Expats Learn to Cook Street Food and Draw a Crowd

As a Diplomatic military “trailing spouse” living in China, I cannot work outside of our embassy without forfeiting my diplomatic status.  Therefor, knowing the repercussions of living in a precarious situation such as that, I do not work locally, and have to fill my time with other activities.

I stay busy with attaché events and receptions and other obligations for Horatio’s job, and I am also working on graduate studies to further my teacher education.  Although both of those take a lot of time, they still leave time for other activities.  So, when a friend proposed a cooking class to learn to cook Chinese street food, although cooking is not one of my usual choice of leisure activities, I decided to try something out of my comfort zone.

The Hutong is a cooking school located in an actual Hutong (a traditional Chinese residence area through narrow alleyways and lanes) in downtown Beijing.  Nine of us from the US, Canada, and Italy drove downtown in two vehicles (this is important to a later part of the story.)  Traffic was pretty clear, but it took about an hour to get to the area and another ten minutes to meander through the lanes to find the school.  Of course, this wouldn’t be a day in China without something taking an unexpected turn.

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Class was taught in English, so that made things pretty straightforward.  We chopped everything by dividing the work between us, and we tasted all of the various spices and sauces.  We made our own spiced oil for cooking, and prepared three dishes: dan dan noodles, a summer salad with cucumbers and mung bean tofu, and jian bing (savory crepe-like pancake with vegetables and egg).

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Jian Bing is typically made by street vendors and in homes.  The pancake is made with two types of flour and water, then, as it cooks, you add an egg, green onions, chili sauce, hoisin sauce and sesame seeds.  Then you put a fried wonton in the middle, fold the pancake up and over it and it is ready to eat!

The class was three hours long and we enjoyed everything we prepared.

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After class, we meandered back through the alleyways to the street where we had parked our cars and lo and behold, one of the cars’ batteries was dead.  So, what do nine laowai (foreigners) do?  We fix it ourselves.  Luckily, one the ladies had jumper cables, so with a local audience marveling at the spectacle, we got the car started and made it home safely.

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Just another day of expat life in China.

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Speaking English

Living overseas, as a diplomat interacting with people from many different countries, has made me realize that I am truly blessed, in many ways, to have been born in the United States.  Birth into a nation that speaks the most widely spoken language in the world makes life a lot easier than it might have otherwise been.

In any given week, Horatio and I attend several dinners and receptions with diplomats from many other countries.  Many of them speak very good English as a second language, so we are able to converse and share stories and get to know each other.  In the past two weeks, I have had the chance to spend time with men and women from: India, Poland, Brunei, Egypt, Israel, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Botswana, Slovenia, Korea, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, and of course China.  The only language besides my own that I’ve had to speak is Chinese.  To varying degrees, all of the other people have spoken English.  As I sat among some of these friends, at the home of our British Defense Attaché, last week, I made a point of saying how lucky I feel to speak English as my native language and that they all speak it as a second (or third or fourth) language.  I acknowledged the fact that they all must be quite tired after all of the dinners we attend because they spend the whole time conversing in a second language.  It can be exhausting, I know.  Sometimes I spend the better part of a day speaking Chinese to make my way around town, and I am completely spent by the end of the day.  One of the women nodded her head and agreed.  She even thanked me for stating the realization.  She said she didn’t think we Americans would notice.  I definitely notice every time we are out at these events, and am grateful that I can communicate with relative ease.

Getting to know people from so many different countries and backgrounds is a blessing.  Not having to to spend the extra mental energy to communicate is just one of the many benefits I have just by accident of being born American.

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Fluid Language Exchange in International Classrooms

I’ve spent the past semester volunteering as a substitute teacher at an International school here in China.  Doing so cements my opinion that our kids are extremely blessed to have the opportunity to learn in this environment.

The highest number of children I’ve had in the middle school and high school classrooms has been 20, and that’s a rare high number.  Most classes have 17 or 18 students.  It’s a good number because it keeps the exchange of ideas and information lively, but it’s not too dense for anyone to get lost in the mix.  Even as a substitute, I am able to learn students’ names quickly with numbers so low.

The facilities are grand.  Each student is given a school Apple Computer to use all year, both at school and at home, from grade 6-12.  The younger children have either individual laptops or iPads in each classroom.  The technology is utilized but not over used.  The lab tables are fully equipped with state of the art equipment and the film classes are able to use professional cameras and editing applications.  The teachers are often true experts in their fields.

