Summer Trip to the U.S.
We plan to be in Indiana from July 3 to July 5 and in the Wheaton area from June 30-July 2 and from July 6-July 20.
Send us an email or a message on Facebook if you'd like to get together with us!
Summer Trip to the U.S.
We will take a break for a few weeks in the midst of our busy moving this summer to come to the U.S. for a visit. We plan to only be in the Chicago area since our trip will be short.
We plan to be in Indiana from July 3 to July 5 and in the Wheaton area from June 30-July 2 and from July 6-July 20.
Send us an email or a message on Facebook if you'd like to get together with us!
As we travel on the bus to school this morning, the air is filled with the sound of guttural coughs and mucusy clearing of throats.
This is what hazardous air pollution sounds like.
My N95 mask slips a bit from my face, and a rush of tangy sulfur hits my nostrils, making me want to gag.
This is what hazardous air pollution smells like.
We can't see beyond the buildings nearest to us as we drive to school this morning. I'm sure the highways between Tianjin and Beijing have been shut down due to limited visibility.
This is what hazardous air pollution looks like.
And what does all this air pollution do to your health? Especially to those who don't wear masks and run indoor air filters like we do? Well, there's plenty of research you can read if you want details, but you don't need to spend hours scaring yourself to realize that it's not good.
This morning, Matt was listening to NPR as he usually does while we get ready for work. I normally don't listen because I'm too groggy in the morning, but today, my ears perked up when I heard an interview about the Paris climate talks. In the interview, Jennifer Morgan, the global director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, said that by the middle of the century, in 35 years, we need to be at 0 for carbon emissions. The interviewer said, "That just sounds impossible. . . . We're talking about cars, airplanes, home heating, moving things all over the word, basically everything that humans do. No emissions, within 35 years." Her reply - "Yeah, it's interesting. It is possible. The scientific, technical studies show it's possible. It's really about the politics."
This echoes what I've read elsewhere about curbing emissions and switching to clean energy. It is possible [but not easy]. It is essential [but not cheap]. So, we continue to do what is easy and cheap. It's too politically and financially inconvenient to acknowledge climate change [Republican party line]. Even when climate change is acknowledged, it's still too politically and financially inconvenient to actually do anything meaningful about it [Democrat party line]. We know it's killing us, but we can't seem to stop.
It brings to mind two things for me - the first in Proverbs 26:11, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly." The second in Romans 7:18b-20, "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
What makes me most angry about all of this is the large number of professing believers who deny climate change and think that unlimited carbon emissions is no big deal. It's popular to view sin in a more personal way - my anger, my lust, my impatience. These sort of things are sin - not my participation in a global system of misuse and abuse.
Meanwhile, hazardous air pollution changes to beyond hazardous. Extreme weather gets more extreme. Sea levels rise. Species die. Do we really think the global ecosystem can sustain our consumption? That our greed and taking the easy way out are not sin?
Sometimes people ask me why I'm willingly living in a country that has such poor air quality. Is it really worth it? My usual answer is that I love being here enough that I am willing to put up with and try to manage the air pollution (and other forms of pollution that may not be as prominent).
However, today, I am also grateful that I live here, where I can't just pretend that carbon emissions and other greenhouse emissions are having little to no impact. I don't have that luxury [danger]. I can see, taste, and hear what emissions are doing to the planet, and I'm literally sick of it.
#COP21 - it's time for real change.
It's been a long time since we updated our blog, but we are still alive and well, promise. Also, even better news, my surprise basil plant is still alive and well! (Even though the room we are keeping it in regularly gets down to 50 degrees F now.)
In other plant updates, my broccoli plant is just super weird. It grew really tall, then fell over and began sprouting other plants from its weak stem. I have no idea if we will ever see or eat anything resembling real broccoli from it, but as long as it's still alive, I guess I'll keep watering it to see what happens.
