Recipe: Meat Buns (Baozi)

meatbuns0

What meat buns should look like. Taken from here

I say it straight: It makes no sense to make steamed meat buns (or 包子baozi in Chinese) while living in a famous night market in Taiwan. A big variety of flavours and kinds is available easily, and it is probably even cheaper to buy them from vendors than to buy all ingredients. So, why spend time and effort making ugly, crooked, amateurish versions of them? Well, I could say that there is the advantage of giving them exactly that special flavour that you like that no vendor can produce. Maybe it is also because I simply don’t trust the cleanness and healthiness of the night market food. But after all, I guess it is because of that DIY challenge that underlies all cooking and baking projects…

Ingredients:

  • Filling:
    • Leak
    • Leak onions
    • Celery
    • Mushroom
    • Carrot
    • Garlic
    • Ginger
    • Minced meat
    • Eggs
    • Spices and sauces as you like (I used: Salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, mustard, oyster mushroom soy sauce, black vinegar (“Worcestershire sauce”), thyme, rosemary)
  • Dough:
    • 1kg Flour (I used 250g whole grain flour, 750g white wheat flour)
    • 30g sugar
    • 15g salt
    • 50g butter
    • 600ml warm water (or 100ml milk + 500ml water)
    • yeast (I use instant dry yeast)

Procedure:

Chop the vegetables into small pieces. Really small! The smaller the better!

meatbuns1

In order to unfold the aroma of the spices like garlic, leak onion and ginger, pan-fry the chopped vegetables shortly (also because otherwise the carrot and leak would still feel too raw after steaming the bun). Meanwhile, mix the minced meat with eggs (just as a rough orientation: I used ~800g minced meat and two eggs), a big spoon of mustard (French Dijon mustard! NEVER use that American crap they call mustard!), soy sauce, and the other spices of your choice. When the vegetables are done pan-frying, mix them well with the raw meat mixture.

meatbuns2

Make a standard yeast dough. Using 1kg of flour, in my case, was enough for 24 meat buns. Add sugar, salt, butter (alternative: olive oil) and instant yeast, then pour 600ml of liquid (water, or milk with water) into the bowl. Knead for 10 minutes to get a homogenous dough. Let it stand for 30 minutes in a warm environment. It will usually grow to 2 or 3 times its original size. Knead it again thoroughly and let it stand for another 30 minutes. Then, the dough is ready for further processing.

meatbuns3

Now comes the tricky part that needs experience and training. A skilled cook can do the whole thing in his or her hand, but it also works on a board or bench. Take a bit of dough (roughly: a ball of 4 cm diameter) and make it flat (by hand or with a stick). Then, form a meat ball with a spoon and place it in the middle of the flat dough piece. Now, try to form a completely closed pocket. If you are not sure how to manage that, I am sure you can easily find a youtube video in your preferred language. The easiest is to take opposite ends of the dough, squeeze them together, add other ends until you hold eight sides between two fingers, then twist the bundle until all sides are securely connected.

meatbuns4

As you can see from the photo, my skill is not very advanced. My meat buns are ugly and amateurish. Yet, the real success rate is revealed in the last step: Steam the buns in a steamer or in steaming plates (with holes in the bottom) above boiling water for approx. 30 minutes. The yeast dough will grow again, which you should consider when placing the raw buns on the plate, and the meat should be completely done by then. Your folding technique is “successful” when the buns don’t open during the steaming process. In my case, 3 out of 24 buns opened. The rest looks OK, I believe (even though it is very sure that I won’t win any prize for these!)…

meatbuns5

The buns can be kept in a freezer for some time. Whenever you want to eat one, just steam it for another 15 minutes and it is ready. I have just prepared my breakfast for the next three weeks!

Advertisements

Tsolmo’s Masterpiece No.10

masterpiece10

“You better run!”

Photography*

*I really have no idea how and where she took this selfie with my smartphone (Samsung J5). I found it just like it is shown here, no post-editing or added effects. She probably activated a “special effect” (negative) in the camera menu before taking the photo.