Due to the issue of frequently high levels of air pollution, the school also has two purpose-built sports and recreation domes enclosing six tennis courts and a wide range of indoor/outdoor sports and fitness areas. Both domes are situated side-by-side over 8,500 square meters.

The most astounding and entertaining element of a diverse international school is the exchange of language.  At the school where my boys attend, there is no majority country represented.  The largest groups are Chinese, Korean and American, but none represent a majority.  The school educates approximately 1,700 students from Pre-K aged 3 through 12th grade from more than 50 countries.  In any given class, I hear at least the three primary languages: English, Chinese, and Korean, and often hear others as well.  My favorite aspect of language in the classroom is the mixing of languages.  Classes, with the exception of Chinese and other language classes, are taught in English, but when children work together, or converse before and after class, they do so with a combination of languages.  One child will start a conversation in Chinese and the other student will answer in English, or vise verse.  The conversation will continue this way to its conclusion, sometimes all the way through a class activity.  Sometimes one child will use a combination of his home language, mixed with English.  Class discussions are conducted in English, but other languages and accents are heard amongst the students, themselves.  It’s a real symphony of conversations.

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GREATER and HILLSONG – LET HOPE RISE dvds and Target Giftcard Giveaway

In August, I introduced the release of the inspirational movie, GREATER.  December 20, GREATER will be released on dvd as will HILLSONG – LET HOPE RISE.  These are both wonderful tales of true faith.  HILLSONG – LET HOPE RISE was a phenomenon when it came out in theaters this past September and its makers want to continue the intense feelings and movement with everyone this holiday season.

The holiday season carries different meanings for individuals.  To me, though, no matter what holiday we celebrate at this time of year, the important message is faith in something greater and more powerful than anything else.  A united, grounded, faith brings the world together for good.  In this tumultuous time in the world, faith and love are more important than ever.  When I see Nativity Scenes at some houses, Hanukkiahs at others and hear family stories of true faith from all walks of life, I envision that the differences do not divide us, the commonality of our faith unites us.  If we spread this message, we might see an improvement in our peaceful coexistence.  I believe we can take the emotions of this season and make our world better.

For some inspiration in your home, enter my giveaway of the 2 dvds and a Target giftcard.  Comment below and tell me what the season means to you and how we can keep the world from falling apart at the seams.

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Conquering the Challenges of Military Life- Giveaway!

This is a post in collaboration with SimpliSafe

Some of the hardest parts about being in a military family are the expected, day-to-day challenges. There can also be such a level of uncertainty that military families face too. There are PCS moves, saying goodbye to your friends and family, parenting hardships, or even wondering whether you’ll be able to acclimate yourself to a new city or country. Aside from this though, there are things that military families can do in order to make the day-to-day a little easier. Here are a few tips:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It can be hard to do it alone sometimes, even more so for those with loved ones away or overseas. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially for families who are new to military life. One such place to go for help is Military OneSource. This site provides information on everything from counseling and family relationships, to education and on/off base living. There are also organizations who provide support for the children of military families. The Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, for example, focuses on the mental and physical health of children. They also hold an annual baby shower for military moms providing huge gift baskets to expecting military families. Get yourself involved in the community, network with other families, and be sure to keep an eye out for any and all resources available to you.

Give yourself peace of mind

Military families know the challenges that each other face, but it’s less often that outsiders have an idea. Luckily, there are companies who are getting involved and working alongside military families to provide some solutions. SimpliSafe, which is a home security company, has done a lot to understand military family life. They feel as though military families already have a laundry list of things to think and worry about, their own safety and security shouldn’t be one of them. This month, they’re even rewarding 50 families with one of their wireless security systems through their Military Family Giveaway. The systems are perfect for military families because unlike other ones that are wired into a home, you can take their wireless system with you if you ever have to relocate. If you have a military family you’d like to nominate to win one, head to this page here by November 21st.

Stay busy

Picking up a hobby or getting involved is the best way to stay positive during tough times and acclimate yourself to the military community. If you’re not close to family, this is a great way to make friends and find others to talk to who are going through the same things as you. Either way, spending time with friends and family is a great way to feel close to others, even when your loved ones are away. In your downtime, you could also consider taking up a program of study. The additional work will keep you busy, and it’s never a bad idea to continue/add on to your education. There are even several scholarships and grants specifically for military spouses.

Whatever you decide to do, know that you’re not alone in the challenges of military life. There are multiple online resources, companies and organizations, even individuals like yourself you are there to help.