One kale plant died (the one on the right), and I've been too busy/lazy to do anything with the dirt. The other kale plant is very close to dying. Most of its leaves are dead, but a few are still green, so I'm still watering it. Doubt we will ever get to eat any kale from it though.
I still have a tiny carnivorous plant left, but we haven't had any gnats since our friend put some stuff in the soil to kill the gnats. (We left him in charge of the plants while we were home this summer, and he said the DE was not cutting it, so he tried some pellet things he had used on his own plants in the past. Definitely worked to destroy our gnat population, but probably not very organic. The search for effective organic methods to destroy gnats continues...maybe we'll have better luck next season.)
So, for now, the success story of my garden is definitely the basil, which we've been able to enjoy in basil chicken and on pizza. And it's looking like it will last through the winter.
Matt has been busy with schoolwork, but so far, he's been able to earn As in all of his classes. He has been taking 2 classes at a time from Harvard's extension (online) program. He still has another year and a half left, but he has made it halfway through the program. There's light at the end of the tunnel!
I have been busy at work developing a new intensive English program for our middle school ESL students. It's been a lot of long days and nights, but rewarding to see it paying off through the students learning and growing more confident each day.
This Thanksgiving, we started off our celebration by eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal for lunch at work. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes...all the trimmings! It was catered by Hank's, a Western restaurant in Tianjin and tasted very authentic. Best part, we were able to leave work early because of the holiday!
So, Matt and I went downtown in the afternoon and met our friends from Chicago who were visiting Tianjin for a couple of days. It was fun catching up with them and seeing their smiley baby (still smiley even jet lagging...wow!)
We spotted a new YYs Thai restaurant (very famous in Tianjin) that had opened up right next door to where we met our friends for coffee, so we spontaneously decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner Thai-style. Delicious! We had yellow lamb curry and pumpkin custard for dessert (just to make it more Thanksgivingy).
Yesterday, to celebrate Black Friday, we went to Beijing and got extra pages added to our passports. Yeah! Best Black Friday ever! (Haha, not really, though it did save us money to add the pages now instead of waiting until next year, when the prices go up.)
It was our first time visiting the US embassy, and we were a little underwhelmed. I don't know why, but I had been picturing some beautiful white colonial-style building, but it was in an ugly brown industrial building. Inside, it was set up like a typical bank or government building. Lots of windows, sterile decor, and uncomfortable metal seats. What did stand out to us is how many Chinese people were in line for visa appointments. As we came to the entrance of the building, there were a bunch of Chinese sales people shouting at us to ask what time our appointment was and if we wanted to pay to get a better appointment time. We were like...um...no thanks, pretty sure that's not going to work. It made me glad Matt planned ahead and got us an official appointment. We were able to walk right in with no problems, no lines. The embassy was very efficient in getting our passport pages put in; we didn't have to wait long, which was good since they didn't let us take any tech devices inside the building. Also, the bathrooms were very American - smelled like fresh bleach, had toilet paper you could flush, and soap. Yay!
After we left the embassy, we stopped by Haidian district (the university district in Beijing) on our way home and had lunch with our friend, Matthew. We had even more lamb (lamb for Thanksgiving is way better than turkey, btw) and had a fun time talking with Matthew and seeing his university's campus.
We finally arrived home about 13 hours after we left that morning, ready for a good night's rest.
Today, we have just been relaxing and getting some work done. A nice ending to a long holiday weekend!
We hope everyone back home had a great Thanksgiving weekend! We are thankful for all of you!
If you've been thinking, "Man, I haven't seen Matt and Angel in a long time. Are they coming home this summer?" The answer is...Yes! But unfortunately, only for three weeks and only to the Chicago area this time.
Hopefully, next summer we'll be able to come home for a longer stretch & do some traveling outside of Chicago, but due to work this summer, we're only able to get away for a few weeks.
The dates we'll be on US soil will be from July 4 (woo, our first Independence Day in the States in 4 years!) until July 26.