Not a Babysitter!

I met our neighbour, an old Taiwanese guy, in the afternoon.

He: “Hello! Aren’t you going to work?

Me: “No, these days I am not working. I am taking care of my daughters!

He: “Ah! Babysitter!

Me: “No! I am their father!

He: “Yes! Babysitter!

At that moment I felt slightly upset without clearly knowing why. Yet, it was easy for me to forgive him right away, because he is an old Taiwanese guy who doesn’t know it better. Most men, here, are not involved in raising little children, it is completely on the Moms, often with the help of the Mom’s mother or mother-in-law. When fathers or grandfathers are contributing anything, it is mostly really just some supervision, playing, or taking the kid to the playground (babysitter job, indeed). Bathing babies, preparing food, changing diapers, putting them to bed – no way!

When Tsolmo was born, my wife stayed at her parents’ place for the first 40 days. Her Mom made food (special regenerative maternity meals) and bathed Tsolmo. This time, with Ana, my wife stays at our home and I do everything (plus entertaining and containing Tsolmo). When my mother-in-law heard that, she didn’t agree to it. She gave us money for hiring a household helper. Fortunately, I could convince my wife that we don’t need that! This really would have made me upset! I am not such a fool that we need a stranger to take care of MY daughters, do our laundry and keep the house clean! As a compromise, we ordered maternity food from a delivery service, because I am not very familiar with what kind of dishes a Mom needs after giving birth.

So far, 18 days after Ana’s birth, I still enjoy my role as father of two. My wife regenerates very quickly, has good mood and a reasonable mind. Ana is mostly sleeping and eating (breast-fed), doesn’t cry much, and obviously doesn’t have any trouble with anything. It is my job to give her a daily bath, which we both enjoy! Tsolmo needs most attention. She welcomed the new family member quite well and treats her with care and respect. Yet, I sensed a sign of jealousy recently: She wants to be carried much more than before June 12th, both at home and on the street or in the park. She didn’t realise her new role as the older sister, yet, but still wants to be the little one that is taken care of. But all in all, she is still an angel that is very easy to take care of!

bathinganasuya

In this regard, I am happy we did not ask a household helper to come to our home! We don’t need help! The luxury that I, the father and husband, can be home and do everything has many advantages:

  • My wife feels comfortable and relaxed, because at home and with family (and nobody else) around, the environment to recover is the best!
  • Tsolmo grows up in a critical phase (the “terrible two” year) with her father around, being familiarised with the man of the house involved in housework and daily routines, therefore not developing a gender bias.
  • Tsolmo and Ana hear not only Mom’s Chinese, but also Daddy’s German! Tsolmo’s German was lagging behind the development of her Chinese, but recently it caught up rapidly!
  • I am very happy that I can bring in myself usefully, reduce the burden of my wife, feel like a real father, and spend quality time with my daughters! Yes, also bathing and changing diapers is quality time, because it is the best chance to form strong bonds with my kids!
  • We as a family create home, which is a constant process of momentary construction of atmosphere. If I was at work and instead an uninvolved household helper in our apartment, it would just not be the same!

I am not a babysitter! I am a father! One fourth of this family, with an important position to occupy and a role to play! For no money in the world would I want to miss this opportunity! I don’t say that from a selfish and egoistic perspective, but with the firm conviction that daughters want and need time with their father, and that wives are helped the most when their husbands are around as active and engaged parts of a family.

