Sanya: Beach Break

We had a great little holiday for about a week at Sanya, the Southernmost city in China. It’s on the Island of Hainan, and is further south than Hanoi. It’s a beautiful island, and we needed a little sun and sea after a year of working our arses off teaching.

It’s a tropical place, with coconuts everywhere. The food from the island itself is delicious and unique. Sanya4

It was beautiful and so relaxing. We had no worries except what to eat! For the first six days we stayed at Sanya Backpackers, which is a nice hostel. We sweltered in the tropical heat, but on the third day we walked 12km around the city, trying to get to a mountain park ostensibly close by. We eventually found it and had a nice walking tour of some non-touristy areas.

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The beach is great, and despite the constant warnings in Chinese and the signs everywhere saying that swimming is strictly prohibited, very safe. There are occasional riptides (as at most beaches), but it seems that the warnings are more meant for the large numbers of Chinese who are not strong swimmers. People wearing inner tubes and floating along with a clear inability to swim made me a little nervous, but for those who swim well the water is perfectly normal.

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Do listen to the lifeguards, though. They are there to help.

There is a great beachfront bar called Surf Circus, run by several transplanted Italians. The staff are super friendly and the beers are cheap. They also have well-prepared and tasty snack foods like pizza and sandwiches. They rarely seemed to close, so drop by for conversation and fun!

We also went to a ‘Hot Spring’ in the area away from the beach. It is not a natural hot spring, but NanTian was nice anyway. There are more than 40 different pools to try out, and many of the pools have Traditional Chinese medicines in them. My personal favourite was the Lemon Pool, followed closely by the Fish pool. Yes, Fish pool.

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They come over and eat the dead skin off of you! It was so ticklish as to be painful, but really fun.

Beautiful flowers fall from the trees all the time, and I used them in my hair. 1940s-style!

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Hair styled for the heat

At the end of our trip we moved to the Sunshine Intime resort, a Chinese Five-Star hotel down the road nearer to the beach. It is something that we like to do about once or twice a year, to treat ourselves to something we normally couldn’t afford. The room was much bigger and the place was very nice. They even gave us shell keychains as souvenirs with the afternoon turn-down service!

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Shell Keychain

It was a great holiday, and I highly recommend Sanya to anyone in the region. Families are definitely welcome at this beach, too! So man sweet little potato heads running around and having a great beach time.

Have you been to Sanya? Where do you go to relax? 

Winter Solstice Short Mead: A Recipe for Sweet, Sweet Homebrew

Cue angelic choir.

Cue angelic choir.

I’ve been experimenting with home fermentation lately. I made fermented Ginger Beer, some homemade kimchi, and even some traditional Kvass (recipe to follow). I even made bread, which is apparently also fermented! But nothing had yet been of my favourite stripe of fermented foods: adult beverages.

With winter solstice drawing on and the days getting short, we decided to make a short mead. Mead is a traditional drink made from fermenting honey and water. It was an integral part of Valhalla (heaven) to Vikings, plays a role in the ancient Hindu Vedas, and has been known to humans for as many as 40,000 years. Claude Levi-Strauss famously argued that mead is the boundary between humans as natural and humans with civilisation. Only a little bit of human heritage to live up to!

Not super convinced at first sniff.

Not super convinced at first sniff.

We looked at a couple of recipes online and decided on a short mead with a three-week fermentation time. Most traditional meads take a few months to be ready for drinking, and can take many years to mature. We are not so picky.

Ready to drink!

Ready to drink!

Winter Solstice Short Mead

  1. Place the honey in a sink filled with hot water for at least 15 minutes. This should help it soften. Alternatively, put it in the microwave for 30 intervals, stirring between. Be very careful when heating honey! It could result in a bad burn.
  2. Pour the water in the bottle into a pot for later. Pour the heated honey into the empty bottle a little at a time. We eventually resorted to a spoon and our fingers.
  3. Pour half the water back into the bottle. Now it’s time to aerate! Cap the bottle and shake it really hard for at least five minutes. The honey should dissolve and the mixture should be cloudy. Just for fun, do a giggly dance in the kitchen to make sure the bottle gets shaken up enough! This makes the pre-mead, known as ‘must.’
  4. Once the honey is dissolved pour more water back into the bottle, leaving a fair amount of headroom. Drink the rest or use it for cooking. Shake it up a little bit again, and add the nutmeg.
  5. Now it’s time to add the yeast. Put the dry yeast directly into the must. Cap it again and shake it up well. Now it’s time to set up the fermentation detector. Poke a small hole in the balloon so that it will not explode. Put it over the mouth of the bottle. Once fermentation begins the balloon will stand at attention!
  6. Put your mead into a dark, warmish place that is unlikely to be disturbed. Check on it every couple of days to make sure it hasn’t exploded, turned purple, or grown a yeast civilisation with advanced scientific research.
  7. In 7-10 days, the fermentation process will slow down. The balloon will sag and maybe even lay down. This is okay. Just let the yeasties do their business until it’s been at least three weeks.
  8. At this point, you can drink the mead! It will be cloudy and relatively low in alcohol percentage (ABV). Alternatively, you can ‘rack’ the mead into another bottle for secondary fermentation (which will make stronger) for unto a few months. You can put the mead into bottles and store it, and it will strengthen and get clearer with time.
  9. Congrats! You are a part of human alcoholic heritage!
The moment of truth...

