Tag Archives: portland

Chinese Food

Do you know what they call Chinese food in China?  Food.  Yup, that’s right, in some parts of the world it is just food.  Delicious food, by the way.  I was always skeptical about Chinese restaurants and Chinese food in the USA, mostly because any Chinese food I have ever eaten in the States is a far cry from what I grew to love in China.  There is so much variety in Chinese food, so many distinct cuisines under the giant umbrella we just classify as Chinese food.  Most of which American’s have never heard of.  Americanized chow mein, beef and broccoli, and orange chicken were not items I ate in China. Last night, however, I discovered there is good food (of the Chinese variety) in the Portland, OR metropolitan area.

I have about six days left in Oregon before I head out on my new adventure (to Nashville, TN – check out my new blog) and I had been trying to figure out where to stay for my last few nights in town.  My dad mentioned that he had some friends from Southern Oregon who had a condo in Beaverton and they would be willing to let me stay.  Awesome.  Turns out it is an older couple, my dad sings in the Rogue Valley Chorale with the woman who is American and her husband is Chinese.  They were going to be in town over the weekend, as was my dad, so it was arranged that we would all meet up at their place on Sunday and we would all go out to Chinese food!

I have to say, not only am I incredibly thankful for their generosity in letting me use the condo for a week.  But they were also a lot of fun to get to know.  Gene is a 77 year old man from China, who came to the US sometime after college.  Now, for those of you who know ANYTHING about Chinese history, stop and think about what this man lived through growing up in China in the 1930’s-1950’s.  He has some stories to tell, to say the least.  He also is one of the most energetic, talkative and lively 77 year olds I have ever met.  He was quite a riot.  When we first came in and sat down, he tossed me a newspaper in Chinese and said, “Let’s test her Chinese!”

Anyways… this was supposed to be about food.  They took us to this place called Taste of Sichuan (Sichuan is only my favorite of Chinese cuisines). I had never heard of it and when we pulled up I knew it was new because the building housed a Marie Calendars when I moved away in 2011.  We go inside to a crowd of people waiting to be seated, and luckily they tell us it will only be about 15 minutes.  I sit down in front of the board with some of their specials written on it and see 小笼包 xiaolongbao or steamed dumplings. My first thought is “YUMMY!”  My second thought is “$7.95!?!? I would never pay that much for xiaolongbao!”

We are seated, ordered the xiaolongbao right away as a starter and looked at the menu.  Oh there are so many delightful things it is hard to chose!  But no pictures?  In China, your menu is normally a fat book filled with 15-50 pages of pictures of every single dish.  Of course, when you can’t speak Chinese this is helpful to see what looks good.  But also, the Chinglish translations (although entertaining) leave a lot to be desired.  (Like the time I ordered delicious pork spareribs that were described as octopus in English… hmmm.) Fortunately, in the States the English was more accurate.  However, I did have to ask Gene about some of the characters because I knew the Chinese names for dishes and not the English names.

I opted out of the Tsingdao beer when I learned they had good microbrews to offer as well, so I went Oregonian and ordered a Widmer hef.  Funny thing, I was a little put off about it at the time, but after awhile I realized in China it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  You see, in many non-western establishments in China it is a safe bet to ask for a COLD beer, as they often serve it in bottles at room temperature.  This wasn’t really on my mind when the waitress came out handed me a beer and a glass of ice.  She said, “I brought you ice because we ran out of cold bottles of the beer.”  Indeed my bottle of hefeweizen was room temperature.  In my moment of cultural insensitivity, I was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of pouring my beer over ice and she offered me a different one – Ninkasi IPA to go with my Chinese food.

After choosing items from the menu, with lots of discussion and debate.  I think I shocked the waiter when I did all the ordering for the table – in Chinese.  Okay, so it was broken Chinese and Gene had to help me out with a couple of them, but I did it.  茄子,回锅肉,宫保鸡丁(eggplant in hot garlic sauce, twice cooked pork, Kung Pao chicken) and one more.

Four tell-tale signs that we were in America: there were forks on the table and we had to ask for chopsticks.  The rice came out with the dishes (not last).  Most of the dishes came out at the same time.  And we got a fortune cookie at the end of the meal.  Newsflash America: you don’t get fortune cookies in China. My fortune was pretty good though: You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.  They know me so well.

Oh…it was delicious.  A bit spicy, as good Sichuan food should be.  But they were all the tastes and smells I have been living without for the past two months being back in the States.  For dessert (which none of us really had room for) we had 芝麻汤圆 or sesame sticky rice balls.

Good food, good company and conversations about China with a little Chinese thrown in… it made me want to go back.  But for now, I might just have to make do with leftovers.


I am a Slingshot

I discovered a few days ago that I am a human slingshot.  Just go with me for a minute, okay?

When I was nine years old, my family moved from Vermont to Hungary, where my mom taught English for a year.  When we return to the States, after a short stop in Vermont, we drove across the country and moved to Oregon.  Where I have spent the majority of my days.