Of course, we'll probably be miserably jet lagged July 4 weekend, so we're not planning on doing much except chilling with Matt's family. I hope they don't mind seeing fireworks at 3 pm because I'm usually asleep by 5 pm on our first day back :)
We're also going to be pretty busy the last weekend we're in town because my cousin is getting married that weekend (another woo!)
Other than that, our schedules are pretty open, so let us know if you'll be in the Chicago area in July and want to hang out! We may plan some get-togethers so we can see more people at once, but we're too swamped with work right now to figure it out, so stay tuned.
It's been awhile since my last update, and I'm sad to report that the fungus gnats seem to be winning in my battle against them.
All plants are covered with a layer of DE that I keep dry by scooping it over to the side when I water. (Boy, has that turned watering into an inconvenience!) But, still the stupid things are thriving and my plants are not.
We even tried getting some carnivorous plants from Taobao. The gnats love hiding in the peat moss of the carnivorous plants, but unfortunately, the carnivorous plants aren't attracting many gnats to actually eat.
The soybeans weren't improving and started harbors go more gnats, so I finally thre them out last weekend.
Everything else is still kicking but not overly happy or big, with the exception of the basil plant, which doesn't seem to mind its fungus gnat neighbors.
Oh, and I finally picked out the random plant that had sprung up in the kale pot because it started looking a bit weed like and didn't resemble anything edible.
So, this season, I think we're only going to get to enjoy the green beans we already harvested and some basil leaves. I'm going to try to keep growing them all until the fall to see what happens, but I'm not holding my breath.
Matt also suggested trying to put the plants outside on our balcony so that there are more natural predators (aka spiders...) to take care of the fungus gnats. Our balcony is super tiny, so I might try it with just 1 plant & see how it does.
Last weekend, we traveled to Taiwan for the first time to attend our friend Peter's wedding. It was awesome to catch up with college friends, and it was fun to experience a Taiwanese-style wedding.
Taiwan itself was really interesting. Local people were so nice that Matt and I kept thinking they were making fun of us because they would speak really slowly to us and be overly helpful. But our friend Ariel informed us, no, that's just how most Taiwanese people are to everyone all the time. Taiwan was also very very clean and orderly. Definitely a change of pace for us compared to living in Tianjin!
During the wedding festivities, we got to enjoy lots of delicious seafood. Matt was in love (and I'm not talking about with me...)
We also experienced the Chinese tradition of the groom coming to "earn" the right to marry his wife. I had heard about this tradition from some of my Chinese students, but this was my first time to witness it. Peter brought his groomsmen to his fiancee, Harriet's apartment on the morning of the wedding, and the bridesmaids made them perform various challenges before Peter was allowed to see Harriet. It was a lot of fun and really interesting to see different wedding customs.
They finally passed the outdoor challenges and were allowed inside the apartment. But before Peter could actually see Harriet, they had to sing. Here's Peter singing a Taiwanese love song. Unfortunately, he didn't know the words and the bridesmaids weren't making it very easy for him.
Eventually, he passed the challenge to their satisfaction, and then we ate dumplings and red bean soup prepared by Harriet's mom to wish the couple happiness and good fortune. But Peter still couldn't see Harriet...
First, he had to answer some questions about how well he would take care of Harriet in various scenarios, like what he would do if his wife had to work late (wash all the laundry, clean everything, prepare dinner, call her to make sure she was okay, etc.) and what he would do if his wife was pregnant (massage her feet, have her rest, give her ice cream...wait, no, that got him in a lot of trouble! When one of the American groomsmen suggested ice cream, everyone gasped and said, "No! Pregnant women can't eat cold things!" so the groomsman had to do push-ups again. In Chinese culture, there are strict rules for pregnant women, including no eating cold food.)
After Peter answered the questions to the bridesmaids' satisfaction, he still had to shout his love for Harriet as loudly as he could. Then, FINALLY, he was allowed to go in the room and see Harriet!
