Thursday, May 26, 2011

Try this at Home: Ms. Li's Jiaozi (Dumplings)

Jiaozi, or dumplings, are little moon-shaped dough balls with a veggie or meat filling. You can put anything inside, but here's a recipe for dumplings with green beans and beef. Our ayi, Ms. Li, makes these, so it is a true Beijing recipe for about 60 or so dumplings. For a vegetarian recipe, you could easily replace the meat with more vegetables or tofu.

rice flour, about 500 gram
water, luke warm (about 30 degrees)
green beans (about 2-3 big handfulls)
minced beef (In het Nederlands: gehakt)
1 egg
soy sauce (if you have it, use both dark and a light soy sauce)
sesame oil
For the sauce:
rice vinegar

Making the dough

Kneeding the dough.

1. Put the flour in a bowl and add 1 cup of water. Just keep kneeding and adding water till you have a good dough that is a bit elastic, but not too dry or too wet. (I know, not very precise, but that's all I got).

2. Put some plastic over the dough, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.

Dough ball in plastic.

Making the filling

Finely chopped green beans.

1. Bring water to a boil. (This is for the green beans)
2. Chop up the green beans in tinier than tiny pieces.
3. Put the green beans in the boiling water for about 5 minutes. Take out and drain.

Addding egg to meat.

4. Put the minced beef in a bowl, and add the egg and 1-2 tablesppons of light soysauce, 1-2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce, 1-2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and about 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil (I know, your cardiologist may not approve), and a little bit of salt. Mix it all together. If you want to feel Chinese, try mixing it with chopsticks.

The sauces for the meat.

Mixing meat with egg.

Secret ingredient.

5. Add the secret ingredient: Maggi seasoning. I am sure in ancient China they did not do this, but Nestle brings it on the market here and must be doing great business as my ayi recommends it as additional flavoring for about every dish she makes.

Green beans mixed with meat.

6. Add the green beans (nicely drained and the water squeezed out) to the meat and mix it up. The filling is done!

Preparing the dumplings

1. Make tiny littles balls from the dough.

Making little pads of dough.

Simon is folding the dumplings.

2. Roll the little balls one by one out into a little circle. It's important these circles are indeed circles, and that the dough is not too thick. Try to make it nice and smooth and thin.

An ocean of dumplings.

3. On one little circle, put a little bit of the filling - something like a table spoon.

4. Fold the circle in half (with the dough in the middle), and now gently with your fingers press the sides together. You are trying to make a half-moon shaped dough ball, with the filling inside. Make sure you've got all the sides closed tight.

Here's a good video that shows you what to do. My ayi makes the "peapod" shaped ones. (Mine usually come out as lumpy potatoes.)

5. Repeat step 2, 3 and 4 till your fingers are blue and you have a nice pile of dumplings. Meanwhile, boil some water (with a tad of salt) for step 6.

Boiling the dumplings:

1. Bring a big pan of water to a boil (this is for the dumplings). Add some salt.
2. When the water boils, add about 20 dumplings to your pan. The water will likely stop boiling (that's OK).
3. When the water comes back to boil, add 1 cup of cold water. The water will again stop boiling.

Boiling the dumplings.

4. When it comes back to boil again, add a 2nd cup of water.
5. When the water comes back to boil for the 3rd time, take the dumplings out and drain them.

Making the sause

Rice vinegar for the sauce.

Chop up some garlic and mix it in with the rice vinegar.

Yum, dumplings!

Enjoying it all
Dip the dumplings into the sauce and enjoy. Use chopsticks if you dare.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


On the night the world was--again--coming to an end, last Saturday May 21, I was dancing the night away on the Great Wall.

Personally, I can't think of a better way to experience the end of times. (The Wall wasn't any good though at keeping the barbarians from the north out of China, so it probably would not have been much help if the world had indeed come to an end.)

In any case, the point (if there is any) of today's post is that it is so funny how really special things, like the Great Wall, can become so normal after a while. Going to the Wall has become as normal as biking by the White House is in Washington, or as common as seeing tulips in Holland. I hope this doesn't sound like bragging; it's just that each place has its own interesting things and people will travel from all over the world to see them. But once you live there, you can experience them so differently.