Now, fast forward almost TWENTY years, I just got back from 14 months of teaching English in China.  After a couple month stay at home in Oregon, I am driving across the country to move to Nashville, TN.  Yes, that is correct I am moving to the southeast United States.  Once again, uprooting myself, taking on a new city where I don’t know (hardly) anyone and continuing this adventure we like to call life.  At least they speak English in Nashville – I just need to work on my drawl.

What does this have to do with a slingshot?  Visualize it for a second… I was in Vermont – then was pulled back, across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary – after a year, I was flung back across the ocean, past where I started, to the opposite coast of the USA.

This time, I was pulled the other way… the human slingshot stretched me back across the Pacific Ocean to Shanghai, China and I’m continuing to be hurled across the country again, until I land and settle in Tennessee.

A human slingshot.  So… if I ever decide to make my way back to living on the West Coast (which I would love to do sometime because I still don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live in the glorious Pacific Northwest), I might just have to spend a year in Africa or something first.

This all being said… people keep asking if I’m going to continue blogging.  Well, about what?  Life in America surrounded by a bunch of Americans just isn’t as entertaining, challenging, exciting and blog-worthy as living in Shanghai.  On the other hand… I’m moving to Tennessee, I’m a Pacific NW girl, who just spent how long in Asia?  Yea, Tennessee might present me with some culture shock.   That and I just enjoy writing and having an avenue to ramble on about things for longer than the typical Facebook status message.

I cannot, however, write about life in Nashville on a blog named “Life in China” which is why I am here to announce I am starting a new blog… Life in Crazy Town that is juliakeepswriting.wordpress.com.  So please subscribe to my new blog, and continue following my life’s adventures post China.

Busy Vacation

A vacation is for relaxing, right?  Well not this one.  I have been go-go-go since the moment I got back into Portland on Monday afternoon.

Jetlag is finally easing off a bit.  I managed to stay awake until past 11pm last night AND managed to sleep until 8am this morning.  Still tired, but not falling asleep in movie theaters tired.  (Tuesday afternoon I went and saw a movie with a really good friend and I desperately wanted to just close my eyes and sleep for a little while during the movie… )

Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro seem so… small town.  Small buildings, the couple of  ‘skyscrapers’ downtown aren’t THAT much bigger than my apartment building in Shanghai.  They feel so spread out.  The buildings are far apart, the roads are wide and seem empty, there is so much SPACE, so much greenery, so many allergens!  Yes, I am finally away from Shanghai Smog and you would think breathing was easy.  Well, it was easy and delightful until my Pacific Northwest allergies kicked in.  An outdoor wedding in the allergy capital of the world is not going to make for a pretty maid of honor. (Lane/Linn and Benton counties – Linn county is the “Grass seed capital of the world, but if you suffer from seasonal allergies – Allergy capital works).  Ugh.

It is still a bit surreal being back in the states.  It makes me realize how different Shanghai really is.  It may not be the “real China” as I mentioned in a post earlier this week, but it certainly is a long way from Portland, Oregon.

My days have been packed with people, appointments, good American (and Mexican) food and fun.  Today, I actually have a few minutes to recoup, repack and organize my next couple days.  Tomorrow, I have a bachelorette party to throw, my sister’s wedding is only  days away!


Happy Birthday!

In Shanghai, my birthday is almost over.  But in Portland it has just begun.  I am exhausted, jet lagged and full of excitement. 

Happy Birthday to me!  June 28th is my day and this year it is my first full day back in the States after over 5 months of being in Asia.  This morning feels almost as if I never left. Everything is so familiar and normal, but yet so strange.

I came into my old job with Beth this morning, as she is kindly letting me use her car for the day.  We went to Starbucks just like old times and I shocked a bunch of my old co-workers by appearing at 7:30am just like I did everyday the three and a half years that I worked here.  It is like being in the twilight zone, all so familiar… but so not the norm anymore.

Everything is clean too!  Walking through the old tunnel at OHSU between Casey Eye Institute, the Dental school and Doernbecher garage – a tunnel that I always thought was old, nasty and dirty – it felt CLEAN.  Everything here is so clean! 

Oh, and it is like 70 degrees outside, if that, cloudy and raining and everyone is saying it is so hot and humid.  Oh if they only knew… on the other hand, I’m having my best hair day in months because of the LACK of humidity.

Well, I have people to see and things to do.  I have a happy hour planned with a ton of friends in the Portland area tonight, so if you are in the area – call me and you should stop by!

Loving being home!

Initial Shock…

I got off my 11 hour flight in Vancouver, BC at about 12:20pm on June 27th.  My flight had left Shanghai at 3:55pm that same day (well, was scheduled to leave, we actually sat on the plane for an hour before taking off.)  After going back in time a few hours, I got off the plane, waited in line to go through customs and directly boarded my next flight.  Uninterested in getting on another plane, but excited to get home.  In my very short, less than an hour stint in the Vancouver airport I noticed this:

1. It smelled like cinnamon rolls.  It was amazingly delicious smelling.  Not a Shanghai smell for sure!

2. People were incredibly friendly.  I mean, they smiled and stuff!  This guy almost ran into me and he said, “Excuse me.”  Weird.  Then I boarded the plane and I was caught off guard when the flight attendant said, “How are you?” Me, what? How am I?  Why would you ask, I mean… I’m good, I’m tired… why do you care?