 

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Our President Elect, Let’s Deal With It

It’s going to be ok.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try some kindergarten calming soup breathing… Smell the soup, blow on the soup, smell the soup, blow on the soup, in-out, in-out.  Now, let’s get on with it.

If you were with Her, you are surely frustrated, to say the least.  She appeared to be a shoo-in; she even earned the majority of the popular vote; but he earned the majority of the electoral college vote, so now our great nation moves on in an unexpected direction which surprised the majority of the country.  After we get over the surprise, for good or bad, it’s time to pull up our big girl and boy pants and march forward.  It’s like the preschool saying goes, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  This is our situation and no matter who you supported, you will have Donald Trump as your president beginning at noon on January 20, so buck up and put one foot in front of the other and do your part to better our nation.

Overthinking the shoulda, coulda, wouldas helps no one.  Dwelling on the disappointment, if that is your point of view, does no good.  It’s time to move on and focus on the good that might come of this drastic change in our government.

First, keep in mind that while Donald Trump said a lot of  nasty, bigoted, confusing, and contradictory things over the past 18 months, if one looks back to where he stood before he was running for office and trying to make waves, it is clear that his real views are quite moderate.  Many of our past presidents, both Republican and Democrat, were bigots, anti-Semites, sexist, philanderers.  So, now we have another one at the helm, but I hope these terrible traits will not play into his leadership.

Donald Trump might help Veterans; be more reluctant to send troops to solve problems that might be better suited to diplomatic tactics; further the U.S. toward a kinder, gentler environment for the LGBTQA community; create a better health care system, and redirect the negative path we’ve veered toward in recent years.  Let’s face it.  If Hilary Clinton had been elected, the country would have remained divided and partisan lines would likely have grown stronger than ever.  While Donald Trump is a massive unknown entity in American politics, and many people fear what loose cannon actions he might take, perhaps he will take us in an unexpectedly positive direction.  Perhaps, after what is sure to be a chaotic transition, with unpredictable highs and lows, he will help to unite the country.

I choose to hope for the best.  My family depends on having a good leader as much as any other family in our country.  Donald Trump will soon be Commander-in-Chief and, therefore, Horatio’s boss.  I have no choice but to be optimistic and look ahead to living in and working for an America that is better than ever.  Let’s unite as a people and work together to make it so.  It’s time to put the arduous, nasty, long election behind us and move on to make our future what we want it to be… with a strong America, leading the world in every way.

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A Fish Out Of Water

In early September, Horatio, Harold and I ventured to the nearby Bei Dong outdoor goods Market, where we bought some house plants and took the plunge to buy a saltwater fish tank. I’ve always coveted reef tanks, and as they are more affordable here, than in the US, we seized the opportunity to fulfill my small dream. Before we made the purchase, we asked several vendors, multiple ways, if keeping saltwater fish is difficult and were told, “no,” by each one. Of course the conversations were in Chinese, so some aspects might have gotten lost.  As this is China, we were able to arrange for the shop keeper to come to our house to assemble and set up the aquarium for us two days later.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Adding Water

Adding Water

Of course, each and every one of the sea life vendors misled us. Keeping a saltwater tank up and running is challenging, but it is worth the effort– if the fish live through the learning process.  In addition to regular feedings, maintenance requires adding water every few days in order to maintain the correct salinity level, as well as cleaning the protein separator every other day so that the tank remains clean.  One also must add liquid coral food to the water every three weeks, and turn off the protein separator for four days immediately following the coral feedings.

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We had some fish deaths, early on, but got through that phase and the tank thrived. I began to research reef life and decided to get a starfish, both for its beauty, as well as its ability to help to maintain the health of the aquarium.

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When I went to see my “fish guy,” he told me that I should get a heater for the water, as the outside temperature in Beijing is steadily dropping. I asked him to come back to my house to set up the heater and to check the salinity levels of the water. Two days later, he came back to my house and did just that.  He explained to our helpful ayi, Xiao Lü and to me, what he was doing and why, and she translated, into more simple Chinese, the fish care lingo for me.  It was a scene to behold: two people speaking to me in Chinese, one trying to translate, for me, what the other was saying, but in the same, foreign, language.

In the process of checking the tank and adding salt, unbeknownst to me, the fish guy slightly unplugged the oxygenator. Slightly, though, is the same as completely, when it comes to plugs, and for about 18 hours, the water was not being circulated. By morning, two of the remaining fish had died and by the next day, our hardy clown fish had also died. All that remained is the starfish and the large coral.