Football and Suffering

After Gautama Buddha had his fundamental insights into the mechanisms of the world fabric, the first thing he taught his fellows was the Four Noble Truths. The first aspect to realise is that all life is dukkha. Unfortunately, this is often translated as suffering, sometimes more adequately but also cumbersome as unsatisfactoriness. It is neither a pessimistic statement nor a nihilistic or fatalistic one. It is certainly based on Gautama’s observation that everybody – no matter if rich and wealthy or poor and disadvantaged – inevitably experiences sickness, disease, decay and death, constantly trying hard to avoid and escape these circumstances, but Buddha’s insight goes much deeper than this, as later Buddhists elaborated and explained. Driven by this fundamental fear we constantly crave for manifesting ourselves in pleasant and happy states of mind, body, and spirit. We fall victim of the illusion that there are desirable things in our lives that are worth longing for and undesirable things that we better avoid. These attachments and resistances, rooted in the ignorance of how things really are, form the mind poisons that the second Noble Truth claims to be the cause of dukkha. In this view, dukkha is not only the directly experienced suffering such as diseases, pain, misery, hunger, death, but also any form of dependence of our mental well-being on external factors that are beyond our control. This might be a bit difficult to understand. Therefore, let me give a very current example: football!

Football fans are often suffering. Earlier this year, we saw Dutch and Italian fans crying because their national teams could not qualify for the world cup taking place right now in Russia. When the football season of the German football leagues ended in May, we saw supporters of unsuccessful teams like in Hamburg, Mannheim or Karlsruhe unleash their frustration in violence and vandalism. And just two days ago, we saw German football fans in desperation over Germany’s national team dropping out of the tournament in Russia after the group phase (not making it to the round of 16 for the first time ever in the history of the world championships). The surprising failure of the Mannschaft even made it to the Breaking News with a News Special after the main evening News on TV. An outside observer might find this quite astonishing or disturbing: After all, this is just sports! Nothing really important! How can it have such a huge impact on the life of people that are not even directly involved in playing the game?

fussballfans1

German supporters shocked after the national team lost a match at world cup 2018

HSVRandale

Supporters of Hamburger SV burn fireworks in the stadium after it was clear the team would have to go down to 2nd national league.

Football is a very important and ubiquitous part of the German society. More than 25000 amateur and professional football clubs are registered. Almost every Kid will, sooner or later, be asked to join a football club, and – even more important – to choose a favourite team (or, as we say, “choose your colours”). Since my grandparents lived (and still live) near Hamburg and my family went there very often to visit them, I had a strong connection to that city. This was reason enough to choose Hamburg’s biggest and most renowned football club Hamburger SV as my favourite team. In the past, they had been quite successful, and in the beginning of the 1990s it was still a big name (meanwhile they went down to the 2nd national league).

HSV-Logo

The iconic logo of Hamburger SV

Yet, I have never been a really big football fan, never went to the stadium to watch a game (my only stadium visit, actually, was in Japan in 2010 to see a J-League match of Nagoya Grampus Eight), and since around 1999 I didn’t express any preference of any football team. Yet, of course, I got in touch with football fans in public, especially on weekends when league matches took place. Many supporters travel by train, often drunk, always loud, and sometimes extremely aggressive, violent and disrespectful. I have encountered vandalism, vulgarities, brutal affrays, and more scary and shocking scenes close to or beyond the limits of the legally allowed. Unfortunately, and certainly also misjudging a large part of football supporters, I can’t deny that my image of (serious, active) football fans is outstandingly negative: stupid, brainless, misbehaving, immoral scum! If you want an advice: Whenever you can, stay away from them!

fussballfans2

Drunk English fans

fussballfans3

Supporter of German team FC Schalke 04 at the end of the day (around 6PM)

