10 September 2016

Teaching the Holocaust in China

“Who has heard of the Third Reich?” I ask. It’s the second meeting of my senior German class; I have  colours and numbers planned for today’s lesson. 

Some wary glances flick through the group. Two students raise their hands. I’m surprised. These students come from affluent families, are well-connected to local if not national politics. They’ve been attending a British school for years. In the next few years, they’ll be applying to Oxford, Cambridge, Yale. 

I consult my phone and break the taboo against speaking Chinese in class. “Dìsān Dìguó?” This time they aren’t furtive. Their heads snap to look at their friends. Every hand rises, slowly. 

Last year, a group of Year Eight boys took to drawing swastikas on their class books. At that age, the world is a joke. They’re starting to laugh about sex, but still ignorant of many social limits. It’s with some discomfort that I realised I was the first one to teach them that lesson; their eyes were wide and innocent as I cut a hard line in the sand. 

I remembered my sixty-year-old German professor lecturing on the Nazi party, drawing a hasty swastika on the white board, then wiping it away with a shiver. “I can’t stand to look at it,” she said. 

My powerpoint presentation to the seniors didn’t include a swastika. I chose one photo of Hitler in military dress, no raised fist, but posed like a statesman; and a black-and-white, grainy shot of a pile of shoes. 

“This is important,” I told the Year Eights. Like the undefinable gland in my gut that spasms when I hear of another American mass shooting, I feel I achieve a different sort of voice when lecturing on murder. Ignore the grammar, the drawing penises on desks, the talking in your room after dark, my new voice says, this is important.

After discussing the Holocaust, I let my class go twenty minutes early. We were all drained, I don’t think anyone noticed the time. A minute passed. I stared at the clock and my empty classroom and realised my mistake.

Then two-thirds of them walked back in. And we talked about our favourite colours in German. 

15 July 2016

LA: The Pie Hole

Obviously these reviews are not in any particular chronological order; I've got about a half-dozen in the works, but whinging about the standards gets old quick. So now for something completely different.

I started with a whole Chicken Cornbread Pot Pie and a slice of Bluebarb Pie- this is what I've got left. And, yes, I'm going to put that in my belly, just as soon as I can make some space. I've found since landing that I have "a small stomach", which mostly means that I recognise that I feel full and stop eating. I have not regretted this until now.

Actually, I've been walking around with an obnoxious "holier-than-thou" attitude for the past few weeks. I definitely see eating as an enjoyable pasttime, but hadn't felt like American food was really good enough to warrant sheer *amount* of eating that most Americans seem to do. And mostly, I still agree with this-- but wow, Los Angeles knows how to make good food. And if I were going to die on a mountain, that mountain would be made of chicken cornbread pot pie.

Texture: like a cloud of nostalgia. A soft, fluffy, flavorful cornbread that you've always thought it was in your childhood, ignoring that cornbread actually tends to be dry and tasteless.

The blueberry and rhubarb filling has soaked into the crust, so you don't get the separation issue of most commercial pies. The filling is chunky, not blended, but the fruits are soft enough to melt on your tongue.

Taste: Red pepper brightens the pot pie and elevates the flavour from the bland "Classic Americana" recipe that bloggers so like to recreate from 1950s housekeeping magazines. I've also seen this done to mac and cheese, adding spice without advertising a "spicy" dish and I think it's a really positive evolution in American cuisine.

On the Blubarb Pie: if you've ever hated the sickly sweet grocery store pies, if you've ever thought that rhubarb *could* be great, even if you'd never seen it in action, this is the pie for you. If that sounds absurd and weird, this is also the pie for you. This is a pie to unite humanity. Let's give the world a pie.

Conclusion: Five of Five Americas. Go get yourself some Pie Hole.

08 July 2016

American Diner, Take 1

Tired and sunburnt after the 4th of July parade, I wanted to grab a light lunch, so we went to a diner across the street. You know what I've been excited about for weeks? American diners. I was practically quivering with excitement (and probably dehydration) as we entered. Booths, weird industrial chairs, formica tables, it even says DINER on the sign; this is what I've been looking for. 

I perused the menu, but nervous about ordering something the size of my head and not having my happy milk pills with me, I opted for a safe American staple: chicken noodle soup.