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I sent a message to my fish guy and told him what happened. At first, he denied having unplugged the essential piece of equipment. I turned my phone over to Xiao Lü, though, and had her explain, in detail, the accidental unplugging. She was very stern in her wording.  She was as upset as I was about the fish deaths.  Eventually, he accepted responsibility. I took some accountability, since I didn’t notice the mistake, and had Xiao Lü tell the fish guy that I want four new fish and will pay for just two. He agreed to the deal. (Horatio is pretty sure I’ll just end up paying double for the two fish I pay for, but, ever the optimist, I don’t think that will happen.)

Now, I am awaiting arrival of new fish. I’ve given the tank more than two weeks to adjust to the new temperature and salinity and am hopeful that I can get the habitat up and running again so we can enjoy its beauty.

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IGNITE Opportunities For Military Connected Women

Women Vet/Milspo Entrepreneurship Will IGNITE this November 18th in Savannah
Learn, Network & Meet These Successful Women Veteran Entrepreneurs!
By Sarah O’Connell

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Kristina Guerrero could hear her heart pumping as the doors opened to the Shark Tank conference room on ABC’s popular TV show “Shark Tank.” The show’s five sharks, all well-known and accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders, waited to critique her business. Kristina was nervous, but was ready to pitch her startup venture, TurboPUP – which makes complete K9 Meal Bars – on national TV. Luckily, her time flying C-130 TurboPROPS in the Air Force prepared her to stay calm under pressure and believe in herself. Also, she had attended the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ (IVMF) Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program in 2012, where a conference speaker taught her the most essential skill for Shark Tank – how to pitch. After making a deal on the show with Shark Daymond John, Kristina was able to grow and showcase her business to a national audience. To this day, however, if you ask Kristina how pitching to Shark Tank felt, she will respond with one simple word: “terrifying!”

  1. What do you think was most important when growing TurboPUP into what it is today?
  2. Taking it one step at a time. In the Air Force we used to say ‘Flexibility is the key to air power.’ I think it’s that way with entrepreneurship.” –Kristina ignitephoto1_turbopup

Two years after Kristina attended V-WISE in 2012, a US Navy veteran with a “standard of excellence” attended V-WISE New York City 2014. Connie Gorum is the CEO of the CL Russell Group, a learning and development consulting company that partners with organizations to help them achieve high performance. “I knew working as an employee would only limit my creative abilities and growth potential,” says Connie when asked why she wanted to start her own business. She admits being an entrepreneur is not always easy, but that she enjoys inspiring others in the women veteran and veteran community.

  1. What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
  2. “The freedom to explore new possibilities, inspiring others, and know my only limitations in life are the ones I set for myself” –Connie

“Entrepreneur” is only one way to describe Kaylenne (Kay) Brown. She is also an activist, health enthusiast, vegan chef, personal trainer, hip hoppa, choreographer, and USMC veteran. Her business, Sweat N Swag Fitness, a transformation coaching business, offers fitness training and nutrition coaching that helps clients get their “swag” back. Prior to owning her own venture, Kay spent over twelve years in the Marine Corps learning how to perfect her organization and leadership skills while working with various personality types. After learning how to market her business at V-WISE New Orleans in 2015, Kay won the MSNBC “Grow Your Value/Know Your Value” competition where she received $10,000 to build her business and brand.

  1. What does the “Grow Your Value/Know Your Value” competition mean to you?

A.” It was a life changing experience. I really honed in on what my value was a woman and entrepreneur. This experience from the program really catapulted my business.” –Kay

In just a few weeks on November 18th, 100 more women veterans, active duty service women, and military spouses/partners will get the tools to create their own success stories as they explore the opportunity of small business ownership during IGNITE, presented by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE).

Over the course of this day-long entrepreneurship training event, participants will be exposed to a robust team of nationally acclaimed speakers, expert instructors, and military friendly business resource providers. During an exciting day of learning, networking and growing, program participants will get the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down for a Fireside Chat with Kristina, Kay and Connie – three fellow women veterans who have found success as entrepreneurs.

Now leaders in their chosen fields Kristina, Kay, and Connie all started out with just an idea and a strong desire to achieve their goals. While all three women experienced their journey to business ownership in different ways, they can all agree on one thing: they could not be more excited to inspire and be inspired at IGNITE.

