“FEMINIST” 女权主义者

In 2017, the words feminism and feminist– along with “artisanal,” “hand-crafted,” “cold-pressed,” and “locally sourced” – have become so overused, commercialized, and so terribly distorted from their origins that they now have ZERO. MEANING. AT ALL. The bar is set so low that any human with a pulse and two X chromosomes is automatically a feminist. For example:

  • A girl eating a cheeseburger in public? Feminist!
  • A woman who smiles and says hello in the elevator? Feminist!
  • A woman who scowls and stares at the ceiling of the elevator? Even more of a feminist! (because she chose not to smile and say hello! She scowled and looked away, on her own terms, duhh!!)

My students deserve better than the diminished, diluted, near-pathetic lens that feminism is now discussed and celebrated in mainstream America. To clear the confusion, I made some slides to explain what female empowerment does *NOT* look like:

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Entertainers who burden themselves with several pounds of makeup, hair extensions/ micro-weaves, and generous injections of silicone throughout their bodies – all done to cater to the male gaze – are not helping women achieve equality in education, at home, or in the workplace

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Taylor and her eugenics-approved “squad”

Picking friends based on their race, height, and BMI – also not feminism

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Nepotism has no place in 21st century America!

Luckily, Forbes provides an annual list of influential women who worked hard, used their brains, and have become leaders in politics/ science/ corporations/ NGOs… women who have at many points surpassed their male counterparts in ability and talent, and are changing and shaping the world. Some women I covered in class:

Margaret Chan, Naomi Klein, Indrya Nooyi, Ursula Burns, Angela Merkel, Tsai Ying-Wen, Federica Mogherini, Navi Pillay, Malala Yousafzai

Now, it was my students’ turn to pick influential women:


Wu Zetian!

Yang Guifei!

Cixi Dowager!

“Wait wait wait. Each group must also pick at least one women who is both a foreigner and alive



Helen Keller!”


“Audrey Hepburn!

“also dead”

Margaret Thatcher!

“still dead!”

After more brainstorming, the kids made their posters. Here are some highlights…

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On the poster: The founder of “old grandma hotsauce”, Angela Merkel, Peng Liyuan, an imperial concubine, and the coach of China’s Olympic gold medal volleyball team
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close up of the founder of 老干妈 hot sauce. half of china would be dead without her mouth numbing spice!
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Michelle Obama, Margaret Thatcher, and Somali born model/ activist Waris Dirie (several groups wrote about her fight against female genital mutilation, I’m surprised by her fame in Lanzhou)
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of course, Mulan. every class had a poster on Mulan, the Northern Wei Dynasty female warrior turned disney princess

me: can someone please ask one good question about Mulan’s accomplishments?

Melody: did Mulan have a boyfriend?

and then the last group brought up a poster of the Statue of Liberty

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I was annoyed, since she is a mass of oxidized copper and therefore not a real person

“Please explain why you are presenting on a statue”

“The Statue of Liberty stands for friendship and freedom. She is a symbol of courage and hope for all people who are poor, sick, and tired. Helping others when they need it the most is what female empowerment is all about.”


Lanzhou Lamian, RANKED

Up until recently, Lanzhou was only famous for two things: the worst air pollution in all of China, and hand pulled beef noodles (lamian 拉面). Since the air quality in this city has miraculously improved in recent years, Lanzhou’s reputation now solely hinges on its thousands of restaurants selling hand pulled beef noodles.

Thankfully, Lanzhou Lamian is so, so, so DELICIOUS.

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At every Lamian shop, Bricks of dough are lined up in the open kitchen, and as customers line up at the counter, they yell out the type of noodle they want- from nearly floss-thin noodles, all the way to belt-wide, flat ribbons of noodles.

The noodle master will quickly knead, stretch, fold over, and repeat his noodle crafting until the desired width and shape is created (several times during the process, he will smack the noodles against the table to even out the strands. making a melodic *thwack* noise again and again)

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Then the noodles are dropped in boiling water for several minutes before being plucked out, and quickly covered in a boiling fatty broth of beef bone and turnip. Enormous vats of chili oil and parsley/ scallions are placed on the counter for the diners to customize the noodles for extra taste.

massive tubs of chili up front; a small dish with a boiled chicken egg (in the central tray) for size reference

Officially there are only seven types of hand pulled noodle, but like McDonalds and its algae-green Shamrock Shake, there are additional off-menu noodles that are rarely ordered but still worth trying.

I ate through nine bowls of Lamian through the past month (and, for the sake of consistency- all at the same restaurant) to figure out one of life’s greatest mysteries: which noodle is the best?

From worst to best…

Yi Wo Si

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This is the thinnest noodle possible (like vermicelli), and it’s so flimsy the strand tears apart when I use my chopsticks to pick up the noodle. My shirt was covered in blotches of red oil from all the dropped noodles. The noodle has no texture and is too soft for my liking, with a mushy/ baby food consistency.

Mao Xi

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The next thinnest noodle (think fedelini), also difficult to finish. I felt like I was eating a never-ending bowl of noodles, since there was so much noodle surface-area to devour.