Firstly, I don't think chicken broth is usually so yellow. You know what is that shade of yellow? Nothing. Seriously, nothing in nature is that weird yellow/brown/green. Only canned or powdered chicken soups look like that, and I think it's mostly so illiterate children can spot the flavour from five meters away.

And given that I'd been served CANNED SOUP in a restaurant, how do you think the noodles were? Astonishingly bland, like the leftover ends of a really unfortunate home ec pie crust class? Yes, exactly like that. But also sticking together in their sad yellow broth, clinging desperately to the only other beings that will ever like them.

Conclusion: I understand how IHOP feels it can emulate the American diner experience. This was exactly on par with their rubber omelettes. One of five Americas.

Oh, but it's not over. Because the next day, I got talked into going back.

So I spent the morning co-hosting a small town radio show. Turns out I'm pretty good at hosting radio shows, if perhaps should get someone other than my teenage students to select the music. As we wrapped up, I said, "Let's grab some lunch. Y'know, something typically American."

And so as we head off driving, I get excited. Ooh, delicious American food. I imagine the spices, the butter, the good, home-cooked taste. But then what comes into view? Yeah, a towering red sign with white letters: DINER.

This time I was pretty hungry, so I went for the breakfast burrito, a "large flour tortilla with eggs, bacon, hash browns, onion, tomato and Cheddar cheese."

Here are the problems with what I received,  in no particular order:
*blandest flour tortilla that has ever been conceived of
*completely COLD, raw, possibly microwaved for thirty seconds to give it some flexibility, tortilla
*inside: potato. Sorry, but potato on flatbread is a delightful Indian dish. A breakfast burrito should feature primarily EGG.
*That potato? Not seasoned at all. I don't think they've even heard of salt or pepper at this place.
*they managed to find the blandest, saddest yellow onion in existence and sprinkle it raw atop the dish. Ditto on the tomato. Clearly they have the ingredients for a simple salsa, but instead they opted for something completely tasteless.
*Served with bottled Pace Picante Sauce. And you know how 'Picante' means 'spicy'? No, absolutely nothing about this had ever even lived on the same continent as a chili pepper.

Conclusion: BLAAAAAAAAAAAAND. One of five Americas. Please God I hope I don't have to go back.

06 July 2016

Hippy Organic Breakfast Sandwich

Veggie sausage: win! 
Fresh spinach: win!
Cheddar cheese: win!
Roasted red potatoes with organic sriracha: double win!

BREAD. THAT. IS. SWEET?!?! What the fuck, America. If I wanted a fucking breakfast sandwich on sweet bread, I would definitely have ordered it with ICING. Because that's what you put on CAKE. Organic, whole-wheat, made-from-rare-Amazonian-yeast-harvested-under-the-dying-light-of-the-summer-equinox CAKE.

Conclusion: Three of five Americas and my undying loathing.

04 July 2016

Schlotzky's Original Sandwich and Salt and Vinegar Chips

Schlotzky's Original Sandwich and Salt & Vinegar Chips

I was up at 3AM to catch an early flight and if you've ever flown at the asscrack of dawn, you know that you don't get up *even earlier* to eat breakfast. By 5AM, my stomach was rumbling like a freight train. But do you know what magic happens at 5AM in the LA Ontario Airport?** Schlotzky's opens.

Now, this is a proper American sandwich. It has all the things I've missed about sandwiches: mustard, tomato treated as a vegetable, savoury bread. I couldn't tell straight away whether there was mayo on it, which, by the way China, IS HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE.

It had warm, melty mozzarella on the top bun, but I could have asked for it sans-cheese and it still would have been delicious. It's basically a lovely layer cake of bread, meat and fresh veggies that you won't want to stop putting in your face.

But I did stop, because here's the problem I noticed: this is a sandwich for two. Or possibly three. I was definitely hungry, but I didn't even touch the second half, or the chips, at breakfast. What the hell, America? I'm not going to shame anybody on caloric intake; I'm the girl that goes for the second bowl of gyoza. But why is the standard size, the *smallest* size, enough for two and a half meals?

[Four Hours Later]

I'm trying to figure out what's so good: I think it's the combination of mustard, red onion and black olives. Mm, and there's cheddar at the bottom. Not as good cool, but still very nice.