Landing in Portland and meeting my friend and former co-worker Beth I noticed a few other things.

There are hardly any Asians around here… and tons of blondes!  In fact… there aren’t many people around here.  Where did they all go?  As I write this I just realized, in Beth’s condo, I’m in complete  silence, there are no honking horns, no fireworks going off, no noises from outside, or upstairs… it is still.

We went to Starbucks and New Seasons… the selection!  The friendly people!  And everything is so clean!  Driving into Portland I said, “Oh what cute little buildings you have!” Speaking of the downtown Portland area as it is quite ‘cute’ and ‘little’ compared to Shanghai.

My alarm on my phone just went off… it is 8am in Shanghai.  I have officially been awake for 24 hours.  No, I did not sleep on the plane.  I need to get some dinner in me – my 5th meal of my long day.  Then I think I might crash.

Portland is beautiful, green and clean.  Beth says it is hot and humid… I think it is cool and dry myself.  🙂


A foreign teacher that was substituting at our school today mentioned that he wants to get out of Shanghai and spend time somewhere else in China to experience ‘the real China’.  That is a common phrase amongst those in Shanghai who really like to experience culture and different countries – Shanghai is not ‘the real China’. Shanghai is a huge city, with every western luxury imaginable (although sometimes at a hefty price), with residents from all over the world, food from all over the world, and a blend of cultures from all over the world.  It isn’t ‘really’ China.’

Then I made a comment which vastly overstated this fact, I said, “Yea, Shanghai is not China.  Shanghai is like, well, everywhere else in the world.  Shanghai might as well be in America.”  Haha… no sooner than saying this did I realize how quickly I had thrown all the unique, fascinating, disgusting and ‘Eastern’ peculiarities of Shanghai out the window.

So, I stopped and admitted that in just over a days time, I would step off the plane and realize how untrue my statement was.  I’m going back to Oregon for two weeks, to visit and most importantly to play my role as Maid of Honor in my sister’s wedding.  I haven’t been out of the States for too long, it’s only been just over 5 months, but my comment today made me wonder if I would experience a bit of reverse culture shock when I get back to green, clean, friendly, liberal Portland, Oregon.

The last time I was in Asia, in March 2010, I had been away for 4 weeks and definitely viewed the US in a slightly different way when I got back.  I had spent my last several days in Cambodia, seeing not only temples and amazing sites but also the absolute poverty and the affects of a genocide that killed nearly a fourth of the population of the country.  Coming home from opened my eyes to how well we have it in the US.  Yet, a quick trip is also quickly forgotten.

So, will I experience reverse culture shock when I get back to the States in about a day?  What will I notice?  What will seem different?  What will make it feel like a never left?  I guess only time will tell…

In the meantime, I need to finish packing!

Back to my pretty city!

I knew I wasn’t in Portland when…

– the cars were all driving on the wrong side of the road.  Confused me for all of 2 seconds until I realized, Duh!  Hong Kong was a British Colony for 156 years (less the 4 years the Japanese had control during WWII).

– I was on the subway and realized I had the bodies of two strangers pressed up against mine and more people were boarding.  In Portland, when personal bubbles are invaded people quit crowding in and wait for the next train.  Personal bubbles don’t exist here nor does privacy for that matter…

– While bra shopping, (yes, I went bra shopping on my 1st day in Hong Kong and it was QUITE the cultural experience) the woman helping me had no problem pulling down my bra and causing me to flash the entire store.  Then again, the other girls in the store didn’t seem to mind.  My favorite was the one standing around in a bra talking on her cell phone.  Privacy?  Who needs privacy?  Oh, and Victoria Secret does not know what they are doing and this kind woman will let you know you need all new bras and will even show you how properly fitted bras will shrink everything from the width of your back to the circumference of your arm.

– I had to walk SEVERAL blocks to find a coffee shop.

– An “Italian Sausage Roll” at Starbucks was nothing more than a hot dog & Dijon mustard wrapped in a bread stick.

– Coffee & a snack for 2 cost $96.  (Hong Kong dollars, that is!)

– I was served a quesadilla at an Irish Pub.  The short list of menu items available also included: nachos, hot wings and calamari.

– I was walking around in a t-shirt and jeans while everyone else was bundled in winter coats.  It was over 60 degrees fahrenheit & sunny!  In January!

– Bamboo scaffolding??

– I get a little excited when I see another blonde 🙂

– While Irene was getting her wedding dress fitted, the sales associate was talking to Irene’s sister-in-law in Cantonese, then Irene’s sister-in-law would translate to English for me & Mandarin for Irene’s cousin.

– There was sunshine & blue sky – but you still couldn’t clearly make out buildings across town because of the SMOG.  Yuck.

– I learned that a geoduck is in no way, shape or form of any relation to the pretty bird that floats on a pond and tastes yummy with a nice orange glaze…

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