After the wedding ceremony, we went to a hotel for the wedding banquet. We were too busy talking with friends and eating delicious food to take many photos, but we did get one at the end with Peter and Harriet before we left.
After the wedding festivities were all over, we went back to the apartment we were all staying at together and played games. (Joseph, one of Peter's friends from DC, got the Zombie card and the This Hand is Dead card TWICE in The Totally Insane Card Game within a matter of like 30 minutes. Completely unheard of!)
The next day, we hung out with David and BG in downtown Taipei before we left to go back to Tianjin and they left to go back to Nairobi.
We tried to see Avengers 2, but the theater was almost sold out and we would have had to sit in the front row, so we decided to just sit outside near the Taipei 101 tower, chat, and eat Krispy Kreme donuts.
And yes, I did buy a dozen to bring back with us in a carry-on bag to Tianjin. Don't judge. Krispy Kremes are a totally legitimate treat every once in five years. Let's just say, I'm glad there are no Krispy Kremes in Tianjin...
Anyway, it was wonderful to see so many great friends and be there to celebrate Peter's big day. We hope we can see them all again soon!
As I mentioned in my last post, our green beans got an infestation of fungus gnats last month. After about a week of trying the Castile soap insecticide spray, the gnats were still happily crawling about the soil in the green bean container.
So I decided to give diatomaceous earth (DE) a try. I just applied it to the green beans two days ago, so I'm not sure if it's been effective yet. The way it's supposed to work is by getting underneath the gnats' exoskeletons and drying them out until they die. Apparently, the DE has to be dry before it can affect the bugs, so that makes it a little challenging when trying to decide when my plants need more water.
The day after I applied the DE to the green beans, I also found a bunch of fungus gnats in our strawberry container, even though that one is in our other room and we always keep the door closed in order to prevent pest infiltration. I guess they are either making their way to different rooms in our apartment through cracks, or they are able to come in through small cracks around the windows.
Anyway, I have now applied DE to all of our plants except the soy beans (to use as control, since they are dying anyway due to the weird yellowing leaf thing). The DE on the smaller plants in our clothes drying room is still wet since it's a lot more humid in that room, and I've found gnats crawling around on top of it, so I at least know that this stuff isn't effective when wet. Hopefully it will dry out soon and start killing the gnats before they kill my plants. It's been cloudy and rainy here for the past few days, so I think I need a good day of bright, hot sun to dry out the DE.
Our soy beans are still as sad as ever. Every time a new set of leaves grow in, they look nice and green and healthy for a few days and then promptly turn yellow, rubbery, and fall off. I guess I will keep letting them grow for now until the whole plant dies and then try again next month from seed if they still don't show any signs of improvement.
Meanwhile, our smaller plants are doing quite well.
Our basil (formerly known as Malabar spinach) is really thriving and starting to smell like basil.
Our strawberry plants are growing more sets of leaves and starting to spread out.
Our broccoli has sprouted more leaves and is getting a little taller.
One kale plant is really growing out. The other kale plant is still quite small, but fortunately a new kale plant snuck in on the side of the container and seems to be doing better than the original plant. If it keeps growing faster, I'll remove the middle one and replace it with the one on the right side.
Work has been super crazy lately, so I haven't had time to start a real Malabar spinach seed yet. I also want to try growing some 空心菜 (Chinese spinach) because we got a packet of seeds as a freebie from one of our Taobao orders a couple of weeks ago. It's one of our favorite vegetables, so we're excited to try and grow it, but I haven't had any free time to plant it, so that will have to wait until early June when school ends.
Here's a look at the recent growth of the smaller plants pre-DE applications:
Now, for the most exciting news of all...
We had our first harvest from the green bean plants. I only picked three beans since most of them weren't ready to be picked yet, but we couldn't wait to try them out, so Matt fried up the small serving of beans.
Today (2 days later), I picked three more, and Matt boiled those. Both times, they tasted delicious. So awesome to eat them knowing that there were no pesticides used on them.