The moment of truth…

Yay!

Yay!

Our mead is really sweet, not very effervescent, and fairly alcoholic. We have no fancy means of establishing it’s ABV, but it’s probably just a little bit stronger than beer (8-9%). The nutmeg doesn’t really come through, but it could be flavoured with other spices to make it even more Christmas-y.

Trying it….

Trying it….

Yay!

Yay!

Everything to make the mead cost less than £20 to buy. It’s cheap, easy, delicious, and alcoholic. Our next batch will be properly racked and double-fermented for summer, but it’s good to have a homemade brew to share for the holidays.

Happy brewing!

Spitalfields, Necklaces, Materialism, and Makeup

Found at Spitalfields Market near Whitechapel

Found at Spitalfields Market near Whitechapel

I don’t go shopping these days. With my master’s course and trying to keep up with the big city, it’s just too much to ask for time to spend looking at clothes and jewellery for myself. Not to mention the money scarcity almost all those in graduate school deal with. Thanks, I’d rather buy food an dust wear my years-old, hole-y clothing.

Now the first term is over. I cannot believe how quickly it’s passed. Everyone says that about time’s passage. We are an ill-equipped species when it comes to time perception. But already the bizarre double effect of time is apparent, in my early-onset nostalgia for the beginning of September. So fast, thank goodness. So slow, what an effort. I am deliberately avoiding my work for the start of term two this week. So I found myself at Spitalfields Market, near Shoreditch. It’s in the neighbourhood of my favourite pub in London, the Pride of Spitalfield (which I affectionately refer to as ‘The Cat Pub’ because of it’s lovely cat mascot, Lenny). 

Despite the occasional blunder, I’m not one to be much of a hipster. This is deep hipstering territory, complete with prints of John Lennon with LSD-induced colours splattered over him, pointless felt hats that all seem to be in tiny sizes, and a whole lot of ‘vintage’ stuff that’s actually made in China. Sadly, I bought a skirt and a necklace. But I love them. So, that makes it okay, right? Right? Ugh, I got caught up in the holiday maelstrom of materialism. So sue me.

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New bag!

I went to Collectif, a lovely little shop with non-vintage, vintage-style clothing. It suits my recent desires to go back in time, and be a bit of a pin=up girl. Wonderfully, they have plus sizes! They make no big deal of it, but include those
of us who fit a size 16-18 without qualms. For those of you in the US, that’s a 14-16 (isn). Yes, US sizes are a whole size bigger at the very least than those in the UK. I’m firmly in the plus-sized range these days. I went through a couple attempts at crash-dieting and cutting out all…everything (dairy, gluten, meat, caffeine, alcohol, and happiness)…this year. It made almost no difference at all. I’m slowly making my peace with a bigger body in favour of eating delicious foods and drinking beer.

I truly enjoyed shopping in the little store, and almost everything fit. Such a difference! I lusted after a skirt at French Connection for a few weeks, looking at it every day as I passed on my way to classes. Imagine my frustration when I went to buy it as a reward for the end of term and found they didn’t carry my (apparently too fat) size! My money is better used elsewhere.

Whole foods, all the way in London!

It’s a tradition of mine to go to Whole Foods occasionally, to spend a bit of money and enjoy the beauty of food there. All problematic aspects of Whole Foods aside, it’s like my food cathedral. I go ‘on pilgrimage’ only once or twice a year. That’s all I can afford.

It was wonderful to go to the Piccadilly Circus Whole Foods. I got some organic body wash and a bunch of beautiful food. And a fermented ginger ale. Money well spent.

As I get some time (ok, a lot of time) to sit around the house, I am messing around with makeup and hairstyles. Since I started messing around with Pintrest a few months ago, I’ve had a bunch of great ideas and no time to try them. On Saturday we’re going out for our yearly present to each other, a steak dinner in the city. I tried out a new look for it on Tuesday, hoping to perfect it by the weekend. The lashes and makeup are all fairly green and not tested on animals, even if one of the companies is named ‘Bourjois.’

Eyebrows filled in, for the first time ever.

It’s strange to notice that I wear far more makeup than ever before here in London. Might be due to how much I see on other women.

I plan on writing more about London (and better) soon. Sorry about this being such a disorganised post!

Halloween in Korea: Multiculturalism, Study Break, or Sugarfest?

I long for a whiff of singed pumpkin, the cold of a Colorado Halloween, the sumo princesses and ninjas in full winter coats clamoring to the front porch. I haven’t had a proper Halloween in two years, and given my acceptance to the first of a few graduate programs in the UK the chances don’t look good for next year, either!