We've been to the Great Wall a couple times now over the last few weeks. It's simply a great place for a hike, and only an hour away from our home.

The two boys running on the Great Wall.

It was hot a couple weeks ago, so the kids played for a while inside one of the watch towers.

A nice hiking trail up to the wall. We "discovered" this path a few weeks ago, and it is fantastic. It turns out you don't need to go past all the tourist buses; you can just walk up this trail and you are there.

Guess who...

I am trying the under-20-years-old style of posing for pictures. Since I am only 24, I think that is still allowed.

The black-tie dinner and dancing last Saturday. Can you see the end of the world is nigh?

Another picture of the end of the world.

I honestly do not remember who these guys on the left and right are. They must have been standing there for quite a while.

In het Nederlands: Het is zo grappig dat als je ergens langer woont, heel bijzondere dingen toch vrij normaal worden. Wie kijkt er in Nederland nog op van een bos tulpen? Hier gaan we nu vaker bij de Chinese muur wandelen, dat is gewoon het gebied waar je vanuit de stad makkelijk komt. Afgelopen zaterdag hadden we zelfs een etentje bovenop de muur. Ik kan niet klagen over mijn nieuwe woonomgeving.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Three Years after the Wenchuan Earthquake

Today is exactly three years after the massive "Wenchuan" earthquake in Sichuan Province. An earthquake that destroyed homes and wrecked lives, but ironically also is part of the reason I now live in China. My blog post yesterday about Paul's work couldn't have been more timely.

Here is an article Paul and a colleague wrote for the China Daily, the national news paper here. It was published online today. (See below for an exclusive photo!)

The school of quake reconstruction
By Paul Procee and John Scales (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-12 07:59

A team from the World Bank's Wenchuan Earthquake Reconstruction Project, together with teachers, county officials and a sea of excited schoolchildren, had the honor of attending yet another opening of a school recently. The new school, financed by the World Bank, is in Hui county, Gansu province, and replaced an earthquake-damaged building.

Nothing about the day the earth shook, shattering lives and buildings three years ago, could be more different from today for the children. Today is a day of remembrance, the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake that destroyed large areas of Sichuan province and parts of Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. This is a moment to pause and reflect. But this is also a moment to remember the remarkable resilience of the people in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi and the achievements of earthquake reconstruction efforts.

The achievements in terms of recovery and reconstruction have been remarkable. About 90 percent of the planned reconstruction is complete, and the rest will be completed by September this year. About 1.8 million rural and urban homes have been built. In many towns, basic services such as water and sanitation have not only been restored, but also upgraded, improving the environment and quality of life.

Schools, such as the one in Hui county, and hospitals, built in compliance with the latest earthquake standards, have reopened and damaged enterprises resumed production. Most importantly, economic growth has resumed and life for many has returned to normal.

The Chinese government has made concerted efforts, guided by a comprehensive reconstruction master plan, to reconstruct damaged infrastructure and help rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the quake survivors. As part of the reconstruction efforts, the government launched an innovative and successful program of twinning economically developed provinces and municipalities with severely damaged counties.

This program required provinces not only to allocate 1 percent of their annual budget for three years for reconstruction activities, but also to undertake rebuilding responsibilities themselves. This process bypassed the intermediary bureaucracy and created a healthy competition which rewarded the donor provinces and municipalities that could rebuild fast and adeptly with official recognition.

But challenges remain. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the newly built and better-quality infrastructure will be maintained and operated properly so that they serve the people for years to come.

Bricks and mortar are not the end but part of the means to achieving the ultimate goals of public health, education, transport accessibility and safe drinking water. Additional financial resources and trained personnel will be needed to operate and maintain these facilities. And continued support from provincial and national governments will be needed to ensure the reconstruction efforts endure. Moreover, building partnerships with the private sector could help introduce better know-how, reduce costs and optimize operations.

People's livelihoods have been rebuilt along with the infrastructure. But dealing with the human, economic and physical losses that the disaster caused will take time. Many people and small businesses, especially farmers, had to borrow money to help rebuild what was lost in the quake.

