Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A High School Student's Traveler's Guide to China

More often than not, "What do I need to pack?" is the number one question we hear from high school students going to China with our two-week overseas program. For some, the trip will be the first time that they've ever been one a plane, to a large city, or to an international city. The students want to look cool in front of their friends and for all the pictures they'll be taking, the parents want to make sure they're dressed according to the weather, and we want to make sure they don't create any controversy with their chosen outfits. How can a simple outfit be controversial? Think back to the Katy Perry dress from her tour that stirred controversy because it was thought to be a pro-Taiwanese statement. Even something simple as what you wear can have profound meaning when you visit another country.

When the students come back to Vermont after the program, reminders of their initial concern and conversations over what they needed to pack suddenly seemed trivial and ...less worldly. As one student pointed out at the 2016 Governor's Institute on Asian Cultures (GIAC) in China program reunion, "spending so much time focusing on what you're going to wear or pack just takes time away from experiencing this amazing country (China)." Most of the alumni of the GIAC-China program would agree that the point of traveling is to be a traveler, not a tourist, and then gave the next cohort of GIAC-China participants a list of tips for when traveling to China.  

The basic packing list would include comfortable shoes, duct tape (trust us), and a well stocked Travel Health Kit, but here's the top five traveler's tips presented by the 2015 GIAC-China high school students. 

1. "Try everything." Whether it was a new food or tai chi in the park with local residents, the alumni of the program repeated to the incoming students that the program was the chance to get out of their comfort zone. Sure, eating crickets isn't what we want to do everyday, but you're not in China everyday. 

2. "Write it down." With a program that is jam packed with activities, chances are that students will see at least 100 new things a day. "Even if you're exhausted at the end of the day, write a few lines of what you did so that you don't forget." suggested Gabe, a 2015 GIAC alumni.

3. "Don't live behind your camera." Although it takes some intervention by the staff, student soon realize that taking 1,000 pictures of the Great Wall is not the same as actually seeing it. Put down the camera, or any technology you might be carrying with you, and take in the sights, smells, and sounds of these foreign cities.

4. "Talk to the students." Our program offers Vermont high school students the chance to talk and hang out with students from high schools in China. As one self-proclaimed shy student said, talking to students in Vermont is hard "but you'll never know if you'll have this chance again, so find out what you have in common." 

5. "Drink water. And then drink some more." Since our program visits China in summer, staying hydrated is key. "But only drink the bottled water," a student was quick to explain. "One bottle in each hand, always."

And finally, while it wasn't it in the top five tips, another favorite tip was "Shower often". Although this comment got everyone in the room laughing, the alumni were quick to nod along seriously to the suggestion. Not only will you feel better after a hot day of walking and sightseeing, "buy your roommate will appreciate it, too, if you don't stink."

Three Jiaozi Recipes to you Need for Lunar New Year

For the past month, my kitchen turned into a jiaozi testing kitchen as I tried, tested and tweaked jiaozi recipes in search for the PERFECT recipe to celebrate with on the Lunar New Years. Jiaozi, or classic Chinese dumplings, is one of the major foods eaten during the Chinese New Year and serving them is believed to bring prosperity. From his memorie, Mao's Last Dancer, I like to recall the image of the ballet dancer Li Cunxin eating plates of jiaozi with his family on midnight of the Lunar New Year in their small house with dirt floors. An entire meal of dumplings surrounded by loving family sounds like the perfect way to start the new year.

As each family has its own recipe for making jiaozi, there are potentially millions of recipes out there, with the cooking technique varying from boiled to steamed to fried, and the fillings ranging from pork (traditional) to seitan (modern) and even a desert jiaozi filled with ganache chocolate. Mmm. The better news is that the ingredients are not complicated and are easy to find, especially if you decide to tackle making the wrappers yourself instead of buying store bought wrappers (and I encourage this, since store bought wrappers are about 50% less delicious than homemade wrappers).

And so, in no particular order, the best porc, vegetarian, and dessert jiaozi recipes!

Pork Dumplings from Epicurious. This may have been one of the first recipes I tried, and I recommend tweaking the sauce by adding a bit of chili paste for those who prefer a bit of spice!

Sweet Potato Recipe from Food. I probably couldn't eat more then six or seven of these, but the novelty of sweet potatoes compared to traditional vegetarian jiaozi will impress your guests. The fresh cilantro is also delicious so even if it is a bit pricey buying fresh cilantro in February do not omit the cilantro!

Fresh Mango Dumplings by Wholesome Cook. Drool, drool, drool. I am drooling just thinking about these delicious dumplings, and both the steamed and baked ones equally worthy of being on your Lunar New Year's table. Although I was tempted to post the chocolate jiaozi recipe, the mango recipe is fresh and light.

Happy cooking!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ten Celebrities born in the Year of the Monkey

February 8th marks the start of the Year of the Monkey. People born in the year of the monkey are intelligent, witty, clever, creative and have a magnetic personality (can you tell that the author is a Monkey, yet?). So which famous celebrities are Monkeys?

  1. Jake Gyllenhall: Famous actor who was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting role, but we will forever remember him in his role in Donnie Darko
  2. Channing Tatum: Famous for so many reasons, but we like him best for being the voice of Superman in The Lego Movie.
  3. Ronaldinho de Assis Moreira: One of the great soccer players of our times, winning the FIFA World Player of the Year Award in 2004 and 2005. 
  4. Miley Cyrus: Well, this is one monkey famous for singing who demonstrates the Monkey's eccentric trait very well.
  5. Celine Dion: Our hearts will go on and on forever with our love for the Canadian Celine Dion and her voice! 
  6. Guy Fieri: A foodie who showed us where to find the best diners, drive-ins and dives across the US, this restaurateur has the makings of a true Monkey with his love of practical jokes. 
  7. Rachael Ray: She made EVOO a household word, this celebrity cook and businesswoman started by showing us how to make a meal in 15 minutes and with her sharp Monkey wit is now a lifestyle goddess. 
  8. Tom Hanks: He makes us laugh, he makes us cry, he is an amazing actor that has us forever quoting "Life is like a box of chocolates..."
  9. Elizabeth Taylor: Actress, businesswoman and humanitarian, she was known for her love of diamonds and being one of the first celebrities to take part in HIV/AIDS activism.
  10. Johnny Cash: One of the most influential singers of the 20th century who may have also had a strong pull towards the Monkey's inquisitive nature (think, "Ring of Fire").