From my perspective, making one’s mood and well-being dependent on the performance of a football team is the master example of what Buddha meant with dukkha. There is no causal relation between a team’s success and a supporter’s mental state except the fan’s attachment to the idea of supportership. Football fans often speak of tradition, Heimat (something like home or native origin), connection. Yet, there is no rational or reasonable basis for this idea. Most players of today’s professional teams are from all around the world but not from the city or region where the club is located. Moreover, today’s football clubs are economic corporations that give a shit about emotional connection between fans’ hearts and the logo or image of the club. But football fans, so to say, commit themselves voluntarily to a form of empathy with the club or the team: when the team loses, they are sad or angry; when the team wins they are euphoric and happy. Both are extremes. A detachment from this dependence would result in a more balanced and wholesome state of mind that is not dependent on an external factor. “How boring!”, some will say. “That’s not what life is about! We want that thrill!“. This is where the ethical dimension comes into play: When the attachment and the resulting dependence of the emotional state leads to unethical behaviour like violence (on, possibly, neutral bystanders and innocent third parties) and public vandalism (a violation of social contracts), the football supporters’ dukkha has to be condemned and sanctioned! When the private, personal sphere of dukkha – which can be answered with compassion and forgiveness – is exceeded towards the public sphere, it requires hard consequences.

You see, in any way, conditional commitment to uncontrollable factors like the performance of football teams causes displeasure for the supporters, the bystanders, and even non-involved third parties, caused by the fans’ suffering (dukkha) which, here, does not refer to the experience of sadness and/or anger after lost matches, but to the dependence of one’s well-being on an external factor, a connection that is chosen voluntarily and could, in principle, be different. Just understand what makes you form this unreasonable bond with a football team (pressure from peers? tradition? patriotism? psychological dispositions?) and develop a more mindful perspective (such as no matter how the team performs, your life is not directly affected by it, if you don’t give it such a power). Ideally, better have a degree of mindfulness that makes it irrelevant and unnecessary for you to form a strong emotional commitment towards anything in the world that is outside of your personal realm.

Teaching at university in Taiwan

The semester is over. I was teaching a class entitled Science and Technology Ethics (original title as appearing in the course list: 善與義務:科學與科技倫理) at Tunghai University in Taichung (find the lecture script here, if you are interested). In one of the last classes I handed out evaluation sheets to let the students give me a feedback that I can use to improve my teaching and my class outline. I am very happy to receive a generally very positive feedback! Students pointed out that my classes are always well prepared, that I am always kind to the students and willing to answer questions, and that my way of presenting this philosophical topic (applied ethics though) is vivid, interesting and increasing their interest in this normative academic discipline. Of course, not all students liked my teaching style or found the class appealing, but the wide range of evaluations (some found the pace too slow, others too fast; some said I offered too much reading material, others wished to have more; some would like to have more interaction in class, others felt I waste time with class discussions (more on that later)) show me that I might have found a suitable middle way. On the other side, there have been a few rather negative comments that bother me a lot! In order to get them out of my head I want to write them down here (blogging as a therapy).

Before coming to my point, I’d like to explain the differences between the German and the Taiwanese education system, which is necessary for understanding why my German teaching approach clashes with the Taiwanese university culture. Here is an overview including the linguistic expressions that we use to describe the stages of education that kids and adolescents go through:

school

In Germany, children go to Kindergarten at the age of 3 (usually). Here, they mostly play or playfully learn very basic daily life skills like tying shoes, brushing teeth, handcrafts, and socialising. At the age of 6, school starts with 4 years primary (or elementary) school. After that, a kid (or better: the parents) have two options: continuing with a 6-year secondary school (Hauptschule, Realschule) that is finished after grade 10, or a 9-year secondary school (Gymnasium). Only the latter qualifies for studying at a university. The former qualifies for an apprenticeship (accompanied by vocational school, Berufsschule) for craftsmanship, service jobs, labour, all “non-academic” jobs. We refer only to these 10 or 13 years as school where we as Schüler (schoolchildren, or ‘pupils’ in BE) learn what teachers teach us. Only at university we are Studenten (students) and study something. I am aware that in English, especially in American English, study and student are used more generally for all ages, but in the German understanding, study (studieren) sounds very much like sitting down and delving into books and scripts until one gets profound knowledge of something or can even develop creative new insights from it. At school, we never really study, we just learn what the teacher tells us, for example in the form of homework or exercise questions from a textbook. But universities are not schools! They are academic research institutions with the task to educate the future generation of academics. There are no teachers (except for the departments that educate the future generation of teachers, maybe), but professors, researchers, and senior academics. Those giving chemistry lectures, for example, are not chemistry teachers, but chemical researchers and academic experts that have never learned in any formal way how to teach. Students, therefore, are not taken care of like at school, but have to organise their student life by themselves. They are expected to be interested in what they study, to voluntarily go to the library and get the necessary books, and to have a high motivation to sit down and study.