As if a major earthquake was not enough, the disaster-hit areas have since been battered by storms and floods. As such, some people and businesses struggling with debt find themselves slipping even further down the economic ladder. There is room for developing innovative risk transfer mechanisms and insurance schemes to help individuals, private enterprises and the public sector to better cope with the consequences of natural disasters.

These market-based mechanisms can help share the burden, expedite transfer of funds, especially to individuals, and adequately allocate risks and the cost of rebuilding to individuals, the private sector and the government. They can also help divert investments from high-risk areas by applying higher premiums to floodplains, and quake- and landslide-prone areas.

The World Bank is a proud partner of the Chinese government in the post-disaster reconstruction efforts. We have witnessed great accomplishments in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi. The reconstruction approach taken after the Wenchuan quake has taught us a number of important lessons that we will share with other countries and projects.

First, it is very important to have strong and pro-active leadership at the national level to coordinate national and international support in disaster-hit areas. The government has provided that leadership and, in the process, implemented a wide variety of complementary and reinforcing policies to help direct investments and support recovery efforts.

It is important, too, to work closely with local governments and agencies, which are ultimately responsible for maintaining the investments and operating the facilities.

The memory of that day, as it should, will remain with us for a long time to come. But three years on we have cause to celebrate, to celebrate the rebirth of one school after another.

Paul Procee is the project manager of World Bank's Wenchuan Earthquake Reconstruction Project and a senior infrastructure specialist and disaster risk management coordinator for China. John Scales is China transport coordinator, World Bank Office, Beijing, and was the task team leader of Wenchuan Earthquake Reconstruction Project.

(China Daily 05/12/2011 page 9)

The photo on the right was not in the paper. But here it is, exclusively for the readers of my blog: a picture of Paul at the opening of the new school. The ladies in red, believe it or not, are all teachers at the school!

In het Nederlands: Vandaag staat er een artikeltje van Paul en een collega in de krant. Het gaat over de wederopbouw na de aardbeving in de provincie Sichuan, vandaag precies drie jaar geleden. De Wereldbank is betrokken bij de wederopbouw van scholen en andere infrastructuur in dit gebied. Op de foto zie je Paul bij de opening van een nieuwe school.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And What Do You Do Again?

Many of you ask (or presumably are wondering), what on earth does this guy, Paul, actually do for work.

I mean, you know he travels a lot, he has meetings, and big swats of emails arrive at his desk and blackberry every day. But exactly what does he do?

A short news article from last week or so relates to Paul’s current work, and I’ll share that below. But in reflecting on his (so far) relatively short (but distinguished) career, I realize that Paul in just a few years has really moved along the entire spectrum of ways to deal with climate change.

I’ll explain.

First, he studied (in between an active student life) air quality. Measuring air quality and predicting pollution levels and impacts was his first link to the issue of climate change.

After that, for a couple years, he worked on urban planning and transport—with the idea that if you can improve city planning, get people to walk or bike more or take a bus, and use cleaner and more fuel-efficient trucks, cars and buses, you can avoid a lot of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, the latter of which are a huge factor in climate change.

And now, more recently, Paul has moved on to what seems to be more the final stage (not of his career, but of dealing with climate change), which is to simply deal with the fact that climate change--and other disasters--are simply here. The consequences of our self-induced climate variability are already sweeping across the world in the form of more floods, more hurricanes, and more droughts and other weather related disasters than we have ever seen in history. To now try to limit the impact of these and other disasters, Paul, as they say, is into “disaster management.”

So his work is not all climate-related anymore, but the new common thread is trying to lower the impact of disasters (because come they will) by doing things like not building in flood-prone areas, building schools and hospital strong enough to withstand earthquakes, and helping cities and villages to have plans and systems and skilled people in place to respond quickly to a disaster and minimize the damage.

An area that Paul often travels to is Sichuan province and Gansu province in the heart of China, an area still recovering from a devastating earthquake in May 2008. (The picture above is from a recent visit to this area.) Other projects involve rehabilitating a river doing some other flood and wastewater treatment related projects in other parts of China.

