Pictures, pictures, pictures

1
I’ve gotten into a routine on the farm of waking up and sitting by the lake to practice a little guitar and take in the beauty before I’m planted back in the concrete jungle.
2
Here’s a pretty typical breakfast when I eat in their family kitchen. The soup on the right is a mixture of ginger, wolfberry, dates, and their homemade delicious drown sugar.
3
As you can see, it’s freezing here. It feels colder than Beijing because there is no escape. The only place with heating is the kitchen, unlike Beijing, which has heating almost everywhere indoors. Ski coat, scarf, and cement stained work boots. I’m showing off my “American” skills. The rest of the volunteers here seemed to have skipped their interest in basketball.
4
Here is a typical dinner in the family kitchen. There are generally about 8 types of dishes and almost always, that includes a soup or two. There are always about 3 different kinds of meats. The best part of it all is that most of these ingredients come from the farm. Okay, time to dig in!
5
On this farm, they also grow their own grapes and make their own wine. It’s pretty good, a touch too sweet though. The other volunteers had an idea to beat the cold by heating the wine with a bunch of different kinds of fruit cut up. Okay, not exactly wine anymore, but it’s hot and good and of course filled with alcohol.
6
We spent the better part of the first two weeks I got here around their lake. Here’s what our hard work looks like at night. Good thing they celebrate this holiday for the better part of February and not just the night of the New Year.
7
Here are the lanterns on the lake next to the volunteers’ house. Ooh…shineyyyy!
8
Here two women are preparing food for the final day of the majority of the workers on the farm. They leave on February 2nd and then come back just before March. Each layer is filled with food and all are steamed at the same time.
9
Here is the other half of the cooking team chopping and preparing each layer to be steamed.
10
This fish was my favorite of all the dishes. They steamed it and added all kinds of spices. It was so tender, it flaked perfectly off the bone into my chopsticks. The workers here are treated amazingly well.
11
Here are the tables set up for the workers to start their feast.
12
While we finished setting up, they all sat out by the lake, enjoying tea and some snacks.
13
After eating quickly, the volunteers get up to make sure each table had enough of everything. There are another 10 tables through that door you can see way down on the left.
14
Here is another example of dinner after Nekoli made one of his extravagant fruit displays.
14a
Yet another dinner. I’m in love with this place.
15
Here we are on the New Year’s Eve. We stayed up to midnight watching their famous Gala on the TV and occasionally, we set off small fireworks. Then 10 minutes before we, along with every other person in China, set off all the fireworks we could get our hands on.
16
Here is an old Chinese Buddhist temple off in the countryside. We’re on our way to hike in some caves.
17
We spent the morning hiking through the mountainside of this village. I guess the caves will be saved for after lunch. This woman is preparing our lunch in a traditional style Chinese kitchen.
18
Before lunch is ready, I walk around the house.
19
Here is their backyard. Reminds me of Lord of the Rings.
20
Here is the amazingly fresh lunch they gave us. It was a feat just to stop eating.
21
Here is another picture of our lunch as we’re all eating.
22
Lunch ended and now it’s time to go into the caves. The first one we go down for about 30 minutes until it gets kind of hard to breathe. Then we head to a second cave where I literally thought I got stuck between these two rocks. It doesn’t help that I’m the biggest on of the group. For some reason, my complaining fell on deaf ears. The second one didn’t go so deep, but there were ROUSes that could climb the walls! (If you don’t know that acronym, you should catch up on your Princess Bride watching.)
23
Here is the view from the exit of the cave. Really beautiful and terrifying at the same time. My kind of adventure.
24
One night, their family took us out to hot pot, which is basically where a big group of people sit around a boiling pot of oil, that, in this region, is really spicy to the point where it numbs your mouth, and put all kinds of uncooked food in to be cooked, and then fished out with extra long chopsticks before eating. This particular hot pot they ordered had what seemed like every part of the pig and then confirmed that with the pig brain for dessert. For the sake of the story, I wish the taste was really different and interesting, but it was very similar to all the other innards.
25
One night we made dumplings from scratch. This was the final stage where we stuffed the filling and the sealed it. Hey, I’m thinking I’ve got this Chinese cooking thing down right about now.
26
Here’s the earlier stages where I was kneading the dough, pinching it off, and then rolling it out into circles for the fillings to be added. It’s definitely one of the easiest Chinese dishes to make, but there’s something really special about the process and how it brings a group of people together to make dinner. Even some of the men who never help with cooking came over to join in the fun.
27
For Valentine’s Day the family took us out to pick strawberries. The best part was that we could “taste test” them as we went. That meant that I was mostly eating and spending only a little time actually putting them in the basket.
28
Another beautiful sunrise over one of the farm’s many lakes.
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