Tag Archives: life in china

The End is Near: How Japan Will Nuke Us All – Or Not

Editor’s Update: Because there are times when sites like WordPress are blocked or difficult to access, KateWhitney occasionally cannot properly access the site to publish her posts. For this reason I help her upload photos, and sometimes repost things she emails me. Though I am listed as the author, the following is her work.


CLARIFICATION: a Nuclear melt down is NOT when the fuel rods in a nuclear reactor become SO hot that they fuse together in a molten mass, and melt through their containment vessel, and continue to melt through the Earth until they reach the core of the earth, at which point we no longer are able to control their reactions. Which as a consequence of the lack of human intervention, they reach a critical mass and blow the earth apart in an apocalyptical nuclear explosion that ends life as our universe knows it. That last sentence is mine – it seemed like the natural progression of the idea.

This is the explanation I overheard in a conversation yesterday. Please, if you don’t know what something is, don’t make up an answer. It makes you look ridiculous. As Abraham Lincoln put it — “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, then open it and remove all doubt.”

Frankly, if it the overheard scenario were the case, it would be most helpful for us if the spent fuel rods would sink into the core of the earth. It would solve all our problems. The earth would act as a natural barrier to the radiation, protecting us, and eventually when the rods reached the molten lead deep down, they would cease to be an issue.

This, my dear hominoids, is what Wikipedia was invented for; to eradicate ignorance and prevent the spread of its destructive influence. Phrases like “I’m not sure but I THINK….[insert baseless idea here]” should no longer be a part of our daily diction, as we have no excuse for not being adequately informed. If you find yourself too busy to keep up with the situation — just don’t talk about it! There’s no shame in just not sharing an opinion you haven’t yet had the time to verify.

As China is so close (~2,500 km) to the site of the Japan accident, there has been a sudden fear of imminent destruction by radioactive fall-out. Never mind that the wind doesn’t blow this direction from Japan.

But undeterred by this rational people have taken to rushing to the stores to buy salt. There progression of this idea is this: potassium iodide is the chemical compound used to treat people who are exposed to or will be exposed to iodine radiation. Potassium iodide also happens to be one of the chemicals used to ionize table salt. Thus it is found in minority quantities in any salt you buy.

If you buy enough salt, you consequently end up with the useful dosage of KI (potassium iodide). The question that remains to be answered, is how people intend to extract the KI to make it a useful dosage in the event of a meaningful amount of radiation floating across the China Sea? Salt, in large quantities, is lethal. For a 220 lb male, this is about 300 grams — or about 12 ounces of salt.

Table salt consists of something like 0.006% potassium iodide (wiki page on salt). This means that in 300 grams of salt, one only gets about 0.018 grams of KI. Incidentally, if my calculations are correct, this is roughly a single dose for radiation exposure. Unfortunately, if you we’re somehow able to intravenously ingest the salt, you also just killed yourself from your lethal dose of salt. ( I say intravenously because of course there was now way you were just going to swallow about 12 ounces of table salt!)

Really, what you should do is read this VERY helpful article on nuclear fallout and the use of potassium iodide.


Filed under life in china, out and about

Sugar, Tahini Paste, and Honey


The extent of baking in China - steamed dumplings

I could never find Tahini paste at the grocery store in Minneapolis.  There was one time, where I found it at a store far from where I normally shopped (and was amazed at how expensive it was), but never did I succeed in finding it at the Rainbow down the street.


I found it today.  It was next to the honey.  Perhaps that is where I was amiss before.  I was never to think it should be kept near the honey, jam and peanut butter. (If you’re not the ‘chef’ type, you may not be aware that Tahini paste, something made from mashing sesame seeds, is often used as a seasoning in things like humus and other eastern dishes.  Generally nothing at all to do with the toppings of ones morning toast.)

This is often a problem I find.  I think it is likely a result of having people stock shelves that don’t read English. There comes a product they can only make out from it’s label or shape and not knowing directly what it is or may be used for, they place it near other products that are shaped similarly and have similar pictures or writing. As it happens, the tahini paste was in a bottle very similar to the honey next to it. Even I, a native English speaker, had to take a second look to make sure it was what I thought it was, because it seemed to fit in so nicely.

It is always a trick to figure out a new grocery store. Like the Chinese alphabet, there is not always an obvious way with which to categorize items. Tahini, for instance, might go near the spice rack with other  seasonings.  Or perhaps with ethnic foods. One never does know, even at a traditional store in the middle of Minneapolis.

I remember once reading a book about a boy who gets stranded out in the woods after a plane crash, and he describes how he finally succeeds in hunting a certain type of ground fowl.  Instead of trying to recognize their color and feathers the way we superficially would try and find a human being in the forest, he learns to search for their shape and outline.  I will have to be prudent of this technique when I go shopping for something similarly obscure.

Or maybe not so obscure.

Sugar, for instance, I would look for in a baking isle.  This doesn’t exist in most Chinese supermarkets, and certainly not the one in the basement of my own building. The closest china gets to a traditional  baked item is a little muffin like bun that is steamed.

I once saw some baking mixes – cakes and brownies kind of thing – next to the bags of rice. There is a reasonable population of expats that live in this building, so I think the supermarket in the basement tries to somewhat cater to the market. But the sugar wasn’t in sight.

Interestingly enough I quite randomly found, for who would think to look there, frosting (the kind that Pillsbury produces in those little cylindrical jars) in an isle next to teas and coffees. Sugar wasn’t next to frosting either.  It turned out it was in its own section, next to soup mixes and fish seasonings and, get this, giant bags of MSG (again, they both look quite similar both being white crystals, and come in the same clear plastic bags).

Interestingly enough there was an enormous selection of sugars! Tablespoon sized mono-crystal sugar, almost syrupy thick brown sugar, raw sugar, large clumps of small sugary crystals, and dozens of different brands of normal granulated white sugar, all in similarly sized packets and going at the same prices.  It was a great surprise to me, once I did find it. I’d been looking for sugar the day before and had succeeded in finding only those individual packets or cubes with coffee and tea stuffs.

(Having decided on sugar cubes, thinking they must be useful ways to prevent the need of an extra spoon, later realized that the downfall is… quite obviously …. Sugar cubes are quantized, and so one cannot take but a pre-determined serving sized dose, no matter the smallness of ones cup of tea that is in need of sweetening. So be forewarned, if you have ventured to read this far, that although charming, you might find yourself wanting to sweeten a very small amount of tea, with a very large amount of sugar.  I’ll close my parentheses now).

When you move to a new place, there’s always a learning curve associated with figuring out where the nearest Target is, and where to find your usual items in the local grocery store. As of course you would expect, this curve exists when you move overseas.  It’s sometimes a bit more entertaining – if you’ll give yourself the chance to see it that way.

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Filed under food, life in china