A China Christmas, Part 2: Kunming

Meredith lives in Kunming, the capital and largest city of the Yunnan province in Southwestern China. Kunming is known as the city of eternal spring, and we were definitely blessed with that weather while we were there. It was sunny, the bougainvilleas were blooming, and it all seemed so green after dreary North Carolina and Texas.

As we arrived at Mere’s apartment, we were all huffing and puffing while climbing up to the fourth floor. We thought we were all just really out of shape, but then Mere informed us that Kunming has an elevation over 6000 feet above sea level. We felt much better after that, considering we are all used to living at around 600-800 feet. Meredith has a 2 bedroom apartment. Mom and dad were in her room, Stephen and I were in the extra bedroom, and Kelsey was on the couch. Meredith slept on the floor in the living room, but after experiencing a Chinese mattress, I can tell you there is not much difference between that and the floor. Oh, and because I know you were wondering, Meredith has a western toilet. There are virtually no single-family homes in the cities, due to the density of the population. Buildings go up, rather than out. Also the government owns everything. You can buy the lease for as long as 70 or 99 years, but after that, it reverts back to the government. Pretty crazy.

Walking to Meredith's apt.

Walking to Meredith’s apt.

The courtyard of M's apt complex, her building is on the left.

The courtyard of M’s apt complex, her building is on the left.

After our late night/early morning just finding our way to Mere’s place, we were happy to sleep in on Saturday morning. When we did arise, we raided her kitchen for instant coffee and toast with peanut butter. Because we came “a day early” she had not yet had a chance to stock up on groceries. Sorry Mere! We spent the day exploring the minority park, also known as the Yunnan Nationalities Village. It is a beautiful park complex on the edge of a lake showcasing the architecture, food, clothing, and cultural traditions of each of the ethnic groups found in Yunnan.

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Sunday, the 23rd we went to church at the apartment of one of the church members. They rotate whose place they meet at each week. It was great to meet and fellowship with some of the people we have heard Meredith talk about! Lunch with some of those same people (it is cheaper to eat out than cook at home, Mere has found), and we all worked on improving our chopstick skills. Kelsey’s technique and grip was terrible, but she was doing the best out of all of us. So maybe her technique was actually perfect? For dinner we had hot-pot with Mere’s co-workers, which is similar to the main course at a fondue restaurant. There was a large pot divided into three sections, each with different broth. Then all the food was dumped into the broth to cook! Pretty neat, but not my favorite meal of the trip. I burned my hand on the steam and I had trouble breathing there. Maybe it was all the steam and fumes from the pots, (maybe it was all the men smoking at the table next to us) but it kinda turned me off hot-pot.

Monday (Christmas Eve) was spent exploring the Bird and Flower Market, which used to be mainly for animals and plants, but has expanded to include all sorts of items. After some bargaining tips from Mere, Kelsey went off on her own (gasp!) to do some Christmas shopping. For a blonde foreigner with zero Chinese language skills, she did quite well. Side note, because we were foreigners, we were stared at wherever we went. Kelsey was even more of a stand-out because of her blonde hair, and because she would stare back, smile, and wave… And then wonder why people were staring at her. We had an early dinner at a house-turned restaurant that was over 400 years old. The buildings that make up the Bird and Flower Market are some of the oldest in Kunming, at over 500 years, which is pretty amazing, considering they are mostly wood.

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Our Christmas celebrations consisted of an informal service followed by Christmas goodies at the apartment of one of the leaders of Meredith’s home church. A count was taken (much like the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem) and there were 28 adults and 19 kids! Christmas Day involved sleeping in, watching The Sound of Music while opening the presents we had brought from the States, and eating bacon that smelled suspicious while cooking but turned to be really good. We had dinner at the same family’s apartment the service was at the day before.

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On the way home we stopped to explore Walmart. It was very similar to a U.S. Walmart, but there were multiple floors (up not out) and their seafood selection was way more extensive than any Wally World I have seen here. Dad was particularly taken by the fish heads on ice. We passed on the fish heads but did pick up some baijiu. Baijiu, which translates to “white liquor” is used often for toasting, and is the worst thing you will ever taste. You might as well drink rubbing alcohol. We all tried it though. Stephen said it wasn’t that bad, but he is better at taking shots than I am and probably didn’t even get any on his tongue.