This is VERY different in Taiwan. Kids, here, even study Kindergarten, and when they are 6 they graduate from Kindergarten with a ceremony. Then, they study elementary, junior high, and senior high school. Almost every adolescent continues, then, with undergraduate courses at a college or university. All of these institutions are considered schools. That’s why people here think that I am a teacher. This environment (and linguistic understanding of it) has clear consequences on the study culture. Even at university, students expect to be taken care of like teenagers. They appear much more immature to me than their German peers. Moreover, whereas in Germany the choice of major is already the first step into the direction of the future profession, in Taiwan students can study something which has not necessarily anything to do with their future job. Most don’t even know what kind of career they would like to pursue. The only goal is getting the Bachelor degree, because many jobs – reportedly even bus driver and hairdresser – require a college degree. Therefore, students just study for passing the exams well to get good grades.

Back to my course. Even though it was associated with the philosophy department, it was open to all students of all majors. 39 students were registered for it. One third was philosophy students, another third language majors, and the last third from other majors like international business or sciences. Around 20 students have been present in all classes, some appeared occasionally, and 8-10 almost never showed up. I had 16 classes (each 100 minutes), but 2 of them were midterm and final exam. Since my Chinese is still too poor, I taught the class in English. I admit that this is truly a challenge for the Taiwanese students, but they all knew it from the beginning, so I may assume that they all judged themselves capable of attending an English class successfully, otherwise they wouldn’t have chosen it. In terms of teaching style, I planned to have a healthy mix of lecture and interactive discussion and/or group work. Yet, in the first classes, I sensed that it would be very difficult to gain anything meaningful in an efficient way from involving the students. When I asked questions, there was just no response (unless it was really just a simple brainstorming). Even when I handed out group tasks related to the class content we just talked about, some students had no clue what to do. In the later classes, I reduced the class activities in order not to waste valuable class time. This led to negative comments on the evaluation sheets. It was boring because I just kept lecturing. I should motivate the students more to participate. Some students also wrote clearly that this is not the teacher’s fault, but the unlucky and bad tradition among Taiwanese students not to open their mouths and not to use their brains.

Taiwanese students don’t want to use their brains!”. Since I worked as a postdoctoral fellow and then as an adjunct assistant professor at a Taiwanese university, I heard this statement very often, from senior professors, but also from students. Does it mean, I should adapt my teaching style and my expectations to this fact? Should I challenge them less but reduce the level? One student wrote:

Sometimes I feel the explanations are a bit too much. It would be nice to stay simple. Nowadays, simplicity seems to be a trend. To be honest, I’ve only read a few scripts. I’m not sure if I could grasp the meaning.

This is a university class! Complex matters like the ethical evaluation of scientific and technological development and their impact on society are not simple! My presentation slides for one class almost never exceeded 10 slides, and I always put simple graphic overviews and illustrations on them because I don’t like too much text on slides that I will say anyway. From my perspective, the class content is already as simple as possible! But sure, students that sleep or play with their smartphones in class miss the point, of course, and then find it difficult to grasp the meaning. It also means, obviously, that students expect that the teacher (even though university lecturers are not teachers) will refine and present all the content in entertaining and easy-to-swallow bits and portions. They won’t read more than 2 pages of lecture script, not to speak of going to the library and looking for any of the books I recommended throughout the course.