Time for another garden update. After the application of vermicompost and more gentle watering techniques, the kale and broccoli have really started to perk up. I feel like there is hope for them to grow into yummy vegetables yet.
The strawberry seedlings are also doing well.
Funny update on the "Malabar spinach"... So like a true newbie gardener, I of course didn't mark any of my containers, thinking, "Pshhh...I'm not going to forget what I planted in each container."
After which, I promptly forgot.
So this whole time I've been thinking that the basil seeds were no good and that it must have been my Malabar spinach that had sprouted. Well, now that this little guy is big enough, I was able to compare photos online of Malabar spinach seedlings and this, and what I have sure isn't Malabar spinach. It does look an awful lot like basil seedlings, though. So I'm 99.9% sure that I have a happy, healthy basil seedling on my hands that is ready for transplant.
As soon as the bag of potting soil I ordered arrives, I'll transplant it. Meanwhile, I guess I will try to germinate the Malabar spinach again because I already have a trellis on the way for it!
Next, the really amazing green bean plants, now flowering in our living room.
Sadly, I discovered a couple of fungus gnats on them yesterday after work, so I made up a batch of liquid Castile soap/cinnamon spray and sprayed the leaves and top layer of the soil last night and this morning. I haven't spotted any more gnats, so hopefully it's working.
Last up, the soy bean plants.
Since our last update, the leaves continued to yellow. They became dryer and developed a weird rubbery texture. Then last week, I can home from work to find they had fallen off the stem. I picked off the other yellowed leaves since clearly, they were not improving.
Now, a few new leaves have grown on each plant. These leaves look a little greener and healthier, but I'm still not too confident that we'll get any 毛豆 (edamame) out of these guys.
I suspect that it was actually a bad idea for me to try putting vermicompost on them. They definitely got worse after that. I've read online that unlike many other plants, soybeans don't like nitrogen-rich soil since they produce their own nitrogen. Vermicompost is rich in nitrogen, so this was probably not a good combination.
We'll see if the plants perk up after no more fertilizer being added. In retrospect, I should have added fertilizer to only one plant to better test the effects. Live and learn.
For years, I have been considering switching to a more eco-friendly, natural laundry detergent and fabric softener through DIY recipes.
I first considered DIY options about six years ago when we were still living in the US and I started developing skin allergies to shampoo/conditioner and becoming more aware of environmental issues related to big industry and consumerism.
However, I was always afraid that it would be a lot of work to DIY and the results wouldn't be as good as stuff I could buy at the store. In the US, I simply opted to purchase all-natural Purex laundry detergent from Target, which was only slightly more expensive than the other brands and all-natural fabric softener from Whole Foods.
In China, of course, we didn't have that option at our local supermarket, so we've been using Tide and Comfort brand laundry products since we moved here.
A couple of weeks ago, when I was at the supermarket, I couldn't find the normal Comfort fabric softener I had been buying, so I thoughtlessly picked out a new type of Comfort softener, something in a pink bottle that smelled pretty good, maybe rose-scented. It wasn't quite as mild as the white bottle, but it seemed like it would be okay.
The weekend after I bought it, we decided to wash all of our bedding since we had both had bad colds that week and were finally getting over them. Without thinking twice, we decided to try out the new fabric softener.
Two days later, I started to develop this bad boy on my face:
It itched and hurt so badly. My lips were swollen to the point that it hurt to close and open them. I managed to make it to school every day and teach, but my head was not in the game, and I sucked down Benadryl as soon as I got home to try to relieve the swelling and painful itching.
I figured out pretty quickly that it was likely because of the new fabric softener. Unfortunately, we were super busy the next couple of days after I developed the rash, so we had to keep sleeping in our contaminated bedding until we had time to change the sheets and rewash all the blankets.
Once we finally rewashed using our old white-colored Comfort, I thought everything would be fine, but the rash continued to spread. Not just stay there, but actually spread!
Totally fed up with it, I finally decided to try DIY recipes.