Jiu Ye

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This is a thin, flat fettucine style noodle. It has a nice bite to it, but it’s not quite wide enough for a flat noodle to be satisfying

Tied: Er Xi / San Xi

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These are the thicker spaghetti type of noodles, and to the untrained eye (ie. mine) I could not discern the difference between the two. They pick up the soup nicely, and I enjoyed these to a degree.

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could you tell the difference between these noodles? didn’t think so!

Da Kuan

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This is the massive, belt wide noodle and I believe it comes served as one giant, single noodle! There’s a very specific way to order this (like a total BOSS!) allegedly, you can’t make eye contact with the guy behind the counter; instead you look down at the floor and say “da kuan!” as indifferently as possible out of the corner of your mouth. Of course I started laughing half way through. But the noodles were still awesome

Er Zhu Zi

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This is the thickest spaghetti style noodle, sort of like bigoli. It has a *great* bite to it that you don’t get from the thinner noodles. The only downside is, the few noodle strands are quickly devoured and you’re left with a lot of soup.


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This is the gold standard, the spaghetti of the noodles. It is the most commonly ordered of the bunch by Lanzhou people, and you get the nice bite and chew that you couldn’t from thinner noodles, but it still picks up the soup nicely so by the time you finish the noodles, the soup is pretty much done too. Excellent choice!


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This is my personal favorite- its sort of a pappardelle style noodle- wider than the fettucine style jiu-ye noodle, but not of ridiculous proportion like the da kuan. A bowl of lamian with kuan noodles is PERFECT. The thickness and rippled texture is ideal for slurping down an entire bowl of Lanzhou beef noodles!


“Hey Youssef! I’m going to have a big steak barbeque next weekend. I know you’re missing home – so, don’t worry – it will be TEXAS STYLE!

(Actually, I’m not homesick, and I’ve never been to Texas. But I played along)

“Awesome, thanks! Where will it be?!”

Jason thought for a few seconds. Then his face lit up

“we’re going to a Happy Farm!

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one interpretation of a happy farm

The 农家乐 (nong jia le, which pretty much translates into… Happy Farm) is a weekend getaway that probably became popular some 20 years ago. As hundreds of millions of Chinese moved into sprawling urban centers, there became a renewed craving for the simpler, rural life. Farmers on the outskirts of major cities realized they could generate additional income by carving out a small piece of their property to use for visitors on weekends and holidays.

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in the summer, this happy farm would be full of ripe pears, ready to eat

This area generally includes a large patio, and perhaps a communal kitchen, or several guest bedrooms and bathrooms. Surrounding it are vegetable patches and fruit trees, and sometimes even fishing ponds, so guests can come and pick vegetables, and cook them for lunch or dinner.

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So this is where Jason had his big Texas Style BBQ. He invited over a dozen friends and we drove to the outskirts of Lanzhou to a Happy Farm. He came well prepared with two portable gas grills, a small wood cutting board, some expensive looking knives, salt and pepper grinders, six bottles of (Chilean!!) wine, steak, and an impressive wedge of imported parmesan cheese.

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Zhao Chen flipping steaks

We finished all the steak (served well done, as these were cows reared in China after all…), mashed potatoes (whipped to perfection by me, Old Country Buffet style) and Jason made a killer pasta with cream and parmesan cheese. It was very much a happy afternoon at a happy farm.

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My second outing to a Happy Farm was a little less happy, due to inclement weather. My relatives planned a fun afternoon an hour drive outside of Lanzhou to pick strawberries, and go boating in some artificial ponds. This was over QingMing festival weekend, so the traffic was horrendous getting out of the city.

We arrived several hours late to the Happy Farm of choice, and the strawberries had already been pre-picked for us… and it was too cold to boat in the wind with a one year old baby. So we just ate dinner instead, and then went back home afterwards

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a mountain of strawberries

I hope our fish didn’t come from this backyard fish holding tank (right next to the CLOGGED AND LEAKING squat toilets)

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48 hours later I went to my third Happy Farm! This time it was with Fox and Monica, and we picked a Happy Farm that was very close to Lanzhou. After Monica called the cops on our shady taxi driver who attempted to pick up NINE passengers in his minivan, we paid 30 RMB total to get to the top of a hill, where there were a lot of greenhouses and farms.

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The happy farm provided outdoor seating and a grill, and we brought with us cheeseburgers, chicken wings, and lamb kebab.


Fox skewered and ate a lot of roasted cocoons/ pupa (he’s from a farming community in Shandong and grew up eating crickets and cicadas).

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After our meal we walked into the greenhouses to check out the produce: the cucumber and tomatoes plants drape from artificial vines, and the mushrooms were grown in a darker, humid section of the greenhouse. contrary to popular belief and little falsehoods spread by my former manager in new york, a mushroom farm does *not* smell like poop! (how many people can say they’ve visited a mushroom farm?)

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cucumber farm
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mushroom farm

There were fluffy little sheep in a pen, and I was about to reach over and pet them, but the farmers freaked out because the territorial goose guarding the pen was quacking and ruffling its feathers and ready to take a nasty bite out of my leg. (google “goose teeth” – TERRIFYING)

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angry patrol goose on duty!

To avoid getting ripped off on our way down, we refused the cabs and took a 45 minute hike back to the city, in glorious spring sun. This was by far the happiest of my three Happy Farm outings.

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