And the salt and vinegar chips - not something that's super available in other countries. I've missed the tang that hits the back of your throat and floods up your sinuses like wasabi. I'm definitely not going to finish all of them, though. TOO MUCH FOOD.

Serving Recommendation: Tuck some chips inside the sandwich and serve with airplane ginger ale.

Conclusion: Delicious, but huge. Bring a friend or intestinal parasite to help you finish it.

4 of 5 Americas.

**I'm doing food reviews, not airport reviews, but I highly recommend Ontario. It's small, easy to get through and (as far as I could tell) pretty convenient to get to from the centre of LA.

03 July 2016

United Airlines Zesty Ranch Snack Mix

Ah, the ubiquitous American airplane snacks. This exists on a few non-American airlines, but I've only experienced it on a short flight from Hamburg to Oslo. Everyone else has served me a real meal.

This snack mix seems to have three components: pretzels, peanuts and cheese cracker sticks. Given a name like "Zesty Ranch", I expected a strong flavour. Actually, the pretzels are pretty bland, lacking even nominal salt. The peanuts were the same: too boring to even bother.

They seem to have saved the "Zesty Ranch" flavour for the cheese cracker sticks (What even are these things? Is there a name for them? Do they exist outside of snack mixes?) They've managed to perfectly blend the tastes of an unhappy childhood and aerated drywall. Then you're left with an aftertaste like sucking on a peppercorn. Mmm, tasty.

Conclusion: Boring, bland, fake cheese and "ranch" flavour. If you're on an hour-long flight, just stick to ginger ale.

2 of 5 Americas.

New Series: American Food Reviews

I'm an American born and bred, but I've been living overseas for the last two years and am only now coming back for a visit. Since my mom revoked my American card for saying "go to university"**,  I figure I'm impartial enough to pass judgement on American cuisine.

In the next month, I'll be eating my way through Montana, California and Oregon and offering snarky commentary as I go. Please pull your seatbelts snug and make sure your carry-ons are stored securely in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

Oh, and warning for some salty language. 

**Imagine her dismay when she realises how I spell 'colour'.

10 April 2014


I received my preliminary placement today. If you didn't know, Hamburg (the Bundesland, or 'state', not the city) is TINY.
Bundesland Hamburg.

It's about an hour the longest way across the Bundesland, so it's a bit like being told you've been placed in Rhode Island, or Oklahoma City (an enormous, sprawling city). Although I don't know the specific city, I know I'm going to be in an awesome location.

09 April 2014

Fulbright ETA: +$13,152

I started my undergrad career as an accounting major. That lasted all of about two months, but my obsession with money has stayed with me, particularly during tax season. I just found out last Thursday that I was awarded the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Germany and I've done a ton of research on it since then.

Some of the resources I've found:
The Fulbright Orientation Handbook is a good general resource, but is vague on a lot of country-specific points.
The "circular"s on the German Fulbright page outline the information told to last year's grantees. Almost all of it is applicable to the current year and Circular III gives the orientation dates for the next year.

That's how I found out that my grant will cover Sept. 1 to June 30 and that I'll receive a €150 stipend for baggage and transportation fees related to my flight. I also found out that the flight will be prepaid, so I don't have to worry about saving up and waiting to be reimbursed for that. Although the number above reflects the current currency exchange rate, it's nice for me to know how much I'm really going to make in the ten months I'll be overseas. €800 per month for ten months, plus €150 for baggage, plus indeterminate cost of my airfare -- it's about as much as I'd make working full-time for $9/hour for ten months, with the added benefit of, you know, being IN GERMANY.

I was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa honors society at about the same time, so, for the induction ceremony I bought a pretty dress from the thrift store for $15. Since I'm not walking at my graduation, that and the $5 I spent on an announcement kit (also at a thrift store) are my only graduation expenses.

After graduation, I'm trying to find that elusive full-time $9/hour job, so that I can knock out three months of work and save probably $1500 over the summer. Of course, my expenses are going to be unusually low.

Income     + $1440/mo.
Rent/Bills - $250
Insurance - $200
Phone       - $90
Groceries - $150
Gas           - $50
Net          +$700

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but over three months this gives me $2100, far above my goal. Of course this assumes I don't splurge on anything insane (like the $299 3D printer I sponsored on Kickstarter today), but with only three months in a one-horse town, I think I should be able to control myself.