Boom Town- Jiaozi Love Pt. 3

Use a teaspoon to scoop up a quarter-sized dollop of pork filling. Place the filling in the middle of the dough without letting it touch the edges. Fold the long side over the middle pinching the edges together until they surround the filling. Stop to laugh at the newcomer making Loch Ness monster shapes. Put the dumpling aside and repeat until you have used all of your filling and dough. After boiling serve the steaming dumplings with a vinegar and sesame oil sauce. This is the recipe for a tasty and entertaining meal of North China's specialty dumpling. (For an actual recipe click here.)

On Chinese New Years eve I sat with the Shang clan as they taught me to make Jiaozi. My untrained fingers slowly learned the right amount of pressure to seal the dough. More than a few dumplings became sculptural when I had to stretch the dough to cover the filling popping out the sides. After many laughs I sold them on the curved mountain range look for the extra crust.

Spending a few days with the Shang family further affirmed that cooking and eating together are keys to a happy family. The Shangs were not physically affectionate but they exuded love for each other as they prepared their spring festival reunion meal. I haven't seen my own family in nine months and I miss these family moments. I sure am looking forward to sitting around my grandma Jeanette's kitchen table. I recently bought my ticket for a trip home in late march. If I can convince my grandparents to go for it I might try and cook them Jiaozi. It would be a great way to bring my travel experience home to the people that I care about.

To read more about the Shang family and their life in the Da Shang Cun village please visit the first two posts in this mini travel series.
Boom Town- Life in Da Shang Cun Pt 1
Boom Town- The Shang Cemetary Pt. 2


Boom Town- The Shang Cemetery Pt. 2

Before sun down on New Years day we walked out to the family cemetery to honor the Shang ancestors. The cemetery itself mixes in with the wheat, cotton, and corn fields. There is no separation between the burial plots and the harvest land. They simply plant around the head stones. Eric told me that his relatives are buried in wooden boxes so their bodies can return to the land. The direct connection between death and rebirth (crops) is necessary for a farming community that has no need, or money, for expensive coffins.

We walked up to the field as members of the group held strands of lit M80's in the air. I don't know if this was successful in scaring away the bad spirits but it sure got my attention. The abrupt loudness of the explosions led to an intense silence that matched the stark midwinter landscape. Husks of the crops poked up from dusty soil to make an eerie back drop for the headstones. Everything about this scene said "STOP. Pay attention."

The men of the extended family made burnt offerings of food, fake money, and rice wine. (Women weren't allowed to come except for one teenage girl.) These offerings are a symbolic gesture of respect and sacrifice. When I asked Eric if they were Buddhist in nature he replied "No. This is older than Buddhism. This is the Chinese way." (If this could be verified these ancestor worship traditions would predate the 1st century AD arrival of Buddhism. Click here for a brief history of Buddhism's migration out of India.) I find this to be a common statement. There seems to be a collective knowledge that lives in the minds of modern Chinese. Many of my friends refer to this "Chinese Way" to explain their cultural beliefs. As an outsider, these beliefs look like religious mysticism but there origins seem to have been erased by the Communist suppression of religious practice. After the offerings we walked back to the house to have dinner.

The experience was both casual and intimate. It wasn't sad but it also wasn't a celebration. There was very little verbal interaction among the participants. I was afraid the presence of my camera would alter the sincerity of the moment but they seemed happy to invite me to participate. I got the feeling that they had been doing this on New Years day for so long that even a curious westerner couldn't disturb them.

To read more about the Shang family and their life in the Da Shang Cun village please visit the other two posts in this mini travel series.
Boom Town- Life in Da Shang Cun Pt 1
Boom Town- Jiaozi Love Pt. 3

O.C.M.S. and John Prine February dates

Old Crowe Medicine show will be playing a few southern dates in February. Their double bill with John Prine should be great. I got to see John Prine from the fourth row of the Roanoke Auditorium when I was in my late teens. I didn't fully appreciate at the time how great that night was but I'm glad I got to see him when I did.


Boom Town: Life in Da Shang Cun pt 1

I just returned from a quick trip to Shandong province.(Shandong is the third most populous province in China, the birthplace of Confucius, and a major agricultural center. Click here for a little history.) I was visiting my friend Eric's home village, Da Shang Cun, which rests on the outskirts of the city of Binzhou. Visiting a rural area reminded me yet again of the stark contrasts that exist in Chinese life. Rural China is modernizing at a breakneck pace but its people manage to maintain longstanding traditions.

The village is comprised of farming families that have worked the same land for generations. The village is small in land mass but culturally strong. Everyone shares the same last name, "Shang", and an additional generational name to distinguish between fathers and sons. For instance each person is named Shang "generation name" "given name". The village residents collectively own the surrounding farm land unlike other parts of China where the federal government is the sole landowner. In a brilliant move to modernize, the village decided to sell part of their crop land to two factories that wanted to open in the area. With the money they are building a large complex of town homes. Each family can have one, or two, town homes depending on the amount of land they were willing to give up. To say this is a smart investment is a huge understatement. In reality this is the equivalent of trading in your 1985 Buick for a 2011 Lexus Hybrid.

The house that Eric grew up in was built by his father out of compressed mud. The three room structure is primitive even by Chinese standards. This hand made building still stands more than 30 years later beside their second concrete built home. The second home is a major improvement but still has little heat except for the coal-burning cook stove that is pictured above. Their is minimal electricity, no running water, and an open pit outhouse. They do however have a TV and a laptop that gets used regularly. We visited their new town home that is under construction. (See below. The bottom image is of Eric's mother burning an offering to bless the new house.) The concrete structure has four bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, sun room, courtyard, and most importantly heat/running water. The contrast between the old and new living space is one example of the dramatic increase in rural families' standards of living.

