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Archive for March, 2006

The hundred year egg

Congee

I had a traditional Cantonese-style lunch today. It included things like Century Egg Congee (a rice gruel with jellied duck egg), pork, prawn and vegetable dumplings, spring rolls, rice & beef rolls, pork balls, pork buns and other things I can’t quite remember. There was this stuff that looked and tasted a little like half-cooked potato but apparently comes from a plant that looks like bamboo. Very nice.

Traditionally, century eggs are made by coating duck eggs with wood ash mixed with lime and clay. The eggs are then left to ripen for about a month. Chemical analysis of the coating shows that alkali and alkali earth oxides are the main ingredients in making the century eggs. Production of the century egg involves chemical reactions such as denaturation of proteins, hydrolysis, deamination, decarboxylation and racemisation. In denaturation, the strong alkali disrupts the hydrogen bonds and salt bridges, causing an unfolding of the coiled structure of the protein. Although the peptide bonds are still intact, the biological nature and activity of the protein are destroyed. After denaturation, coagulation takes place, resulting in the hardened egg white and egg yolk. The colour darkens during the ripening period. Hydrogen sulphide and ammonia gases are often evolved during the production of century eggs. This is due to the decomposition of the macromolecules into smaller protein units by the alkali (hydrolysis and deamination reactions).

A chemical method for making century eggs is described in the following book published by the Singapore Science Centre:

Chemistry Potpourri — Unlocking Chemistry through Investigations by Mabel Ho (1988).

It’s been a really good 24 hours. In a short space of time we’ve had the phone and ADSL connected to our apartment, both our mobile phones have started working, we now have a tumble dryer and I finally have my new email address at work. Without the dryer we were hanging clothes on coat hangers and hanging them on chairs arranged around the borrowed fan heater. Even then it was taking 2-3 days for clothes to dry. The boxes with our personal belongings have been released from customs and are scheduled to arrive at our apartment tomorrow morning. It’s feeling really good to be able to finally talk to our friend and family again and the prospect of finally getting our stuff is quite a relief too.

I spent the day recovering from a shocking night where I slept for about 1 hour total. Some kind of flu or head cold that meant I couldn’t get warm enough and was heavily dehydrated. By mid afternoon things had started to clear up and I was feeling better. I was also starting to feel more positive about the whole “living in China” experience too. Seems like the day of rest was just what I needed.

Ups and Downs

Today was a day of mixed emotions. The morning felt reminiscent of work life in Australia with similar routine things being done. Getting to and from work was done because it had to be and the adventure element was gone. Things are starting to happen in the office. I’m already having some contact on project work, I can now get in and out of the office on my own, I have some basic stationary, I signed release paperwork to get 2 of the 3 boxes coming for us through customs, I even co-conducted a job interview at literally 30 seconds notice!!!!!

It’s all been disappointingly expensive to live here so far. Shenzhen to China seems like Sydney to Australia. The pollution has been quite burdensome and I think I’m coming down with something, which is hardly surprising. Achy joints, sore sinus, dull headache, any of which can happen at any time during a normal day but it’s the combo of all 3 that suggests of something more. On the upside it’s the first day where it hasn’t rained and I’ve actually seen a hint of sun. To actually feel the warmth of the sun for the first time in nearly a week was a surprisingly refreshing experience. Maybe as an Aussie I’m addicted to Vitamin D or something. I walked extra slow to the MTR subway entrance just to soak it up.

Everywhere we go someone is trying to take advantage of us. There is not a scrap of pride in the workmanship of anything or anyone. Shenzhen is noisy, smelly and polluted. We need to be vigilant about pick-pockets everywhere. Today Gail just wanted to go home. The cooped-up feelings are not helped by the fact that our permits and Visas haven’t come through yet and as such we can’t go to Hong Kong for a reprieve because they wouldn’t let us back into China afterwards.

We seem to be moving into the hardest phase of culture shock. The newness is going, normality is setting in. The cultural barrier is being more and more a frustration rather than a novelty and even the simple things are hard work. It’s exacerbated by the lack of internet and phones meaning that we’re still somewhat cut-off with our families back in Australia. We know things will get better and we just need to persevere for now.

Remember the Passbook?

I set up a Chinese bank account to day with the “China Industrial Banking Co”. Hmmm. There are banks everywhere here. We can see 4 or 5 from our apartment alone, including the Shenzhen stock exchange. My bank account is a Passbook account. Remember those? Where all the transactions needed to be written into a dinky little book? Yeah, one of them. The establishment of a bank account was necessary to get a mobile phone set up here. It took 1.5 hours setting up mobiles with China Unicom and they only start working on the first of the next month. I guess we’ll just need to sit tight until then.

Gail figuring out washing machine

Here’s Gail trying to figure out how on earth to use the washing machine. One of the settings was easy, a prior tenant had labeled it “Rapide”!!! It has a large rotating knob that goes through about 15 settings. Some of them can be figured out because the spin speed and water temperature show up on a 7-segment display. Gail’s phrase book has got us up and running with the machine at least.

The pollution is starting to affect my voice. My throat is continually slightly sore and my speech has changed in tone slightly. I’m pondering what other negative effects all this pollution is having on my health, both short and long term.

Internettable again :)

We are going well. Andrew’s first day at work is today, so we have work internet access at least, from now on. ) Woo hoo! Isolation, here we stop. Because most Chinese speak English in a broken way, I’m thinking it that way, too. Bummer.

A bit of a tool

Multi Tool

This is my multi-purpose tool. It’s a pocket knife freebie from the Adelaide TI reps and it’s been one of the most useful things I packed in my luggage. The screwdriver has, in particular, come in handy. It’s been used to replace a shower head, cut string, open packages and fix a host of loose fittings around the place. I have no doubt that the list of uses will continue to grow. Marvellous.

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