Lisa McClure's China Diary

Lee and Lily
Here are two of my Oral English students, Lee and Lily, holding my new red kite.

Lucy and Lara at guesthouse gate
One of my students, Lucy, and Lara at the guesthouse gate.

Leanne with her son, Michael, and Lara
Leanne, a foreign affairs staffmember, with her six month son, Michael, and Lara.

Darren and Lara at guesthouse gate
Darren, a foreign affairs staffmember, with Lara at the gate to the guesthouse.

Li da ye (big Grandpa Li)
Li da ye (big Grandpa Li), our night caretaker, leaving for home on his bicycle.

Lucy and Lara at our favorite restaurant
Lucy and Lara at my favorite restaurant. I only this place as "the Moslem restaurant". The food is great, and they have the best jiaozi (potstickers) in town.

Lisa at her desk
Lisa working at home on her notebook computer. This apartment may be small, but it is very convenient and comfortable.
March 20, 1999

Life is beginning to flow in a sort of normal way, and Jinzhou is almost beginning to seem very normal and ordinary.

On Wednesday evenings, I attend the school's English corner from 6pm to 8:00pm. Lara has come with me the two times that I attended. She is somewhat disruptive, but the students seem to like her very well, and besides, I haven't found a babysitter yet. There are several students I am cultivating for the job, and I'll let you know if that works out. This week at English corner, I was asked a lot of questions about how graduating students get jobs in America, and how students from less prestigious colleges can compete in the job market with students from more well known schools. I had a lot of fun giving advice about how to empress potential employers about jobs, but I have little way of knowing whether any of my advice is useful in the Chinese job market.

After English corner this week, Lara and I returned to the guesthouse to pick up some freshly baked bread from the bread machine, then we headed out with Denis and his friend for a St. Patrick's Day party at Gary's apartment a few blocks away.

Along the way, Denis' friend bought Lara half a dozen sticks of tiny candied apples. These are beautiful, bright red and very festive, but since I had had no idea what they were, I hadn't tried them. Lara really enjoyed these treats. The apples are very tart, but are coated with a sugar candy coating which is very sticky and sweet. It's a mess, but very tasty!

Gary and Angus (the other two teachers at LIT) had been cooking up a storm for the party. We had a beautiful Irish stew, some mashed potato pancakes, and several other Chinese entrees. And Lara and I got a chance to meet some of Gary's friends and visit for a little while. But we were the first to leave, around 9:20. It's clear that Lara and I will always be the party poopers of this group!

On Thursday mornings, I am always completely frantic, trying to get Lara into her layers and layers of clothes and off to school before I run to my 8 am class. It is Oral English and a great class, because the students are very enthusiastic. I think that I may actually be able to convince some of them to volunteer answers pretty soon.

So far, I am working out of a booklet that another teacher has lent me. It has eight lesson plans. After that, I'm on my own. This week, our subject was telling time, timetables, and asking and answering questions about details regarding a forthcoming conference. (when is it, where is it, registration fees, deadlines, etc.) I have found that the students are most interested when I can make the topic somehow relate to getting a job, or working in the business world. Still, I try to encourage the students to have fun with the topics, because I want them to be interested and want to talk. I know I have a lot to learn, but things do seem to be going pretty well.

Lara and I do like the food here in Jinzhou, very much. But even so, I have begun to miss my cheese. And I have been wanting to improve the quality of Lara's milk as well, so this week I began experimenting with my dairy skills.

Here in Jinzhou, fresh milk is available everyday. It is sold by small vendors on the street, and comes by the jin (approximately 1 pound) in small plastic baggies. Remember the old saying, "A pint's a pound the world around."? We can buy a jin of milk (approximately 1 pint) for 1 yuan, and it's fresh off the cow. That's right. It's not pasteurized, nor is it homogenized. However, some of the fat has already been skimmed from it. I've been told that the first skimming goes to the local ice cream factory.

The local people boil milk for 5 - 10 minutes before they drink it. It's tasty but dreadfully curdled. Luckily, I brought a dairy thermometer with me to China, and instructions for pasteurizing. The process is quite simple. Heat milk to 145 degrees Farenheit and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes, then cool the milk down quickly. I tried pasteurization out for the first time earlier this week, and amazingly enough it worked beautifully. And the resulting milk (which I poured through cheesecloth into a sealed bottle I had earlier bought at the department store downtown) is absolutely beautiful.

Lara has been enjoying fresh milk ever since, and we've even concocted some breakfast cereal for her, made with some sweetened, puffed corn that is also made and sold on the streets. (1 large bag for 1 yuan) which she eats in a bowl with milk, just like at home.

I was so pleased with my success in pasteurization that I decided to try making some yogurt cheese. I found yogurt in a department store downtown and brought it home on Monday afternoon. Frank, a former teacher who was visiting us, went out and brought home 10 jin of fresh milk. On Tuesday, I pasteurized it at a little higher temperature (180 degrees) and then let it cool down until it was at a bearable temperature (hot, but not scalding). Then I stirred in the yogurt, put the lid on, and wrapped it up in blankets and put it into my clothes wardrobe to rest and grow overnight.

The other teachers have made this cheese here in the past, with moderate success. I am sure that their failures were probably mostly due to dirty equipment, and so I did make a point of sterilizing (to the best of my ability) everything that was going to contact the cheese.

On Wednesday, I had a beautiful pot of yogurt. We saved out some of it to make a middle eastern dish with fresh herbs (dill, garlic, green onions, mashed cucumber) and crackers, and I poured the rest of the yogurt into a big piece of cheesecloth that was resting in a colander over a large bowl. Much of the whey dripped through immediately. Then, after a short while, I tied up the ends of the bag and carried everything back to my rooms and hung the bag back in my clothes wardrobe, where it could drip over the bowl for the next few hours. By that night, the cheese was firm enough to put it into the refrigerator. By Thursday morning, our soft, creamy cheese was ready and we tried it out spread on freshly baked bread. Yummy!

However, the yogurt gives the cheese a very sour flavor, and I am looking forward to making some other cheeses that will be milder. I brought rennet, cheesecloth, citric acid and a few other cheesemaking supplies with me to China. And I have included a cheesemaking book in a bundle of books that I hope will arrive in the next month or so. But I was so encouraged with the beautiful result I got from the yogurt cheese that I ordered some additional cheese cultures and rennet from the New England Cheesemaking Supply House on the Internet.

Now, that I have experienced my first cheesemaking success, I am looking forward to being able to make some other soft and fresh cheeses like Mozzarella and ricotta. Beautiful, fresh tomatoes are easily available in the market. So, as much as I enjoy the local cuisine, I will certainly look forward to an occasional taste from home as well.

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