We spent one day driving around the neighboring city of Binzhou. The width of the streets surprised me. For a relatively small city six lane streets where the norm. It dawned on me that China is building its infrastructure for the country it will become in 20 years, not the country it is today. I have great admiration for the long range planning that this takes. In contrast, the United States seems to still be functioning on the infrastructure plan that Eisenhower put into effect with the Federal-Aide Highway Act of 1956.(Click here for a little history on the U.S. interstate system) China's economic power is equally matched by its ability to forecast long term domestic reorganization and growth. Western nations could be looking at China's economic/domestic policy, not as a competitor but as a resource. China is certainly not a utopia, i.e.human rights violations, restrictions on free speech, etcetera, but it also isn't the haphazard third world country of Mao's time.

We spent much of the trip sitting in the living room chewing sunflower seeds and having tea. The whole family congregates in this room, which also doubles as the master bedroom. Eric interpreted for both sides as we discussed life in China and the west. They were very keen to ask why I was not married at 30, what crops are grown in Virginia, and if I liked basketball. It felt good to be included in the intimate moments of the spring festival celebration. We shared home cooked meals, card games, and lots of laughs at the five year old Shang Hao Tong (pictured above). I was honored to share in the New Years day practice of offering food at the family cemetery and I learned how to making Jiaozi (steamed dumplings). I will save those experiences for a post in the near future.
To read more about the Shang family and their life in the Da Shang Cun village please visit the first two posts in this mini travel series.
Boom Town- The Shang Cemetary Pt. 2
Boom Town- Jiaozi Love Pt. 3


PWS Shanghai featured in CNN article

A hearty thanks to CNN for featuring the Pottery Workshop in their Feb 2nd article A new (Chinese) year, a new hobby . I had a nice talk with author Stephanie Thomas about our mission at the workshop. The feature is part of a larger web article on Shanghai hobbies that is posted on CNN.GO, a culture website covering life in major Asian cities. Click here for the full story. 

Shanghai hobbies -- pottery

Play in the mud: The Pottery Workshop

So much more than muddied fingers and Patrick Swayze moves, this more sociable pursuit is the perfect creative outlet for those who don’t mind getting their hands a bit dirty.
Pottery Workshop has recently moved into a larger space and now include a sales shop, gallery and educational studio offering both English and Chinese classes for adults, teens and the little ones including a children’s summer pottery camp.
Educational director and ceramic art specialist Ben Carter and staff teach a variety of styles and techniques from around the world.
“Here we encourage students to share our passion for the ceramic arts," says Carter. "Since 2002, we have held fast to our mission to bring high quality ceramic education to Shanghai."

Boom.Crack.Bang....BOOM. Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Happy New Year 2.0! We like New Years so much that we celebrate it twice a year in China. The western solar New Year is a warm up for the Chinese Lunar New Year. For 2011 the new lunar year officially started as the Sun went down on February 2nd. New Years day is the start of the Spring Festival which is the major holiday in China. Many Chinese take three weeks off to travel home to see their family. Most businesses shut down as the largest population on earth takes a much needed break. For some factory workers this is one of only eleven national holidays that they have throughout their seven-day-a-week  year long work schedule.

I spent the New Year in Binzhou, Shandong province visiting a friend's hometown. (I'll write more about this experience later as it was my first trip to China's "countryside". I'm still digesting this life changing experience.) One brilliant aspect of the celebration is the fireworks. Originally fireworks consisted of gunpowder stuffed into bamboo. Once lit the loud explosion would scare away evil spirits. Now they are used to celebrate the New Year and other major occasions, i.e. weddings, store openings, etc.

According to the Lunar Zodiac this is the Year of the Rabbit. (Click here for the BBC's predictions for the Rabbits in your life.) If you were born during the following times then this is your year.

  • 29 January 1903 – 15 February 1904: Water Rabbit
  • 14 February 1915 – 2 February 1916: Wood Rabbit
  • 2 February 1927 – 22 January 1928: Fire Rabbit
  • 19 February 1939 – 7 February 1940: Earth Rabbit
  • 6 February 1951 – 26 January 1952: Metal Rabbit
  • 25 January 1963 – 12 February 1964: Water Rabbit
  • 11 February 1975 – 30 January 1976: Wood Rabbit
  • 29 January 1987 – 16 February 1988: Fire Rabbit
  • 16 February 1999 – 4 February 2000 Earth Rabbit
  • 3 February 2011 – 22 January 2012: Metal Rabbit

Happy Chinese New Year to the Rabbits and to all the rest of us in the coming year! 


Kiwi Clay: Work shopping in New Zealand

The countdown has begun. In a little less than 16 days Ill make the 5826 mile trip to New Zealand. Living in China has afforded me the ability to travel to places that I never thought possible. I'm super excited to visit a country that is know for its hospitality, beauty, and amazing accent.

I will be teaching in Hamilton at the Waikato Society of Potters and in Wellington at the Wellington Potters Association. I plan to drive all over the North island during the two weeks I will be there. Ill fly into Auckland to visit an old friend and then start hostel hopping on my way down south.

Click here for more info about the Waikato Society of Potters workshop.
Click here for more info about the Wellington Potters Association workshop.

New Zealand's "All Blacks" are the best rugby team in the world. They prepare for every match by doing the Haka, which is a war dance from the indigenous Maori people. Imagine stepping out onto the pitch after seeing that.

The second image above is of Wellington. It appears courtesy of www.marktanner.com.