Here is the news paper article:

Rising Sea Levels Trigger Disasters in China
The Xinhua state news agency reported on April 20 that rising sea levels caused by global warming over the past three decades have contributed to a growing number of disasters along China's coast. According to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), sea levels have been rising on average 2.6 millimeters per year for the past 30 years, with coastal air temperatures rising 0.4 degrees Celsius, and sea temperatures rising 0.2 degrees Celsius. The SOA stated that the rising sea levels could lead to aggravated storm tides, coastal erosion, seawater invasion, and other disasters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that China could be one of the biggest casualties of global warming in coming decades, with northern regions facing water shortages, decreased crop yields, and increasing sandstorms, whereas melting glaciers could increase flood risks in the south. The Chinese government plans to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels per unit of gross domestic product 17 percent in the next five years.

It’s not a pretty picture is it? To be in China at this time is both encouraging and depressing. It is clear to see that China is making efforts to lower emissions, but at the same time, the gap between the current situation and a sustainable lifestyle is so large, it is hard to image we can bridge it in a lifetime.

So while everyone (presumably) tries to lower emissions, some--like Paul--now focus on just preventing the worst disasters, trying to be ready with good systems, qualified people, and well-built homes, for the next time climate change induced disasters strike. When they does, you will see it on the news.

In het Nederlands: Paul’s werk heeft tegenwoordig te maken met de wederopbouw van een gebied in de Sichuan en Gansu provincies in het midden van China. Dit gebied is in mei 2008 door een zware aardbeving getroffen. Werkte hij vroeger veel aan klimaatverandering en het proberen te verlagen van de koolstofdioxide uitstoot in steden, tegenwoordig heeft zijn werk meer te maken met de wederopbouw na rampen (maar dan op zo'n manier, dat je toekomstige rampen vermijdt). Paul is niet de man die meteen na een aardbeving de eerste hulp verleendt, maar hij werkt juist met gemeentes en provincies om te zorgen dat ze goed voorbereid zijn op het feit dat er een aardbeving of andere ramp kan komen. Die rampen komen wel, maar je kan de ernst van zo’n gebeurtenis beperken door bijvoorbeeld ziekenhuizen en scholen zo te bouwen dat ze een aardbeving beter kunnen weerstaan, door te zorgen dat mensen niet bouwen in gebieden die snel onder water kunnen komen te staan, of door te zorgen dat je goed getrained personeel hebt dat bij een ramp snel hulp kan verlenen.

Fashionably White - Part II

Just after posting my last blog post--Fashionably White--about a lovely dress on top of the Great Wall, I realized the title could have also referred to another recent experience.

Last week I went to a Watsons pharmacy (my new CVS or Kruitvat) to buy some sunscreen, only to discover that all the products on the shelves included "whitening." It's just funny; I seem to remember that my entire life (though I am only 21) I've only seen products that have prided themselves on the fact that you could get such a nice tan with them. Heck, you could even buy products that give you a tan, even if you don't see the sun. And here--in China--everything seems to want to make me white.

I of course immediately did some extensive research (Google), and learned that some Asians indeed have a preference for fair skin. As soon as the sun comes out, many pop open their little sun umbrellas and put on some protective whitening cream. For historical reasons and over time, lighter skin has become associated with people of a higher class. The thinking is that if you are light and pale, it shows you have enough money to stay inside, letting other people do the hard work outside in the sun.

(You might be interested in this article about China's new faces or this BBC article about skin lightening products.)

It kind of feels to me like that book from Dr. Seuss about the star-belly and plain-belly sneetches, who both definitely want what the other one has (a star or no-star), no matter what that is.

Since I've never had a tan, even when I tried, this is going to be a very easy summer.

In het Nederlands: Een weekje terug was ik in een drogisterij (overigens is deze Watsons in het zelfde concern als Kruidvat--dus het blijft in de familie) en kwam erachter dat alle zonnebrandprodukten erop gericht waren me zo wit mogelijk te houden. "Whitening" zit erin. Die melkflessen van mij hebben geen whitening nodig, dus ik heb het spul maar op de schappen laten liggen, maar het is natuurlijk wel interessant dat we allemaal zo druk bezig zijn om net weer een ander huidskleurtje te krijgen dan wat we hebben.