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The 26th was our last day in Kunming. We went to the Yunnan Safari Park with Meredith’s friend Denise. Denise if pretty much exactly like Meredith, just a few years older. They sound the same, act the same, and even kinda look alike. Who would have thought Mere would find her doppelganger in China? The safari park was pretty neat; we were able to get really close to the animals. So close, in fact, that we were able to let a tiger sniff our hands, and when he was done, he turned around, lifted his tail, and sprayed us! Yes, we were marked by a tiger. We took advantage of the opportunity to go fishing for tigers as well.  Visitors could purchase a hunk of meat on a string, dangle it into the enclosure, and feed the tigers and lions. Live chickens were also for sale with the intention that you would then chuck it into the lion’s den, but we didn’t do that.

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Introducing Purslane

Remember this plant from my post about our garden?

Well today, after Google-ing various versions of “carolina groundcover” “spreading weeds” and “southeastern plants” I finally found a picture that resembled what we had. After more research, I concluded that picture was indeed what we had growing in the front flower bed, and that it is called “Common Purslane.”

Often considered a weed, it is also entirely edible! It can be used in salads, on sandwiches, in soups, stews, and steamed like spinach. Apparently it is part of a traditional Mexican dish called huevos con verdolagas in which the purslane (verdolagas) is chopped up with some onion and then scrambled with eggs (huevos.) Pretty sure I have some eggs and onions in the fridge… Purslane is also used in Greek salads a lot. It is really good for you, high in omega-3’s and various other vitamins and minerals. (Can you tell I’m kind of excited about it?)

So rather than ripping it out as a weed, I have decided to keep it as an edible plant! I have already warned Stephen that some purslane might make it’s way into our salad tonight. I’ll have to wash it thoroughly though, as there were a good number of little bugs crawling around when I was checking it out earlier. Until then, JD has graciously agreed to guard our purslane patch for me:

Has anybody else cooked with/eaten purslane? Have any good recipes to share? Anybody even heard of purslane before now?

How does your garden grow?

Ours grows very well, apparently. We were in Flagstaff, AZ this past weekend for my cousin Nathan’s wedding, which was gorgeous and super fun. Welcome to the family Ashley! And to the exclusive Cousins Club. (I just made that up, there is no club. But there is a table you can sit at now!)

Anyway, S and I arrived home to find all sorts of exciting things happening in our yard. This is a nice surprise, as anything we planted in Orlando never did very well. Probably something to do with the sandy soil and forgetting to water the plants… The soil in our yard now has a fair amount of clay in it, which helps retain water, and we have been getting a good amount of rain on top of that. How ’bout some pretty pictures now?!

We have this bush on one side of our patio that we thought was just a bush. It is a nice green color, needs a little shaping, but nothing too exciting. Just a green bush. WELL, now it looks like this:

Turns out it is an azalea bush! Not just green, but covered in pretty pink flowers! According this site, I believe it is an Autumn Twist Encore Azalea, which blooms in midsummer, long after most azaleas have finished blooming.

Also by our patio are two large pots, one of which has nothing in it but dirt, while the other has this petunia that was there when we moved in and I haven’t touched. Except maybe once. And I might have watered it once too. But other than that, I have done nothing to it. And it seems to like it that way.

Out front we have a few Variegated Lilyturf plants (according to our handy-dandy Southeast Home Landscaping book) that have finally started blooming their pretty purple blooms. They were also there when we moved in.

In the picture above you see the lilyturf, a gap in the flower bed, and then a few flowers farther down, toward the driveway. Down there is another pre-existing lilyturf, and we planted a couple of red coneflowers and sage plants, neither of which has died yet.

Ignore the weed in the corner.

Now it’s time to play “Name that Plant!” But really, I don’t what these are.

I’m pretty sure this is some kind of fountain grass, but it is so much larger than most kinds of fountain grass (taller than me)! JD  likes to hide under it and pretend he is a jungle cat.

No idea what this is. It is currently about 3 feet tall. We plan on leaving it and seeing what it turns into.

Ground-cover? Weed? We pulled it out when S’s family was here, but obviously didn’t get all of it. Anybody recognize it?

Oh, in case you were wondering, we are about 300 miles from the coast and not even supposed to get any rain from Hurricane Irene. I was hoping we would at least get some rain.