WHAT: IGNITE – Aspiring Women Veteran and Military Spouse Entrepreneurs, presented by IVMF and V-WISE

WHEN: Friday, November 18th, 2016, 8:00 AM-6:30 PM

WHERE: The Hyatt Regency Savannah – 2 W Bay St., Savannah, GA 31401

REGISTRATION SITE: https://vwiseignitesavannah.eventbrite.com/ (Use code BLOGPOST for $10 off registration fee!)

EVENT WESBITE: https://sites.google.com/site/ignitebyvwise/

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All In A Day’s Work in the Expat World

Last night, before bedtime, I realized I’d be at the school all day the next day and had to plan for dinner.  In this odd life, that has a different meaning than it did when I was teaching back in the US.  Two plus years ago, I’d put something in the crock pot or plan something simple or get take out.  In this diplomat life abroad, though, I am fortunate that we can afford to have household help.  So, all I have to do, usually, in this situation, is decide what we want to have for dinner and our ayi, Xiao Lü, will have it ready by the time she leaves our house at 5:30.

The boys are tired of chicken, pasta doesn’t keep well, and we really don’t trust any other meat here in China, as we are unsure of its safety.  So, after thinking about it and talking with Horatio and the boys, we decided on my beloved friend, Martha’s, Cuban bean recipe.  We all love it, but it’s a bit of a procedure to make it, so I knew it would take some effort to prepare the kitchen and explain the process to Xiao Lü.

The first thing I did was edit the recipe to increase the chances of accuracy when I copied into google translate.  After I translated the recipe, I printed it out in English and Chinese.  She does not speak or read English, but since I cannot check the Chinese translation for exact accuracy, providing the English copy allows the opportunity for her, if she has any questions, to can take it to our clubhouse to ask for help from one of the bilingual reception workers there.

I set out the recipe on the kitchen counter, with the spices and the correct measuring spoons.

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Next, I took out the food processor and plugged it into the transformer.  China uses 220  power, while the US uses 110.  Plugging the American appliance into the wall here would fry the expensive piece of equipment.  I figure it’s better to be especially prepared, and safe, than sorry.

Then, since I’ve never shown Xiao Lü how to use the food processor, I took a video of the process and sent it to her on We Chat, (the texting app EVERYONE here uses.)  I also sent her the recipe and shopping list, so that she could go to the market on her way to my house in the morning.  We Chat has a translation function, so I can type in English and she can translate on her end.  I can do the same when she responds to me in Chinese.  I always word my texts to her very carefully, in hopes that the translation will be clear.  I never really know, though.

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Something is often lost in the translation, but the gist is clear.

I’ve done everything I can to ensure that the process is smooth.  I never really know what to expect, though, and I’m generally not surprised when things don’t go according to plan.  I hope for the best, but prepare for less than that, to minimize the disappointment.

This evening, hopefully, I will arrive home from school to the aroma of Cuban Black Beans, and we can sit down to family dinner together and enjoy the meal.

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Help Other Military Families and Earn Amazon Gift Cards

I want to share the news about the great support website for military families:  MilitaryTownAdvisor.com.  The site has been redesigned to really help families like ours, and you can earn Amazon gift cards by adding your own information to the site!

The aim of MilitaryTownAdvisor.com is to help military families BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a PCS.

  • Before you get orders, research where to live by reading neighborhood reviews, school ratings, and military housing reviews.
  • During the PCS, find and contact a Military Friendly RELTOR and search for homes.
  • After you PCS, find new restaurants, fun things to do and great local businesses, that would otherwise take months, if not years, to discover.

Not only can you use the site to get helpful information during a move, but you can earn Amazon Gift Cards by helping others!

Whether you live in Kentucky or Korea, Georgia or Germany, there are military families who want the information you have, so take a few minutes to post a review and start earning points!

This is how it works:

Write a review and earn points. Once you earn enough points, you earn an Amazon gift card. You can spend that gift card however you would like!

How to earn points:

  • Neighborhood Review is worth 3 points
  • Apartment Review is worth 3 points
  • Condo/Townhome Review is worth 3 points
  • Area of Town Review is worth 3 points
  • Military Housing Review is worth 3 points
  • School Review is worth 1 point
  • Local Business Review is worth 1 point
  • Thing To Do Review is worth 1 point

How to earn Amazon gift cards:

  • 25 points = $10 Amazon gift card
  • 30 points = $15 Amazon gift card
  • 40 points = $25 Amazon gift card
  • 60 points = $50 Amazon gift card
Don’t wait!  There are families settling in to new military towns right now, and they need your help.
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