the window to open it, he reached up, opened the window, and climbed through with his bag of tools in his other hand.  Which raises the question, just how the hell was he holding on, anyway?  Our surprise had barely started to wear off by the time he got the doorknob removed and started to remove the jammed latch.


Everyday superhero at work.

He soon had the whole assembly replaced and even tightened the hinges so the door didn’t catch on the frame anymore.  We got our new key and he started to gather his stuff.  I offered him a beer (the least I could do for such heroics), but he declined.  Well, that’s more for me, I guess.




So last week I had to go to Shanghai to do some work.  Originally, I was going to take a train, but not only have they not yet built a high-speed line between Guangzhou and Shanghai yet (so the only option is an overnight sleeper train), but all the seats were sold out a week in advance.  Therefore, I had no choice but to book a flight online.

At that time, the only flight available that wasn’t at a ridiculous time or stupid expensive (I would be reimbursed, yes, but until then I have to float the costs myself) was a flight to Hangzhou, connecting with the high-speed rail to Shanghai Hongqiao Station.


Midday Market

7 Jul

Sunday and Wednesday are the two days I set aside for grocery runs these days. After my morning Pilates teaching, I had stopped to get some things at the supermarket, but I save the vegetables and such for the neighborhood market, as they are fresher and usually cheaper there.


Knowing that everything shuts down around lunchtime and for a couple hours thereafter, I decided to wait until 2:30 to head out. The sun was peeking out behind just a smattering of thin clouds, but somehow there was a respectable drizzle coming down, heavy enough to dampen my clothes (but not my spirits!), but light enough that a careful eye could watch the air currents through the movement of the droplets. It took me around ten minutes to arrive. Alas, I was still too early. I was able to grab some potatoes, and some greens, and a block of tofu, but the produce I wanted most were all covered up and unattended. Naptime wasn’t over yet.


I waited around and got to watch the market slowly reawaken. The butchers set out their wares again and turned on the lights over their counters. Vendors filtered in and uncovered tables covered with produce. A middle-aged woman sat up from her worn reclining lawn chair, rubbed her eyes, and started putting her change box in order. As the market eased back into life for the afternoon, I finished filling my red Trader Joe’s bag with young Shanghai greens, cai xin, and a bag of lettuce for the rabbit, and began to walk back home.

The other day, I was out by the market near campus and I decided to explore. I found a nifty little road that led to the main road of the neighborhood, which I had been to before back when I had no idea where I was. Today, I decided to take my camera and revisit.

After lunch by the south gate, I headed towards the Park’n'Shop, ducking into the metro station to cover some ground away from the heat. I arrived at the corner, and that’s where this gallery begins.

Well, it looks like Guangzhou’s stifling spring season may have passed.  After a brief burst of typhoony weather right before Rachelle left for the summer (she’s safely back in California), the mugginess subsided and for the past couple days we’ve had clear blue skies.  Well, as long as you’re looking up.  Look far enough down the road and you’ll still see some smoggy haze, and it’ll likely get worse if the rain doesn’t come along and keep it down every so often.  So, the air’s drier and cooler, the sun’s brighter, I’m done with classes, and Rachelle is away for two months.  Looks like there’s nothing left to do but explore!

But not today.  Yesterday I made a market run while the Ayi was doing her thing, and to kill some time I wandered along a road to see where it was I had gotten lost previously.  I found a lot of nifty things to take pictures of, and completed a nice big chunk of my neighborhood mental map, but the sun was pretty damn hot.  Even though I thought I had drunk enough water, the heat and sunshine caught up with me, and I stopped sweating and got a headache, and some nausea, and I went to bed early and woke up to my alarm.  And after breakfast and a brief Skype with Rachelle, I couldn’t stay awake and fell asleep again until noon.  But I’m feeling better, and when I went out to buy razor blades I was sweating normally, so by tomorrow I should be back to normal.  Hooray!

Oh, yeah, one more note.  There is a little switch on our bathroom wall which, when activated, turns on a water cooler.  If you leave it on, your electricity bill will skyrocket, but you do need it for short periods of time in the summer.  The water tanks on the roof get extremely hot, and I could not take a shower even with the hot water turned off until I had chilled the pipes for around five minutes.  Yeah, pretty toasty around here.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone back home!

So no shit there I was, racing a bus on a wobbly bike and wondering how I was still alive.

Er, let me back up a bit.  One of my wife’s colleagues needed a native English speaker to record some stuff and I was on the short list.  She said the best way to get there was by bike, since it wasn’t quite far enough to warrant a bus ride, but was a bit too far to walk.  We don’t have a bike so I borrowed Sebastian’s.  He hadn’t used it in a while, so the tires were flat.  I took care of that though.

I met Xiaoyan outside the School of Foreign Languages and we set off.  Her bike had an electric motor.  My bike had a large, poorly attached basket on the front that wobbled violently every time I moved the handlebars.  She was speeding past accelerating buses through spaces not much wider than her bike.  I was screaming inwardly and wondering whether the traffic or their exhaust would kill me first.

On the plus side, I got an easy 400 kuai and now primary schoolchildren in Guangzhou will be taking final exams to the sound of my voice, so I suppose it was worth it after all.

Oh, yeah, when you’re pedaling hard, you don’t realize how much your body is heating up, and then you get home and stop moving so fast, and you can pretty much swim the rest of the way in the river of sweat that suddenly appears.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Rigel’s angry that we put him on a leash earlier, and he’s biting Rachelle.  On the face.

My wife, who is a writer who sometimes writes about China, said she wanted to write about our adventure yesterday.  And she did!  So here it is.

It was the day before Dragon Boat Festival and all through the largely populated town, not a person was stirring, except for the woman carrying a huge load of styrofoam.

Who needs gravity?

Who needs gravity?


So Rachelle and I had settled into our hotel room in Wuhan, tried to do some sightseeing before the conference began, were thwarted and frustrated and had the expected marital spat, and had returned home for a good night’s sleep on the hard hotel beds.  Pro Tip: Since Wuhan is at the center of China and most long-distance transportation passes right through it, it has been called, “The Chicago of China.”  This is a crap moniker, as a few moments trying to deal with traffic will reveal that it is, in fact, Pittsburgh, but with fewer bridges.  But I digress.

Rachelle was off to rub shoulders with her fellow academics, so I had the day to explore.  I took the Nexus, with some of the surrounding area pre-loaded on Google Maps, and a note from one of Rachelle’s students to assist me (best part ever: “P.S. If you think a Wuhanese is shouting at you, he is most likely not, because Wuhan dialect sounds short-tempered”), and took it upon myself to head, in an indirect manner, to 户部巷(Hu4 Bu4 Xiang4), a slightly touristy area full of food vendors, to explore some local cuisine, and maybe find some interesting sights along the way.


As I mentioned before, Rachelle had a conference in Wuhan, and I was coming with her because I’m better than she is at exploring the Great Chinese Unknown. To get there, we decided to take the high-speed rail line, since it provided a nice balance between cost and time. In fact, it was the fastest (planes go faster, but are almost always delayed, not to mention the check-in and security procedures), and while more expensive than the slower trains, it would get us where we were going in about a third of the time.