In Korea, Halloween is a blip. For most people, it must have seemed very strange to wear so much makeup and a costume on the bus to work (then again, given the tendency for Korean fashion to go to extremes, maybe not). On Monday I carried a tiny plastic Jack o’Lantern to fend off the stares. Look, lady…I’m literally carrying my cultural difference in hand. I’m not some new and terrifying incarnation of a foreigner. Just an English teacher on her way to a Halloween party.

Halloween is an opportunity to expose the kiddos to something different and give them a dose of foreign culture. In Korea, multiculturalism is brand new and edging out slowly. Some of the efforts to include those not of Korean ancestry or those of mixed Korean-Foreign heritage are good, like the attempts to reach out with free Korean classes. Others seem somewhat showy and Othering, like the TV show I saw a few weeks ago touting the wonders of naturalized Korean citizens while parading them around in hackneyed traditional costumes from their “real” countries. The audience just laughed.

It’s a blood zombie.

Other attempts, like the blaring MULTICULTURAL AREA signs outside the bustling neighborhood of Ansan Station, seem to be there simply to over-insist Korea is welcoming and accepting. See how we label the foreign neighborhood “multicultural?” See? See? There isn’t any discrimination against immigrants or non-Koreans! This sign proves it!

I have no idea what this is, but it is colorful. Open to interpretation.

Halloween in a hagwon means a Prezi about how the holiday came to be, some spooky videos, and a scary story writing contest. We wore awesome (read:goofy) costumes, This resulted in wide-eyed stares from the students and giggles about how ridiculous we looked. To be fair, we did look a bit off as a gyspy-pirate fortune teller, a two-faced penguin, a purple witch, and Avalon Man. The worst of the day was to walk to the shared toilet down the hall past the stares of the dental patients and daycare with whom we share our floor.

The problem is that the costumes became something to further mark us as foreign, as though it weren’t already obvious. It felt conspicuously like that talk show with the costumes, another way to laugh at the ridiculous foreigners. The look of wonder in the eyes of some of my students when I walked into a room was totally worth it. It was as if they had literally never seen me before, as though I’d completely transformed.

Our Korean coworkers also dressed up, one as a ruler-wielding Catholic nun! It was the perfect costume, and even strangers said that we looked pretty cool. It’s interesting to wear one’s culture on one’s face and literally become an “Other” for the day, and I found myself a bit homesick for real Halloween, even though this celebration at the hagwon was supposed to be as real as any back home. Culture is a strange beast.

Just a disembodied eyeball.

It was a strange intersection of culture and identity for some of the kids, as well. Many of our students have lived for extended periods outside Korea, predominately in the United States and Canada. A couple were even born there! They experienced Halloween and all the traditions for themselves when they lived there, and the smaller, more school-like and necessarily pared down experience here disappointed a few of them.

“Why didn’t we do actual Trick or Treating?” asked one of my older girls, who lived in the US. “We could have gone from classroom to classroom!”

Other students didn’t see the point. Some of them have not lived outside Korea and occasionally are pretty hostile to anything resembling outside cultural influence. Last semester one of my students claimed that she was the only “true Korean” in the room since she had never lived abroad. But even she was won over by some candy and a couple scary Youtube videos. Score one for Halloween!

Some parents didn’t see the point of having fun, either. One of our mommas called us up to complain about the concept of a Halloween party at the hagwon. Shouldn’t they be studying? Shouldn’t teachers be ramming more TOEFL preparation down the throats of eleven year olds, even though they just took their semester test? Who will think of the children?! She refused to allow her daughter to attend on the grounds that it was a waste of time, but failed to realize that only one of three contact hours was spent in Halloween mode. Two thirds of the TOEFL and teaching was still intact, but she knew better. If anyone was going to waste her child’s time, it was going to be her. Besides, childhood isn’t for fun. It’s for studying.

Today is the real day, and yet our hallways were stripped bare of their decorations before the work day had even come to an end yesterday. Halloween was over before it even began. Today is the day we attempt to haul in more middle school students, so we couldn’t have any appearance of fun or non-studying. It’s always hard for me to reconcile with the fact that this is a business, and not a school. I would do well to remember what a presenter at the last training said, and stop thinking so academically.

No, I do not wear this much makeup to work normally.

And thus on Halloween I snuck some traditions into my classes, carrying candy in a bucket and wearing a subtle pair of giraffe ears in place of a full costume. I brought a small LED Jack o’Lantern, which turned into a favorite when I used it to project a spooky face on the wall. I’m often accused of over-analyzing, and I know for a fact that no one else is sitting around on Halloween watching the cultural intersections of foreign and familiar, Other and identity. But today felt like the most honest representation of the holiday, the quiet infiltration of a bit of the culture in which I was raised. A continuation of my constant self redefinition through travel.

Or then again, maybe it was all just a day where kids watched silly videos, ate too much candy, and then tore around the halls chasing each other with facepaints. That is the heart of the holiday, after all.

Gyspy Pirate Fortune Teller Teacher

Happy Halloween!