Among the questions on the evaluation questionnaire that required a rating on a scale from 1 (very good) to 6 (very bad/insufficient), one of the worst average ratings (2.8, still not super bad) was received by the question whether the student can see the usefulness of the class content for the future job. I tried hard to explain in every class how they can apply the strategies, concepts and thought patterns in their later jobs, whatever they will be. It seems to me, many students have no imagination of their future job life. It is too far from now for them. The following comment from a student’s evaluation sheet illustrates another phenomenon widely observed in Taiwan:

Overall, this is a course people can learn something from, but the practical usage of it is not clear to me. Some of the strategies taught in class are really helpful for critical thinking!”

Well, isn’t critical thinking a very practical usage for all kinds of activities? According to my wife (a former High school English teacher) and many other Taiwanese friends that I talked to, the Taiwanese education system doesn’t encourage critical thinking, but sometimes even punishes it. Possibly rooted in the times of martial law in which the Chinese Nationalists that ruled Taiwan (Kuomintang, KMT) wanted workers but no intellectuals, practical doing is much more appreciated than thinking which is considered a purely theoretical activity. It can be perfectly possible that my class impressed some students by showing them for the first time what it means to think critically (in case I may believe some comments like this from other students’ evaluation sheets). But for many, apparently, this is nothing in which they see value, and certainly no practical value. Even though this is a university class, I obviously have to assume that the students attending it are not in any way of the intellectual type but rather looking for instructions on how to perform particular work operations or how to finish tasks. But this is impossible in an applied ethics topic!

I will, of course, try harder to make the classes appealing for all the students, get them to participate actively, and to leave every class with the motivating feeling of having learned something useful. But I won’t change my idea of university classes, expecting (and imagining) students being interested in the class content, being ready to read topic-related articles or books, asking questions and thinking through the essence of my take-home messages. I won’t go with the low-level mainstream flow that students prefer. My class should be a challenge, only then would it be a good university class! I want students to learn how to think. If they refuse to do so, they shouldn’t be at a university at all, but get a labour job! But here I enter political terrain and better leave it to other people.

Let’s Grow Brain!

Dear Anasuya,

Here is another hint that your father is quite nerdy:

Today, we could finally take you home from the hospital after a phototherapy treatment of your Icterus Neonatorum (neonatal jaundice). That means, it was the first time that I could really hold you for long time, watch you, talk to you, feel you. In contrast to your sister at that age (one week), you often open your eyes and seem to look around, and you pay a lot of attention to noises, obviously. Immediately, the image of the rapidly growing and developing neuronal network in your brain appeared in my imagination. Every sensual impression will form a few new connections that manifest your experience in the form of cognitive capability.

brain

In the late afternoon, Tsolmo watched the Miyazaki animation My Neighbour Totoro. In this movie – very typical for Miyazaki’s illustration of his environmentalism – is a scene of a quickly growing tree from a few seeds into a giant majestic plant. I could not help but feeling strong sympathy for this symbol of the natural evolving force.

giphy

You are alive! Everything in you strives for growth, strength, improvement, becoming. Cells multiply, bones harden, fluids flow, but nowhere is this image of emergence as powerful as in your brain! Using it appropriately makes it more potent. We will try to expose you to views, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that are as pleasant as possible so that you build trust in your environment and learn to like and love it. This will be the most efficient brain enhancer that is available!

Family complete!

What’s that? The name of the blog changed? Tsolmo and Ana? Who is Ana??

Surprise! Tsolmo got a baby sister! On June 12th at 9:35AM (Taiwanese time), Anasuya was born! A healthy girl, very tiny, but with greatness ahead! With her arrival, our family is complete!

chulai

More about Ana will follow soon. Currently, we are still in the hospital, my wife recovering from the C-section, Ana recovering from the shock of being ripped out of her comfort zone, Tsolmo trying to entertain herself and the entire hospital floor, and me trying to keep everything together.

Of course, everything I wrote so far as “letters to Tsolmo” may also be understood as messages to Ana! From now on, I use this platform to address both of them, unless I explicitly state it at the beginning of a post. For all other readers: I hope you will still find this blog or some of its posts entertaining and/or inspiring!