I cooked up a batch of laundry detergent and mixed up some fabric softener using products I was able to order on Taobao.
So far, the results have been fantastic. It actually wasn't that hard to mix up the products, and they have been getting our clothes as clean and good-smelling as store-bought stuff. In fact, our clothes actually feel softer with the DIY stuff. We've been slowly rewashing things in it since our laundry pile is pretty backed up after this whole fiasco.
My rash started going down and had disappeared within a few days of sleeping in the bedding that had been rewashed in the white Comfort and wearing clothes that had been washed in the DIY products.
This morning, I woke up again with some itching and redness around my lips. So either the mango I had last night set me off, or we need to rewash our bedding again in the DIY stuff because the white Comfort is continuing to set off the allergic reaction.
Either way, I am so glad this event forced us to finally switch to DIY laundry detergent. I highly recommend it to any of you who have sensitive skin or just want to save some money or stop supporting big companies that harm the environment.
I did a lot of research online before I settled on recipes based on products I wanted to use and could find on Taobao. I decided against Borax because of the concerns I found on many blogs about health effects it could have. Since I desperately want this rash to go away for good, I want to play it as safe as possible.
The recipe I used for the laundry detergent came from Natural Living Ideas. It was meant for a gallon-size container, but those are almost impossible to get in China, so I adjusted based on the container size I had available):
0.8 cup of Dr. Bronner's peppermint liquid Castile soap
0.8 cup of baking soda
1.6 cups of water (to start; more added later)
0.27 cup of salt
Obviously, I don't have measuring cups that size, but I basically did 80% of the original recipe just eyeballing filling up my cups to 80% capacity because I had a 3L-size container which is about 80% of a gallon.
The procedure is to boil the starting water and add the baking soda and salt to dissolve (although you will still see a lot of cloudiness and "sediment" that settles at the bottom, so when you actually use the soap, you need to shake it up each time to even everything out).
Then, you let it cool and put it in your container. Add the Castile soap, and then fill the rest of the container with water until it's full. Super simple.
For fabric softener, I used a recipe found at Overthrow Martha. Even simpler, no cooking required. Just mix and you're done.
3 cups of white vinegar
1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol
20 drops of essential oil (I used peppermint)
I put the fabric softener in my Downy ball as usual so that it disseminates in the rinse cycle.
The total cost of the items on Taobao is more pricey than a single purchase of detergent/softener, but not by much, and the great news is that you will have plenty of leftovers to make up more batches in the future. So in the end, definitely a money saver.
Since I last posted, some of our plants have been doing well. Others are worrying me.
First, the amazing green bean plants. They have actually been upgraded to the living room because they are getting ready to flower! (Matt's allergic to pollen, so no flowering plants are allowed in our laundry drying room.)
Next, the strawberry seedlings have been transplanted and seem to be doing okay so far.
The Malabar spinach finally sprouted and is looking pretty good. I need to order some more potting soil before I can transplant it, but so far it seems okay.
Now, the plants I'm a bit worried about.
First up, our kale and broccoli. They are still so stinking small! I thought transplanting them to a bigger container would help, but they still haven't grown much.
Also, when I water the kale, it almost drowns a bit because the leaves are so small and flimsy. Maybe that's contributing to its lack of growth. I'm thinking I should try just using a spray bottle rather than pouring water.
I also tried adding vermicompost to the top layer of the soil to see if they just needed more nutrients. It's been a few days since I added the vermicompost, and there still hasn't been much progress.
Maybe the green beans spoiled me. They grew so quickly that I might just be too impatient, expecting the other plants to grow just as fast. If any of you have experience growing kale and/or broccoli, do you think they're growing at a normal rate for me?
Last, our poor soybeans. They're still alive & growing new leaves, but they're getting weird spots on them. Could this be a disease?
Matt and Angel
This blog includes posts on our life in China. Want to know what the food is like or how we deal with pollution? Find the answers here. We also include periodic updates on what we're up to for those of you back home who want to stay in touch.